Are modern metropolises doomed from property speculation and ever-encroaching gentrification? Or could grassroots initiatives possibly signal the beginning of more diversity in urban life? (Part of our EXPERIMENTDAYS 10 package – check out the links on the left side of the page for more!) Michael LaFond of id22 Institute for Creative Sustainability gives us the skinny on alternative housing in Berlin. What are the main housing challenges in Berlin right now? You may know that the city of Berlin stopped directly supporting social housing or housing in any way a few years ago [see “Sexy, cheap and available? The Berlin Housing Myth”], so no publicly funded housing is being built. Along with that, we have the problem of gentrification, with rents going up. We don’t have a dramatic housing shortage yet, but it is developing. All of these things combined are forcing more and more people to think about new ways to deal with it. There are many people in Berlin who want to live in an alternative way, but they’re having a hard time finding a building or financing. What we do is connect people with each other and lobby the city to make sure that information is being passed along. It sounds like the authorities are not really being supportive… Unfortunately, the city government isn’t terribly flexible or really creative and social-minded. It’s not that they’re against people doing stuff, but they’re not interested in supporting the projects directly. Even though we have a left-wing administration, we have a city government that is fairly conservative. But with the election coming up next year, things are getting more interesting: it will be our chance to get the debate out there and put pressure on everyone to be more progressive. What about Berlin’s famous alternative living projects – its squats and communes? Some places, like Lohmühle and Werkpalast have managed to stay alive [see our “Hot Housing” photo gallery] so there are some success stories out there, but they’re getting fewer. If you look back even just to 2003, there used to be quite a few non-profit housing projects. But since then… People who don’t have any money are pretty discouraged these days, and that has led to lots of protests and activism. In the last few months, one or two housing projects have been shut down, and some of the remaining ones, like KA86, are threatened. It’s not so much that they’re under attack from the city – more from capitalist forces. Wohnportal is filled with cooperative projects that have yet to find an actual building site. How good are their chances of fulfilling their dream? First of all, you have to differentiate between people who have money and ones who don’t. For the people who do, it’s just a question of time. For the others, we’re trying to help them by suggesting the government make more land available – they could do something like offering long-term leases. The city needs to take the social question seriously. Berlin stats: Population 3,342,267 Average apartment purchase price/sqm in the city centre €1750 Average monthly disposable income (after tax) €2017 Density/sqkm 3750 Average rent for a one-bedroom in the city centre €400/month Check out the ‘eurovisions’ from five other metro-hubs in Europe to see how they do things and how Berlin itself stacks up.