Martin Schulz’s appearance before a German association of home builders last month was something of a tightrope act. The center-left Social Democratic candidate was hoping to score points against Angela Merkel, his rival in September’s federal elections. The only problem: His own party, currently in a coalition government with Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, has been the one in charge of housing policy for the last four years.
For Mr. Schulz, who is lagging Ms. Merkel in election polls, housing affordability could be key to reviving his electoral chances. The former president of the European Parliament has done his best to tap into the populist wave that has gripped Europe over the past year, campaigning on the promise of bringing more social justice to a broken system, unburdening the lower and middle classes.
When taxi drivers, bus drivers or nurses can no longer afford to live within a city, “something isn’t right,” Mr. Schulz said in his address at the “Housing Construction Days” conference in Berlin. He called housing a “fundamental human right,” arguing that when rising rents drive people away from a district they have lived in for decades, it amounts to a loss of basic human dignity.
This kind of talk will sound familiar to people in other capitals like London or New York, where housing affordability has long been an issue. For Germany, however, this is a newer problem. Rents and home prices were largely flat here for decades. It’s only in the past 10 years that Germans have started to face the same kinds of affordability problems as other countries.