Private market must respond to the housing problem. Airbnb is “highly speculative”

Portugal, 18 November 2020. English translation of the article by Rita Neto on Portuguese newsplatform ECO.

The International Union of Tenants and the United Nations-Habitat argue that one of the responses to the housing shortage should be the mobilisation of empty property at the public but also private market.

The problem of access to housing in Lisbon, but also throughout Europe, must be solved by mobilising the empty houses of the state and municipalities, but also private owners. This is one of the struggles that the International Union of Tenants (IUT) has been fighting, pointing at Airbnb being “highly speculative” and “dangerous”.

If in the 1980s and 1990s there was an “extraordinary advance” in the field of housing, when housing was built for “tens of thousands of Portuguese”, today, 25 years later, we are at a “different stage”. Fernando Medina, mayor of Lisbon, says it is “essential to build and have affordable housing for the young and middle class” in the capital. “Not in the peripheries, but close to the centre and jobs”, underlined the mayor this Wednesday, during the conference “Housing the Future”, promoted within the 25 years of Gebalis.

Recognising the current problem of access to housing in many European capitals, including Lisbon, Barbara Steenbergen, also present at the conference, said that the pandemic is highlighting the gap between wages and rents. “Rents are rising, but wages are not keeping up,” said the IUT representative.

Lisbon Chamber wants to allocate 500 affordable houses

Underlining that “there is great speculation in the housing market”, Barbara Steenbergen noted that the answer to this problem lies in “mobilising empty public and private housing”.

The same problem – and the same solution – is pointed out by Christophe Lalande, head of the United Nations-Habitat (UN-Habitat) housing unit, who states that “housing is a shared responsibility”. Also present at the conference, the expert notes that UN-Habitat has been working for several weeks with housing companies, and that one of the conclusions he reached was that “all shareholders should implement [housing] solutions in cities”.

But beyond this, the tenants’ representative advocates other support measures that can be given to tenants, especially those who are feeling the impacts of the pandemic. One proposal is to create a solidarity fund for tenants “who are no longer able to pay the rent” because they have lost their jobs.

And another of the measures advocated has to do with direct subsidies to citizens, not loans. “In some countries [as in Portugal] there is the possibility for tenants to receive interest-free loans to pay their rents. But, obviously, the loan has to be paid back. What if these people don’t get their jobs back? The problem is not solved, it’s just being postponed until 2021”, says Barbara Steenbergen.

Airbnb “is a sign of digital real estate speculation”

Still within the housing market problem, the IUT representative highlights another negative point: the  short term rental platforms like Airbnb. For Barbara Steenbergen, this housing reservation platform “is no longer as small as it used to be”. “It’s big and with big investors,” she says.

She notes that Airbnb “extract houses from the normal rental market”, the expert notes that there are houses to be rented at around 300 euros a day, when that figure should be monthly. “This is highly speculative and dangerous,” he says, accusing this US platform of being a “sign of digital property speculation.

Thus, the IUT representative argues that “regulation should be stronger” and suggests, for example, limiting the number of weeks that houses are rented per year. “Something needs to be done about this. We need to fight speculation on short-term rentals”, she stresses.

At the same conference, Barbara Steenbergen said that there are “some judgements” from the European Court of Justice on further regulation of short-term rentals, and that “the city of Paris is especially happy about this, because it suffers a lot from Airbnb”.

You can review the first part of this conference here:


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