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Senate of Berlin Falls Well Short of Housing Construction Target

In its coalition agreement, Berlin’s state government of Left Party, Social-Democrats and Greens agreed in late 2016 to raise at least 30,000 council housing flats before 2021. Just a year and a half later, the Senator for Urban Development, Katrin Lompscher (Left Party), recently admitted that the Senate will miss the mark. Instead of the planned rate of 30,000 completions by 2021, the city’s six municipal housing companies will build only about 25,000 flats. According to the local daily Tagesspiegel, however, experts believe that even this figure is too optimistic.1

The Senate assumes that a total of 20,000 flats would have to be built per year in order to accommodate the rising demand and to catch up with the pent-up housing demand from previous years. The state-owned housing companies are actually supposed to contribute an annual 6,000 to the total of 20,000 flats. Instead, the sharply declining planning approval figures suggest that the housing construction problem in Berlin is likely to get even worse. During the first quarter of 2018, the number of issued planning permissions dropped by 18.8 percent over prior-year quarter.2 It should be added that the figure had already shown a year-on-year decline in 2017.3

Harsh Criticism Levelled at the State Government

In the eyes of Berlin’s biggest housing organisations, the reason for the far too low volume of new construction in the German capital is perfectly obvious. Maren Kern, Chairwoman of the BBU Association of Housing Entrepreneurs in Berlin and Brandenburg, told the Tagesspiegel daily that the “lack in political and administrative support” is to blame for the failure to meet the construction targets. Susanne Klabe, head of the Berlin-Brandenburg chapter of the BFW Federal Association of Independent Housing Companies, made a similar comment and predicted that the housing shortage in Berlin will keep intensifying. “Since the procedures are getting more complex and slower while builders face ever higher requirements because there is no attractive sponsorship of housing development for people in the medium income bracket, the gap between supply and demand will widen drastically in the future,” as Klabe said.

Within the state government, the person made responsible for the sluggish pace of housing construction is mainly Urban Development Senator Lompscher. At a closed meeting of the Senate in late June where Lompscher reported on the failure to meet the construction targets, her coalition partners from the Social Democrats and Greens complained that Lompscher lacked ideas and proposed solutions to accelerate housing construction, according to the Tagesspiegel.4 Lompscher has been the subject of criticism for some time, both from the city’s real estate industry and its body politic. Since the start of this year, the Governing Mayor Michael Müller (Social Democrats) has increasingly taken charge of housing construction. However, there are no visible sings for a genuine shift in trend in Berlin’s housing policy, which is demonstrated by the Senate’s recent resolution to launch an initiative in Germany’s upper house, the Bundesrat, for a tighter landlord-tenant law.5