[T]here was a time when Germany was home to one of the West’s most ambitious social housing projects — and it was run by trade unionists.
This was, indeed, no small initiative. Until 1982, the German Trade Union Confederation — the Deutsch Gewekschaftsbund (DGB) — owned the largest housing and construction companies in Europe. Encompassing 400,000 apartments, its portfolio also included swimming pools, shopping malls, office spaces, universities, congress centers and health clinics. It was one of the world’s most significant examples of a cooperative social housing project — one built not in the interests of corporate profit, but from below, in service of residents themselves.
At its peak, the DGB’s Neue Heimat (“New Homeland”) had a turnover of 6.4 billion DM (around €3 billion in today’s money) and employed nearly 6,000 people, with dozens of subsidiary companies throughout West Germany and the world. The idea was to create affordable cooperative housing, democratically owned and managed by the broad sections of the population who lived in them.