Who needs 47,000 apartments | TIME ONLINE

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Ingolf Roßberg is proud of this legacy of his political era. Again and again he stops, spreads both arms. He says, “There was nothing here before.” Roßberg walks in short steps over the Dresdner Neumarkt, turns a loop past the Frauenkirche, names the names of various investors who have rebuilt the historical backdrop in recent years. Roßberg says he always believed that Dresden have a future. The Neumarkt is for him a symbol of the upswing of this city. And that was also possible, because Rossberg was ready to act then.

A passerby turns to Roßberg, she seems to consider whether that is the former mayor of Dresden or just one of these older men in polo shirt and casual jacket, as they are suspended by coaches in groups in the old town. But Rossberg is from here. For seven years he was head of the city administration for the FDP, at a time when the economic boom in Dresden had not yet begun. “The year 2004 was the worst,” says Roßberg. “There was almost nothing left.”

The city had horrendously high debt, 798 million euros. Each household had to be negotiated in ping-pong with the Saxon regional council. Roßberg presented budget proposals, the parent authority demanded new cuts, in culture, in education and social. For debt service alone, 70 million euros had to be raised each year. “I finally broke the collar,” Rossberg says today. “I wanted the liberation.” And it looked like this: In 2006, the city of Dresden sold all shares in its communal housing company Woba with more than 47,000 apartments, the entire urban stock. The apartments were bought by an investor from the USA, who later resold them.

Debt free in one fell swoop

Such a radical cure had previously not existed in the Republic. Dresden made headlines nationwide. The Union faction in the Bundestag praised Rossberg's initiative as exemplary that it is a good example of sustainable local politics. The decision fit into the liberal economic zeitgeist. In other regions, especially in East Germany, many apartments were empty. In Germany, the overall population is expected to decline due to the negative demographic trend: more old people, fewer children. Other cities also sold large portions of their housing stock to reduce their debt.

But nobody went as far as Rossberg. The city took 981 million euros through the sale. Dresden was debt-free at a stroke. And still had more than 200 million euros left.

At that time there was a broad political consensus for the city
Sale, even some leftists in the city council voted for it. Now, 13 years
 later, however, the situation on the housing market has become perfect
turned. Dresden has experienced an economic boom. The population
 has grown steadily since the year 2000: 85,000 people have joined.
 The living space is becoming scarcer, rents are rising – although not so fast
as in the West German cities, but also the salaries are in Dresden
 lower overall. Living becomes more and more expensive for people.
Was it a mistake to sell all city apartments at that time? Has
Rossberg regrets his decision?

Ingolf Roßberg, former mayor of Dresden

Too few apartments for families

In Dresden-Neustadt sticks the sidewalk. Yesterday evening was again celebrated on the Alaunstraße, as so often in the district with the many cafes and pubs, in which attracts the young people, the students, the hipsters. The next morning, fathers and mothers cycle through the streets with their children. Thomas Löser also lives here, recognizable by his cap, which sits crooked on his head. Löser, 47 years old and high school teacher, is one of the two group leaders of the Greens in the Dresden City Council. He used to be a squatter in the neighborhood with many old buildings. In the new town, the Greens regularly enter their best results. But also citywide, they emerged victorious in Dresden from the recent local elections in late May and are now the strongest force in the Council.

“The rents here have risen sharply lately,” says Löser. “Try to find a suitable apartment as a family with children.” The same applies to similarly popular areas in the city center of Dresden. And how does the Green Party politician see the privatization of the Woba 13 years ago in view of these developments? “One should not have sold all the apartments, only a part of them,” says Löser. At that time his party also pleaded for that.

But in retrospect, that's easy to say. It is also clear that the city would have received much less money for a partial sale. “The whole package was much more valuable,” says Löser. And yet it is foreseeable that the demand will increase in the future especially for social housing. For 10,000 flats, the city had negotiated a right of sale during the sale in order to accommodate socially weak tenants. But this scheme expires in 2036 at the latest. Then these apartments can go to the market at higher prices.

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