Portugal in briefs – The land of opportunity

The Portuguese government is trying to solve the housing problem but this is no easy task in a country where the real estate opportunities in the hotspot of world tourism are way too appealing.  

The Portuguese government is currently proposing a set of measures to solve the housing problem. This is a Herculean task and the measures are far from consensual. The country has reached unprecedented popularity in recent times and became an appealing destination for tourism,  temporary or permanent residence and investment. Dwellings of all kinds were converted into tourist accommodation, competing with established hospitality structures. The housing stock underwent a major overhaul with thousands of flats now devoted to short rental, a market whetting the appetite of national and foreign investors spotting major financial opportunities here. Buildings have been renovated and, for many, tourism did its share to prevent old buildings in major cities from collapsing. The modest country that likes to praise its humility now stands tall. This is no mean feat. The capital regained its lost glory and now rivals Paris, London and many other world cities in terms of tourist destinations and prices. For many years, those in power rejoiced in light of the increase in the number of investors and the middle classes suddenly found a way to escape the relative poverty that is still there in a country of low and modest wages despite the many advances.
From the economic point of view, everything seems to be running smoothly. Families with incomes of Eur 800 now earn more than Eur 2000 euros a month, reconverting and reinventing themselves, now specialising in making beds and decorating rooms in the delicious art of hospitality. Typical city neighbourhoods have suddenly become cool and gentrified areas and if it weren’t for the lack of extras and by-standers, the scenario would be perfect. But the extras have long isappeared and with them the photo opportunities. Progress does not always favour the weak and the story of the new reconverted neighbourhoods no longer tells their story. Like a progrom, local communities were suddenly deported to the outskirts of the cities or to small towns. Living in Portuguese cities has become almost impossible, and after years of drinking the nectar and poison, the government is now trying to solve the housing problem in cities with obscenely high rents. But it will have no easy task, much less the support of a President who increasingly shows where he comes from, from the merciful and Catholic right wing, mindful of the poor and friend of the good people living off rents. The less afflicted middles class also promises a fight and the angry comments in the social media are there to prove it. After years of fascism and a revolution that was handed to the country on a silver platter by the military, Portugal has slowly made its way from “the land for those who work it” to “the property for those who pay the mortgage”. The housing stock relies on a very high percentage of owners. Around 70 per cent of the population own the place they live in, modest people who have worked all their lives and will continue to work even more to pay the mortgage, as there is nothing like having something of our own. The government is thus left with little support. let alone the solidarity of the army of property owners who blame the poor for not wanting to work and tenants for not paying the rent, a narrative that seems to suit those on other side of the fence who oppose the government scheme. It takes two to tango and we fear that when it comes to try to change things on the housing side the government will be spinning round on its own in the ballroom of this newfound land, a booming land where everyone is eager to have a big slice of the pie before the bubble bursts. And when it does well, like in the pandemic, there is always the government, thank God!

Carlos Tomé Sousa

#Portugal in briefs

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