A massive migration towards the big cities is definitely shaking up the real estate business. We buy to renovate, sell to rent and rent to sub-let. Without any other way out, I was too caught up in the middle of the effervescent world of Real Estate, right in the city of Lisbon. One of Europe’s fashion cities, so they say by its cultural offer, the business opportunities, the services and institutions’ liveliness, its innovation and creativity, the sun, the warm weather… all of those essentials have been contributing for the “Atlantic’s Capital” attractiveness.
Unfortunately, Lisbon is suffering with the same cancer as many other cities. There’s a kind of deviousness by the hand of homeowners and real estate agents, equally benefiting themselves, organising everything in such way that their risk is close to none.
A few days ago I was in a “waiting list”, right outside a renovated, unfurnished, humble apartment for lease for “just” 525 € per month. Right next door, a tiny loft was being also in the market for 600 €. Whoever’s placed in this position knows exactly what I’m talking about. There’s an enormous demand so it is perfectly normal that the market takes its advantages and finds the most lucrative process for its agents.
Many of these apartments are on the online market for only a day or two, maybe a few weeks on the real estates’ lists, according to the area, the apartment’s condition, pricing and lease conditions.
Whilst talking to other candidates, I’ve realised that whoever tries to live with some comfort in Lisbon, to work or study, is in a constant drama, unless they’re up for living in a high-energy Erasmus and student’s fraternity houses. One of the ladies I was talking with told me she was earning around 750 € salary and looking for an apartment. She ended up going to same one as I did, already with a look on her face which spoke for itself: “I know they’ll ask me for three month’s rent (two month’s rent early and one as a deposit guarantee) and a backer”, she explained. “Some apartments I’ve been to even demand a backer who works for the public administration!” she added. “It’s too complicated”, said again showing disappointment.
Meanwhile, a young woman shows up, accompanied by her mother, also looking for a place where she can live without flatmates: “the bathroom shouldn’t be making me feel doubtful” she said in a relaxed, cringing manner. Yes, that pretty sums up the environment in here. In a matter of seconds, a waterfall of stories floods the conversation. Everyone is avid to share their experience of living in the city and the search for a stable, comfortable living. “My mother has to pay for my matter”, the young woman cried. “At the moment I’m at an unstable job and things aren’t looking good”, she added. “What helps is the fact that my mother has a great retirement fund and she is able to help me”, she concluded.
This is a lucky citizen but immediately after there is someone who reminds her of how many people don’t have it like she does (I’m forced to agree, since I’m one of those unlucky ones). When the agent finally arrives, we’re all very much familiarised with the dramas of “smart” rental in Lisbon.
The same problem everywhere
I want to point out that this situation is not exclusive to the Portuguese capital. Everywhere the housing problem is heavily restricting the cities’ sustainability. They don’t have anything to their advantage and the scarce flexibility for actions in this sector is to blame. Although, I also want to mention that there may be some simple solutions which could set an example as to how to develop smaller, inner cities, guaranteeing quality housing, capable of competing with this collected madness inherent to big cities. It would create stimulant conditions for capturing talent, creative and innovative citizens, entrepreneurs… All kinds of people who are trying to make it in the big city but that are being affected by the absence of a decent home or the lack of the necessary comfort, on the expense of their happiness and a satisfying life experience.
Small cities can (and should) pay attention to the housing problems they face as a new resident citizens attractiveness factor, competing in this real estate area, making sure that interventions in its historical centres, for example, aren’t being exploited by vampires.
City Councils themselves or any associated organisation could be the backers or patrons for young people starting their careers, couples, or even professional and senior entrepreneurs. What they have to gain is so much more than what they have to invest. And it’s a very simple message to spread: “Move in today, pay one month’s rent; we believe in you, we demand no backer”.
As for me, I might as well give up on living in Lisbon, exactly the same feeling other people I was talking to have professed. Possibly Lisbon needs us as well, as supporters as to its qualifications that it is in fact a Smart City. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to rent a place when citizens have to twist and turn, get a line of credit (to pay for the three month’s rent), calling other people to back up the rentals and eventually not enjoying what you have because there is nothing left to spend.
There are many other stories like this one in every city. Share yours at: www.facebook.com/smartcitiesonline