Berlin residents made their voices heard on Sunday when they voted in favor of a proposal for the city’s government to expropriate approximately 240,000 apartments from their corporate owners in order to provide affordable housing and help stem the city’s surging rents.
Across the globe, social media users rejoiced, with some Americans tweeting their support for the federal expropriation of privately owned property from the nation’s largest landlords, including iBuyers like Zillow.
“All those in favor of expropriating every house that Zillow owns, say aye,” tweeted Karishma Mehta, a former Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates.
All those in favor of expropriating every house that Zillow owns, say aye.
— Karishma Mehta (@karishma4va) September 27, 2021
A 54.4 percent majority of voters voted to pass the measure, and 39 percent voted against, according to German news agency dpa.
The referendum, which is nonbinding, requires the Berlin city government to consider expropriating large, corporate landlords in the city, where rents have become out of reach for many residents in recent years as prices have skyrocketed. As it stands, the proposal would impact about 15 percent of rented apartments in Berlin. More than 84 percent of Berlin’s population are renters.
Representatives of the measure, called “Expropriate Duetsche Wohnen & Co,” have been lobbying for expropriation since 2019, and said they would continue to fight for it as deliberations move forward.
“We will neither accept delaying strategies nor other attempts to stop the proposal,” Kalle Kunkel of the initiative told dpa. “We will not let go until the public ownership of the housing corporations has been implemented.”
The Berlin government, which was also elected on Sunday, will determine the final fate of the proposal.
Reactions on social media came in from across the world following Sunday’s news, and numerous American Twitter users expressed their support.
“Berlin votes to condemn 200,000 housing units and make them social housing,” Virginia-based Twitter user Eric Dunn said. “New York and San Francisco should do this next.”
Berlin votes to condemn 200,000 housing units and make them social housing. New York and San Francisco should do this next. https://t.co/d9aCRftJtk
— Eric Dunn (@TheRealEGD) September 27, 2021
New Jersey-based Twitter user Louis Anthony Loftus simply said, “They did it! #berlin.”
Other users on the platform were more tempered in their interest and support of the vote’s results, given that the referendum’s fate is still up in the air at this point.
“I’d say the Berlin thing would be a good test case about whether redistributing a limited number of housing units from private to public ownership increases affordability but they’re not actually doing that,” San Diego-based Twitter user Michael Tae Sweeney said. “Vote is just a non-binding referendum to study the proposal.”
Meanwhile, New York-based Twitter user Ryan Hickey argued that New York City did do a version of what Berlin residents have voted in favor of, through rent stabilization programs.
I’ve been seeing some “why can’t NY do what Berlin did?” But a friendly reminder: we kind of did! Under threat of eminent domain, NYC converted 1000s of cluster site shelter units back into rent stabilized apts. This happened b/c homeless folks organized for & demanded it!
— Ryan Hickey (@ryanryan_hi) September 27, 2021
Housing affordability has been a hot button topic for Americans on social media lately. Earlier in September, real estate agent Sean Gotcher riled up TikTok users with a post that garnered over 2 million views of Gotcher theorizing iBuyers’ potential to fix prices (higher) in a given market.
The center-left Social Democrat party held on to Berlin’s mayoral post following Sunday’s vote, but the referendum’s fate isn’t sealed, since it remains to be seen with which party they will form a coalition. Conservative parties have expressed distain for the measure, and the Social Democrats’ own mayoral candidate, Franziska Giffey, has criticized it as well.
Some critics of the measure have also argued that it would be costly and difficult to enact, whereas the Berlin government might instead use the billions of euros that would go into the project for other necessary areas, like the city’s schools or infrastructure.