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Can Berlin Buy Its Way Out of a Housing Crisis?

The city’s boroughs can purchase apartment buildings to prevent spikes in rental costs. But is the area that does it most reaching the limits of what it can do?
The Oberbaum Bridge, which connects the eastern and western sections of the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
The Oberbaum Bridge, which connects the eastern and western sections of the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.Johannes Eisele/Reuters

Many urban areas worry about how rising rents might force out long-time residents. Few, however, have gone as far to battle displacement as the Berlin borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.

This fast-gentrifying corner of inner Berlin has developed a new way to protect lower-income tenants who face steep rent increases when the buildings they live in are sold. A long-standing—but long unused—regulation gives municipalities the right of first refusal when a building goes up for sale. Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg simply buys the buildings itself, maintaining them as affordable rental homes via a state-owned company. While all Berlin boroughs have this option, only Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is using it with any frequency. Since last autumn, it has bought up 11 multi-apartment buildings, and now stands on the cusp of buying another.