Anti-Gentrification Housing Struggles in Los Angeles and Berlin

Communities around the world are mobilizing urban social movements against rising inequality and economic hardship in order to transform local neighborhoods, urban planning practices, and city policies. Minority and immigrant communities and their mobilizations play a pivotal role challenging the ongoing nationalist political shifts to the right in the United States and Germany, which have been propagating xenophobia, racism, and economic, political, and social isolationism. In this historic configuration, housing serves as a central site of struggle, as a fundamental human right.

This presentation analyzed various housing struggles across Los Angeles and Berlin through assembled field observations, interviews, documentary film, and personal participation. Urban political economy must integrate the history, thought, and resistance of the most dispossessed. As such, multi-ethnic housing mobilizations in Los Angeles and Berlin—both majority-renter Western cities—operate in defense and offense of housing. Communities mobilize in defense of the current low-income housing stock and on the offensive to increase the low-income housing supply. Struggles transcend the preconception that either pure market dynamics or state redistribution can solve the housing question in perpetuity. These housing movements also propose collective property arrangements as innovations to enhance local democratic accountability through limited-equity cooperatives, community land trusts, and syndicates.

Key Takeaways:

  • There is a gap in how different groups view neighborhood transformation: displacement, neocolonization vs. improvement, economic development, positive social change
  • Laura Pulido: “Resistance is shaped by domination.” We must consider logics of domination and logics of resistance, tactics of domination and tactics of resistance.
  • Redlining, a practice of denying services to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic composition of the areas, is a systematic, institutionalized way to hurt communities of color.
  • In what ways are multi-ethnic and immigrant movements overcoming conventional housing norms by developing property imaginaries and practices that transcend preconceptions of redistributive or market economic arrangements?
  • Los Angeles and Berlin
    • Metro population 13,131,431 (LA); 6,004,857 (Berlin)
    • Housing Tenure: 62% rental (LA); 85% rental (Berlin)
    • Minorities: 71% (LA), 30% (Berlin)
  • In LA and Berlin, housing activists have used private and state housing models, as well as non-private, non-state models.
  • Berlin Building Groups (Baugruppen) are private models to solve the housing crisis. Predominately white, middle class friends pool money to build cooperative living spaces.
  • Progressive realtors in LA urge fellow people of color to own land as resistance, arguing that at any time people can be displaced by not owning, owners can rent to undocumented individuals, and owners can benefit from property appreciation.
  • A critique of private property models is that they distract from underlying issues, and that due to unequal access to assets, groups are still closed off from property.
  • Berlin’s Mietshäuser Syndikat is an innovative non-private and non-state ownership model, which evolved out of the squatting movement in Freiburg which seeks to remove formal ownership. There is dual ownership between the building and the larger syndicate. The critique of this group is that it still requires some capital for rents and it is privately doing the job of the state.
  • Tenant movements are non-exclusive struggles, open to all, which are not explicitly ideological about any particular property configuration, but deeper critique of the state.
  • Kotti & Co. is a tenant movement in Berlin resisting higher rents, notably by building a protest house “gecekondu” in the middle of a major public square. The group consists of those who are lower class and without assets.
  • The Los Angeles Tenants Union is a tenant-centered movement fighting for the human right to housing for all. They balance education with advocacy and direct action, demonstrating how to be inclusive as well as antagonistic toward landlords.
  • Some activists used antagonistic anti-gentrification tactics in LA against art galleries and coffee shops, vandalizing the buildings and picketing the locations. The owners and some council members responded by accusing protesters of being against growth and progress.
  • Current housing models remain unethical, and scholars and activists must rethink ways to mobilize and how to challenge existing unjust systems.


Kenton Card was a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow at AICGS and a PhD Student in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA he is also an advisor to the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and an Editor of Critical Planning Journal. Kenton has taught at UCLA, Marlboro College, and The Public School, Berlin. His broad intellectual interests include urban political economy, housing movements, displacement, and race. Kenton’s non-academic professional work includes advocating on behalf of environmental and housing interests in Sacramento, CA, with The Planning and Conservation League and Housing California, and ongoing work as an organizer with the Residents United Network and member of the Los Angeles Tenants Union.

August 31, 2017