“The landlady has been after me since 2018, she says she needs my apartment and I already received an eviction order.”
Georgina Simões is a caregiver at a nursing home in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. She earns just above minimum wage.
His rent, at 300 euros ($321) a month, is low by the city’s current standards, but he still needs to work two jobs to pay it. And the conditions on the property are bad: you can’t take a shower because the water leaks into the neighbors’ apartment.
“I am not leaving because when I look for other houses my salary is not enough, not even to pay the rent. The rents are above the salaries we have in Portugal,” he commented.
Simões’ circumstances are far from unique. Median rent in Lisbon is now about $2,140, while the minimum wage is around $814.
The causes of the crisis
Portugal is currently facing a severe housing crisis, caused in part by an increase in foreign investment in property and a lack of new affordable housing.
But it is not simply a matter of supply. Researcher and activist Rita Silva, who helped create the Habita housing movement, asserted that there are “more houses than people, but prices are not going down.”
The expert added that the current situation, which has led to numerous campaigns demanding more affordable housing, has spread throughout the country for several years after the 2008 financial crisis.
The case of Simões, the caretaker, is already in court and she hopes to stay on her property for another six months. Her lawyer is trying to buy her that time.
What happens if he loses?, the BBC asked him.
“I’ll be in the street”, answered.
“I have no chance, I don’t know what will happen. I just need a roof to sleep under; I spend my life at work”he added.
Joelsy Pacheco, for her part, he juggles two jobs that consume 16 hours of his day. One of his jobs is in an intensive care unit of one of the main hospitals in Lisbon and the other in an NGO.
“Most of my salary goes to rent, not to mention bills, food and transportation. With just one job, it would be almost impossible,” he said.
Pacheco’s lease ends at the end of this year and he is worried that his rent will go up.
“Where would I go next? I will probably have to go back to live with my mother, away from work, and I will have to restructure my whole life.“, he admitted.
Portuguese comedian Diogo Faro has become one of the leaders of a social movement demanding that the authorities attack the housing shortage. Ricardo Reis and Vasco Galhofo
Earlier this year, Portuguese comedian and activist Diogo Faro inadvertently became one of the faces of the affordable housing movement, after posting a video on social media about rising rental prices in Lisbon.
Soon, his inbox was flooded with messages.
“There are divorced couples who can’t move because they can’t afford it, which seems cruel to me. Older people who are choosing between paying rent or medication, so they cut their lives short to have a roof over their heads,” she said.
As he received more and more stories like these, the comedian got together with some friends and started the Casa é um Direito (“Housing is a Right”) movement.
His and other movements planned a demonstration that drew more than 30,000 people to the streets of Lisbon last April. The protests later spread to other cities, such as Porto and Braga.
“We have called the protests ‘A house to live in’, because people are desperate. People want a house to rest, play with their children, to live in,” said Faro, who sees this as just the beginning of the fight .
The fact that Lisbon has become a magnet for tourists is having its consequences on the city’s property market. GETTY IMAGES
Tourism is one of the culprits
The mayor of Lisbon, Carlos Moedas, has described the housing problem as “the biggest crisis of our generation”.
He made the comment in April, as construction began on a new affordable rental development in Entrecampos, a central area of the Portuguese capital, which will provide 152 new homes.
Programs have also been set up to help those who cannot afford the high rental prices, with local authorities offering to pay a third of the cost, Lisbon Housing and Development Councilor Filipa Roseta said.
Homeowners in the center of Lisbon prefer to rent to tourists rather than residents, because the benefits are higher. GETTY IMAGES
A third of the historic center of Lisbon is unoccupied, according to geographer and housing researcher Luís Mendes, and recent cases suggest that the state is making the situation worse.
When some shanty houses were destroyed in March, eight families were left homeless and had to be sent to emergency accommodation.
“We are talking about rental prices in Lisbon that are higher than in some of the wealthier areas of Berlin, for example, where there has been a rent cap. Not to mention the difference in wages,” Mendes said.
“In Lisbon there are areas where a house of 80 square meters costs US$1,285 a month. Well, that is the average salary of a Lisbon citizen. So we are talking about prohibitive amounts, I would even say obscene“added the expert.
Mendes asserted that one of the factors for the current housing crisis in the country is what he calls “touristification” and what happens when, due to the increase in tourism, houses designed for residential use are used to accommodate temporary visitors.
Areas like the historic Alfama neighborhood, known as the home of Fado, now have 60% of their homes for short-term rental.
“What are the tourists going to see? Each other?”Faro joked.
The controversial golden visas, which allow foreigners who invest a certain amount of money to obtain the papers to reside in Portugal, have also disrupted the housing market. GETTY IMAGES
Then there are government measures aimed at attracting foreign investment through tax-free programs for investment funds, digital nomads and, above all, golden visas.
“The golden visas allow investors from outside the European Union (EU) to obtain a visa to reside in Portugal for investing, and that allows them to enter the Schengen Area (the EU countries that do not have borders between them)”, Mendes explained.
“Often, (golden visa recipients) remodel a house, but they don’t occupy it. Many times these properties are sold over and over again, and that creates a distortion in the real estate market and is one of the causes of the crisis of housing,” said the expert.
As part of a new housing program, the government is ending golden visas and short-term rental permits, as well as capping rent increases at 2%.
However, for the majority of citizens these measures are few and come too late.
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