Homes for All #1: Berlin with Vincent Kompier

Homes for All is a video series commissioned by Stadsleven in which correspondents from all over the world report on the state of the housing market in their city. In episode 1 urban researcher and Berlin expert Vincent Kompier shows the creative answer people in Berlin have found to the housing crisis: ‘baugruppen’, in which people are their own developers so they can build the kind of housing the market doesn’t provide.

‘Arm aber sexy’ Berlin in hot demand

Berlin, the city where the cool happens and the creative thrives. The city which once had a debt of 65 billion euro’s in the years after the Second World War when the costs for renovation and building of new houses (often of private owners) were paid by the city. And of course, the divided infrastructure of the city needed to be restored. This led former mayor Klaus Wowereit to invent the brilliant city-marketing slogan ‘arm aber sexy’. 

Now the cool city is again in hot demand. The time that Berlin was a favorite city because of the low living costs is over. The blog ‘Urban inspiration’ writes that you can easily find rents of €10.000 a month and up, and buyers pay at least €3.000 per square meter. In Germany, Berlin still isn’t the most expensive city to live in – those are Munich and Hamburg – but it is catching up quickly. The Berlin housing market has become a valuable object to invest in.

War on gentrification: alternative Baugruppe

This booming housing market under the influence of (international) investors leads to tragic situations. Zwangsräumungen (forced evictions) as the result of sudden rent increase happen often, as the movie Die Stad als Beute (2016) shows. The current coalition between the Social Democratic Party, the Greens and the Left Party is trying to create a housing market that is accessible to all. Examples are regulations such as the increase in ‘Milieuschutz’ areas (in areas that are at risk of gentrification it’s forbidden to make functional changes that will increase the rent, such as adding a second toilet or a wooden floor). And there is the ‘Mietspiegel’, which measures how rents ae developing in a given area. The rent for new tenants may be a maximum of 10% above this Mietspiegel – officially, that is. But as the blog ‘Urban Inspiration’ notes: the city has become so popular that people are just happy to score a house, and so will pay much more. 

Some people are starting to worry that Berlin is losing its unique urban creative vibe because of this strong gentrification. But Vincent Kompier shows us that the people of Berlin are resilient. In private Baugruppen they have found an alternative to the investor-driven housing market. Self-organized community housing projects where people can build for specific needs and wants the market doesn’t provide. 

Want to know more?

  • You can find other cities in our Homes for All video series here.
  • Vincent Kompier wrote a column (in Dutch) about the housing market in Berlin for our webmagazine
  • In the live talkshow of 28th of September ‘Wij Willen Wonen‘ we’ll further discuss the heated housingmarket and alternative solutions