Berlin residents asked for a solution to rising rents. Although the plan may not be feasible, it is an important message.

The recent German elections have been closely watched around the globe to see where Europe’s dominant power will be after Angela Merkel takes over. Many in Berlin and other parts of Germany were almost equally concerned about the result of a smaller vote.

On Sunday, voters in the German capital backed a nonbinding referendum that called on the local government to buy hundreds of thousands of housing units from large property companies in the latest bid to control Berlin’s spiraling rent.

An estimated 240,000 apartments, about 10 percent of the city’s housing stock, would end up in public hands if the radical proposal is carried out. There are reasons to doubt this proposal. This referendum does not have legal authority. Attempts to curb rising rent in Berlin in the past have failed ,, with an April cap on housing prices being overturned by Germany‚Äôs highest court. How will it work to expropriate hundreds of thousands more apartments?

Still, the message to authorities was powerful: It received more than 56 percent of the vote.

On Monday, Berlin’s new mayor said she would “respect” the results of the referendum and go about drafting a new bill. The referendum organizers said that they would be able to bring together a new binding referendum if the current law is not passed .

If it works, this unorthodox approach to municipal housing could reverberate far outside the German capital. “It can be a catalyst for municipal housing movements across Europe,” Alexander Vasudevan, an associate professor in human geography at the University of Oxford, wrote for the Guardian this week.

What to know

  • Why is rent so divisive an issue in Berlin?
  • What was the big idea in the referendum?
  • What is the opposition to the move?
  • Why are renters around the world interested?

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