The housing shortage in Berlin is becoming more and more dramatic. For years, rents1 and prices2 for residential real estate in the German capital have been on the rise, with no end to the trend in sight so far. Even for average earners it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a place to live. The situation could be remedied by a focused housing construction strategy the governing coalition of left-wing parties and Greens wrote into their coalition agreement as early as 2016. “Affordable accommodation for all,” the Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party defined as their common goal. The idea was to create a “sustainable, strategic area management” to achieve an “improved mobilisation of land development potential.”3 But this is precisely where the city has obviously failed to deliver, as Katrin Lompscher (Left Party) was recently forced to admit.4
Ample Potential Lying Fallow in the German Capital
According to Lompscher, the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing does not even have an overview of gap sites and brownfield land in Berlin that would be suitable for development. This paints a picture of mismanagement rather than of central coordination. The boroughs, which are responsible for land registration, will point to their administrative in-house digital information system (WoFis) for sites that are suitable for new housing. But the Senator for Urban Development does not appear to have a statewide overview of all brownfield lands and gap sites in Berlin that could serve as basis for a comprehensive housing policy.
This is too bad, because there are still countless options for housing construction in Berlin. Volker Härtig, chairman of the “Social City” committee of experts organised by the Social Democrats’ state executive committee, cited the example of Pankow, a borough that potentially has enough land to build new flats by the tens of thousands. But the Borough of Pankow does not wish to grow too rapidly because its administration is overworked as it is.
Planning Permit Figures Declining
That this is hardly a viable basis for major housing construction initiatives is demonstrated conspicuously by the latest planning application statistics released by the Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office.5 Instead of staying abreast of a demand that is driven up by the steady inflow of residents to Berlin, the creation of new residential accommodation is actually stagnating or indeed declining.
During the first three quarters of 2018, the number of residential planning permits issued dropped by 3.7 percent over prior-year period. The prospective cost volume of approved construction projects, which is up by 13.1 percent, shows that private investors are not the ones stepping on the brake.