Power to the (ten­ant) coun­cils!

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

“All power to the sovi­ets!” ran the slo­gan touted by the Bol­she­viks dur­ing the Oc­to­ber Revo­lu­tion in Rus­sia. And since the days of the Paris Com­mune that Karl Marx ad­mired, Ger­many’s left, so­cial­ists and Greens have been in­trigued by the idea of a democ­racy based on the coun­cil sys­tem.

Lately, that fas­ci­na­tion has in­spired the idea to more or less turn con­trol of the mu­nic­i­pal hous­ing com­pa­nies over to so-called ten­ant coun­cils. At least that is what a ref­er­en­dum ini­tia­tive in­tends to ac­com­plish.

Ber­lin’s Se­na­tor for Ur­ban Devel­op­ment An­dreas Geisel al­ready praised the pro­posal, while ad­mit­ting to mis­giv­ings about the mas­sive in­roads the scheme would make on the state cof­fers. He let it be known that the Se­nate of Ber­lin is al­ready work­ing on many of the pro­pos­als in­cluded in the draft bill. The Greens and the Left are in favour of the scheme.

In a first step, the re­quired 20,000 signatures for a ref­er­en­dum ap­pli­ca­tion will be col­lected. There is no doubt in my mind that they will get enough peo­ple to sign up, not least be­cause they have the back­ing of Ber­lin’s ten­ant as­so­ci­a­tions with their 100,000 mem­bers. And I am sure that the ref­er­en­dum has ev­ery chance of suc­cess. As a re­minder: roughly a year ago, Ber­lin’s res­i­dents voted against the devel­op­ment of the pe­riph­ery of the for­mer air­port grounds in Tem­pel­hof – will­fully ex­ac­er­bat­ing the hous­ing short­age in Ber­lin by do­ing so.

A 53-page draft bill for a “Ber­lin Hous­ing Sup­ply Act” is al­ready on the ta­ble. It pro­poses that the mu­nic­i­pal hous­ing com­pa­nies degewo, Ge­sobau, Howoge, Stadt und Land, WBM, and Ge­wobag be turned into statu­tory cor­po­ra­tions.

The State of Ber­lin would be li­able for all debts of th­ese cor­po­ra­tions. This means that ten­ants and em­ploy­ees of the public hous­ing com­pa­nies will get to say whether and when to raise rents or to mod­ernise, while the State of Ber­lin will shoul­der the en­tire risk. Ul­ti­mately, ten­ants will treat them­selves to a low rent (it is sup­posed to be as low as 5 eu­ros per square me­tre) at the ex­pense of the state bud­get.

A board of di­rec­tors is to play a key role in th­ese statu­tory cor­po­ra­tions. Half of the board mem­bers are pol­i­cy­mak­ers, the other half will be coun­cil mem­bers:

- Four mem­bers will be rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the gen­eral ten­ants’ coun­cil;

- Two will be rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the ad­vi­sory board com­posed of ten­ant ini­tia­tives and in­ter­est groups rep­re­sent­ing so­cial ser­vices and wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tions;

- Two mem­bers will be em­ployee rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the hous­ing com­pa­nies.

Nat­u­rally, the scheme will have strictly reg­u­lated quo­tas. The leg­is­la­tion will de­fine how many coun­cil mem­bers will have to be Ger­man cit­i­zens, how many of them should have a mi­grant back­ground, how many should be dis­abled, and so on. And yes, of course, the coun­cil mem­bers will be obliged to act along the lines of fem­i­nist gen­der ide­ol­ogy. The cor­po­ra­tion will agree pursuant to Art. 28, Sec. 2, “to ap­ply the gen­der main­stream­ing strat­egy to all mea­sures and on all lev­els,” and will have to file re­ports on the mat­ter, too.

Busi­ness acu­men, by con­trast, is not re­quired and prob­a­bly not de­sired ei­ther, even though the coun­cils will

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be have ap­prove ev­ery mea­sure taken (such as sales, main­te­nance, mod­erni­sa­tions, rent in­creases, etc.). None of the mea­sures will go ahead with­out the ex­press ap­proval by the “gen­eral ten­ants’ coun­cil”. Im­ple­ment­ing the law would quickly get the hous­ing com­pa­nies into se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial trou­ble. The draft bill also stip­u­lates a de-facto right of rent-free res­i­dence for all be­cause it says that ten­ants not pay­ing their rents will not have to worry about con­se­quences. That will nat­u­rally make it su­per­flu­ous (or even il­le­gal) to run credit checks on ten­ant leads be­fore sign­ing lease agree­ments.

It says ver­ba­tim: “Re­quest­ing ev­i­dence of cred­it­wor­thi­ness from a pri­vate credit ref­er­ence agency as pre­con­di­tion for sign­ing a lease is not per­mit­ted… House­holds re­ceiv­ing benefits un­der the Ger­man So­cial Se­cu­rity Codes II or XII, the Asy­lum Seek­ers’ Ben­e­fit Act, or ba­sic sub­sis­tence in­come for the el­derly are ex­empt from forced evic­tions for rent ar­rears.”

An ac­quain­tance of mine who owns sev­eral res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties in Ber­lin com­mented on the pro­posal by say­ing, “If a ref­er­en­dum is held, I will vote in favour of it. Be­cause if it is adopted, the mu­nic­i­pal hous­ing com­pa­nies will take all the trou­bled ten­ants off my hands, and make my life as pri­vate land­lord eas­ier.”

While I ap­pre­ci­ated the ar­gu­ment, I had to con­tra­dict him. That is not the way I see things. Not least be­cause the tax­payer will have to foot the bill when ev­ery­thing is said and done. More­over, I’ll bet you that the bill is only paving the way for the next de­mand, to wit, that such rules (ban on credit checks and on the evic­tion of de­fault­ing ten­ants) not be limited to mu­nic­i­pal hous­ing com­pa­nies but be ex­panded to in­clude pri­vate prop­erty com­pa­nies as well.

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