The Investor, Enemy Mine

The SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG is not exactly known as mouthpiece of the German economy. Yet the left-liberal daily marvelled recently in a lengthy article about Berlin’s animosity vis-à-vis investors. “Berlin is facing a housing shortage,” read the headline. “But those who build are antagonised. About a city that wages war on investors and newcomers.”

The article suggests: “The rage against rising rents and the city’s metamorphosis has zeroed in on a concrete target: construction projects. These are considered symbolic of everything that fill many residents of the capital with dread: They fill the vacant lots that many see as open space; they bring turmoil to the rental market with often fancy fit-outs; they streamline the city’s hodgepodge phenotype and provide accommodation even to those that many feel have no place in their neighbourhood: newcomers. Few terms are used with more contempt in Berlin. Except one: investor.”

The protest against construction projects is ubiquitous in Berlin. It coincides with the clamour over rising rents. This fails to add up. While I do understand that people get upset about rent increases, the disdain for construction projects is beyond me. After all, what is the best remedy against rising rent rates? Building more homes, of course.

Rather than being excessive in Berlin, housing construction falls short of the mark. Incoming migration continues to outpace construction and is thereby driving up rents. The rent increases, though, are what made housing construction a paying proposition again. It is perfectly natural that construction favours the upper price brackets. But construction activities have increasingly spilled over into the mid-price segment.

The SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG describes the anti-construction protest in graphic terms: “So you have Berliners protesting the development of the East Side Gallery, the development of Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg and housing construction on Tempelhofer Feld. And so residents of a bourgeois neighbourhood in Schönefeld hold night-time vigils on the street to keep three linden trees from being cut down. The trees are supposed to make way for a new building on a vacant corner lot.”

The IVD Federal Investment and Asset Management Association recently reported that the rental growth in Berlin has slowed down. One of the underlying reasons is stepped-up construction. Berlin is well advised to welcome investors instead of scaring them off.

Sadly, Berlin’s policymakers do the opposite. Among the big guns rolled out now is legislation against inflated rents, the zoning of historic district protection areas and plans by Urban Development Senator Michael Müller to make the conversion of rental flats into condominiums in historic district protection areas subject to approval on the borough level. Investors are being scapegoated. The truth is: investors are the ones who have the wherewithal to solve this issue, not the policymakers.