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Affordable housing Tenants force vote to curb pricey rents

Seventy-one cardboard boxes with signatures calling for cheaper rented accommodation were handed in to the Federal Chancellery


Voters are likely to have the final word on a proposal for the government to promote housing cooperatives in order to provide affordable accommodation.

An alliance of the country’s tenants associations, backed by leftwing parties and trade unions, handed in 106,000 signatures to the Federal Chancellery in Bern on Tuesday.

Campaigners said it was high time to counter the spiralling rents over the past few years in Switzerland as parliament had refused to take action.

About 125,000 signatures were collected within 12 months of the launch of the initiative and handed in six months before the deadline expired.

“It was not difficult to win the support because most people are directly affected,” said Marina Carobbio, president of the tenants’ umbrella organisation and Social Democratic parliamentarian, during the symbolic handing-in ceremony.

She accused the government of delaying tactics and ignoring the fact that rents of apartments on the real estate market had increased 30% on average over the past ten years in Switzerland, while property owners had been able to benefit massively from a 50% decrease in mortgage rates.

“Families, older and younger people are the main victims,” Carobbio said. “At the same time the real estate sector continues to make bigger profits.”

Tenants were given false hopes for years, she said. “But not a single measure was implemented.”

About 40% of residents in Switzerland live in rented accommodation, with home ownership below the European average.

Reduce speculation

The initiative wants a 10% ratio of new apartments to be owned by housing cooperatives to ease market pressure and reduce property speculation.

It also aims to outlaw government subsidies for renovating luxury apartments.

The country’s leading house owners’ association has dismissed the proposal as counterproductive.

“More state support of housing cooperatives comes at the expense of taxpayers,” a statement said. “Affordable apartments can also be built by the private industry. What is needed are laws which allow high-density building activity.”

The cabinet and parliament will discuss the proposal before it comes to a nationwide vote in the next few years.

Previous ballots

Parliament recently rejected a government proposal for more transparency in the housing market.

The House of Representatives last month followed the Senate in throwing out a bill forcing property owners to disclose previous rent to new tenants and explain the reasons for any increase.

In 2012, voters rejected three separate initiatives to boost property ownership, including tax breaks for retired home owners.

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