Culture, Europe, Globe, Screen, United Kingdom

A left turn against the financialization of housing

A documentary about evictions to make way for more profits from touristification. The Collective have produced many videos and documents about gentrification in Europe and Latin America. International investment funds continue to destroy local culture with government connivance in the EU.

 

Graham Douglas

  

October is the time for the annual DocLisboa film festival in Lisbon, and one of the most impressive films to show this year is “O que vai acontecer aqui”, which in Portuguese means ‘what is going to happen here?’

It is what they say on signs outside building sites to inform the public, and what is often happening is that one more public space or existing community is being destroyed to make way for yet more touristification.

Swarms of tourists on their 2-wheeled Segueway scooters or in Tuk-Tuks in their desperate search for more ‘authenticity’ and ‘local colour’, while their very presence is destroying multicultural areas and low-income housing in favour of a bland mono-culture of touristland.

In the film Rita commented that before people were exploited at work, but now we are being exploited in our homes as well, and Luis said that nowadays the economy doesn’t produce value – what it produces is inequality.

In an excellent booklet called Housing Financialization which can be downloaded here, it is pointed out that since the 2008 crisis, mortgage-holders have more difficulty in re-paying, so rents are now a much better investment. And where there is demographic pressure – through gentrification and tourism – rents will rise, while long-term residents are evicted.

Then Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT), often based in tax havens, can move in taking advantage of their exemption from paying Corporation Tax by all EU countries is one more scandal.

The writers of the booklet comment that the previous economic model of the European economy is being transformed into a rental model, which reminds them of the 18th Century, where these offshore funds now take over the role of the aristocracy. A reason to leave the EU? Well, just look at who wants to run the new liberated UK, or Singapore-on-Thames.

I talked with two of the film-makers, who, in the spirit of their collective, prefer not to give their individual names.

Their film is freely available with English subtitles here.

How long have you been working?

We started in 2005, and in the last 10 years we have been running workshops about gentrification in many different countries, including Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.

Making videos is one of our favourite tools for this work. We work as a collective, bringing together materials and editing them, and they can be freely downloaded (in Spanish).

And we worked with PAH (Plataforma Afectados Hipoteca) in Barcelona.

What is the Lei Arrendamento Urbano?

This was the worst part, it was a law that was forced on the Portuguese government by the Troika to liberalise the housing market, by facilitating evictions and removing rent controls. In our film we focussed on Lisbon, but it is a law that affects the whole country.

What is your relationship with the other groups such as Stopdespejos, and Habita?

The collective has been based in the city of Lisbon for more than eight years. In this time, close collaborations have been created with groups that fight for the right to housing in the city, such as Habita! Two years ago, the Stop Despejos platform emerged, bringing together individuals and groups that organize to fight for the end of evictions.

The Left Hand Rotation collective is part of this platform, providing visibility strategies through audiovisual work. The materials that make up the documentary have been generated in a close collaboration built on the foundations of social movements involved in the  struggle for decent housing in the city of Lisbon.

How can someone paying rent just be evicted with no compensation?

Many people don’t have rental contracts – although of course that’s illegal. As a student for example, it’s very difficult to get a contract, or if they give one the rent will be higher. Very few people have a contract here in Lisbon. The Constitution guarantees the right to housing, but in practice we are not protected.

Another problem is gentrification. We organized free Gentrifcatours during the festival, to show people what is happening in Lisbon.

Another of the objectives of the documentary is to legitimize occupations of empty property, as a way to confront the financialization of housing.

Are you getting support from any political party?

No, no, not at all! We want to keep our independence from political parties, because they will always try to control a movement like ours.

But the housing law needs to change, and that means you need politicians to act – what are they doing? The left parties have posters protesting the situation, and they seem to support demonstrations.

They have done nothing for years, and the national assembly has submitted to the demands of the Troika, so we want to keep our independence from political parties.

It’s a difficult situation, because there are parties that were born in the street, from social movements, like Bloco de Esquerda. But at the same time, to retain their influence, they have to maintain an alliance with the Socialist Party, which is acting in the interests of the state. They can’t fight every day with the people that they share the government with, or they will be pushed out of the coalition in favour of a more right-wing party. And parliament has less power now to fight multinational companies and landowners.

We must keep our independence in order to do the work that the political parties won’t do.

And tourism just makes it worse.

We have been working on the problem of touristification in Lisbon, since it began four or five years ago. Mass tourism puts money in the pockets of big business owners, while a lot of their staff are on minimum wages, and local people are evicted to make way for hotels. It is important to understand it within a larger context, to know your own objectives and who your enemies are, otherwise it can cause a lot of xenophobia.

I saw graffiti in Spain saying “Travellers welcome, tourists fuck off”

The problem is not the traveller who wants to get to know the local culture and meet people, but the tourist is a commercial product now, not a person anymore. They are just part of a chain: you are asked to sleep in a certain place, to eat in another place, and buy certain things – without contributing anything or getting to know anyone. Of course, it’s good that travel is not reserved for the elite any longer, but if you don’t understand the bigger picture you can end up hating tourists here but then being a tourist yourself in their countries.

Another issue in the film is privatization of public spaces, in Martim Moniz for example.

It used to be a public square, then there was a requalification project that brought in the pop-up bars in containers, and we assume that the next step will be to make them permanent structures, so that you won’t have any reason to go there without buying something.

Because of public protests, the project to turn the square into a commercial space was suspended by the City Council. The problem is that, meanwhile, they have left the area abandoned, allowing its degradation as a way to justify the next exclusive project for the square. This is a common strategy: citizens are forced to choose between gentrification or abandonment, ignoring citizen proposals, which included a public garden.

Anything to add?

Of course, it’s not just Portugal, it’s happening everywhere, with variations depending on local politics and culture. The common features are corruption and governments that are unwilling to re-distribute wealth to benefit the whole country. And it needs management because tourism changes, it is already decreasing in Lisbon, in terms of hotel bookings.

Legislation is not changing to keep up with events, rents and prices have gone up, but the minimum wage has only increased a little. Speculation is spreading. The cheaper bairros on the edge of Lisbon were built by immigrants from the ex-colonies, but some of these are now being cleared to make way for new housing for people who work in the centre, but who can’t afford the rents in the centre now.

(Photos supplied by Left Hand Rotation)

 

 

 

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