Transnational views on the political challenges and transformative impacts of rising tenants’ movements. Two events to kick-start the debate.
On 17 September this year, 15,000 people joined a march in Amsterdam, demanding radical solutions to the housing crisis, with new demonstrations planned in Rotterdam, The Hague and other places. Demands are growing to end the taxation on rental houses and provide social housing for large parts of society. On 26 September, one million people in Berlin voted ‘Yes’ in a referendum for expropriation and socialisation of the housing stocks owned by big landlords such as Vonovia, the largest landlord in Europe. In Sweden the tenant movement successfully stopped the government’s plans of market-rent settings in June. Later 1,000 people demonstrated for housing as a social and human right in Stockholm. The tenant organisation Ort till Ort is also demanding expropriations of Vonovia.
These are just three inspiring examples of tenants’ protests that have risen during the past years and months in many countries across Europe and beyond. It is the necessary reaction to decades of deregulation of rents & property and the resulting fundamental crisis of affordable housing. Movements are searching and struggling for new forms of rent control and the socialisation property. After an age of marketisation and financialisation, many people consider the provision of housing for all as a public task and social infrastructure.
The worsening housing problems in European cities are an important part of the general EU crisis. The EU treaties guarantee the free movement of capital (Art. 26 & 63 TFEU), the free competition of undertakings (Art. 107 TFEU) and the restriction of public budgets (Stability and Growth Pact, European Fiscal Compact).
Without a strong social counterpart, these constitutional principles protect and promote the abuse of property for the construction of globally traded financial assets.
Housing, however, is a basic need for everybody and thus a human right that is protected by international law. As far as the treatment of houses as financial assets threatens its affordability, accessibility, security of tenure, adequacy or habitability, the EU-member states are morally and legally obliged to control and socialise property for the benefits of their people. If the framework of the EU prohibits such social regulating, it becomes an institutional challenge to human rights. We want the opposite. We want the EU to become an internal and external stimulator, promoter and guarantor of the right of every person to have a secure, decent and affordable place to live.
For too long many people in Europe have endured the systematic abuse of land, homes, infrastructures and budgets for the increase of private profits, whilst those engaging in social action to protect the right to housing have found themselves on the defensive. There are hopeful examples, however, of successful emancipatory popular struggles for radical social changes in the housing system. In Berlin, for instance, a popular grassroots initiative is currently initiating a referendum for the expropriation of houses owned by landlords who own more than 3,000 apartments and the socialisation of their properties into democratic public entities. But the struggle cannot be won as long as it remains fragmented and only reduced to local and regional levels.
The housing crisis will never be overcome, unless the following policy changes are made:
The adoption of the international right to housing as a fundamental duty of all EU institutions, member states and business and the concrete implementation of this basic human right in the form of a European housing strategy.
Allowing, guaranteeing and supporting publicly regulated segments of democratic not-for-profit housing for broad strata of the population outside EU competition rules and financial capital flows.
An EU-framework that allows, encourages and supports the strict social regulation of profit-oriented private landlords, market rents, land markets, mortgages, transparency, facility services and the consequences of mortgage default.
Protecting, encouraging and supporting the engagement and organisation of tenants and other inhabitants for their rights and the needed structural changes in housing, land and real estate.