Housing for All: Her Fight Could Reshape Europe and Beyond

OZY 1 month ago

As the sun sets over Lisbon, new arrivals rattle their suitcases up a steep spiral labyrinth of roads toward their temporary homes. Sounds of fado, the Portuguese folk music linked to the resistance movements of the city’s poor, break out onto the cobblestone roads of Alfama. But the historic neighborhoods that birthed this music now mainly attract tourists and the Airbnb trade. The original residents left some time ago.

Resistance and neighborhoods are central to Helena Roseta’s life. A member of Parliament, former mayor, housing counselor, president of the Architects’ Association and revolutionary, Roseta witnessed her crowning achievement this month. Portugal’s Basic Housing Law, for which she wrote the framework, went into effect Sept. 3, taking the country’s constitutional right to housing and adding legal teeth to tackle hyper-gentrification for the first time.

Helena Roseta at the Constituent Assembly in 1976.

In 1976, two years after the country emerged from dictatorship, Roseta sat on the committee approving the constitutional right to housing. This was followed by a large housing program with public, technical and financial support for local initiatives, but the effort was short-lived.

For the hardest causes on which traditional politicians feared not stake their careers, she was always there.

Meanwhile, populations were growing in urban centers, which led to overcrowding and illegal settlements. By 2011, there were 735,128 empty properties in Portugal, 184,909 of them in Lisbon, due to high rents and stagnant wages. Real estate speculators and foreign investors snatch such properties up, renovate them and sell them as luxury apartments or rent them on Airbnb. That leaves thousands of families with severe housing shortages.

The trend was fueled by liberalized rent laws following the 2008 financial crisis and the 78-billion-euro International Monetary Fund bailout. The inner city was hit hardest: Alfama’s population has fallen from 20,000 to 1,000 since the 1980s, according to Luís Filipe Gonçalves Mendes, a researcher at the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning of the University of Lisbon. The IMF pegged Portugal’s housing price growth as the seventh highest in the world in 2018. “The most educated generation ever has no access to housing, challenging our country’s whole future,” says Roseta.


The Basic Housing Law adds specifics to the right to housing set out in Portugal’s constitution: a toolkit of promoting public housing, tax incentives for affordable housing and making it easier to finance the rehabilitation of properties — all while decentralizing control. Although the law itself will not change the status quo immediately, Roseta says, Europe is taking notice. And in the United States last week, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders proposed a $2.5 trillion “Housing for All” plan that combines new spending with zoning and rent regulations.

Roseta is used to extended fights against long odds. At age 19, she told a teacher she wanted to be an architect to resolve her country’s housing woes — “I am still trying,” the 71-year-old says. Soft-spoken and with a gentle air, her temperate demeanor disguises the steely determination that the mother of three and grandmother of seven has possessed since António de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship. After catastrophic flooding in 1967 left 500 dead in Lisbon’s poor suburbs, Roseta resolved that the dictatorship must be overthrown for safe housing to become a reality, and she was jailed before the 1974 Carnation Revolution.

Villagers in Lisbon salvaging possessions after the 1967 floods.

In the newly democratic country, Roseta rose through the political ranks — including a stint as mayor of Cascais, a town outside Lisbon, in the 1980s. A turning point came in 2007, when Roseta led the Independent Citizens Movement for Lisbon, prompting her to quit the Socialist Party, and she was elected to the city council.

In 1998, Roseta founded a successful movement to decriminalize abortion during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy; a year later, she helped coordinate the national movement for East Timor when the former Portuguese colony emerged from Indonesian rule. “For the hardest causes on which traditional politicians feared not stake their careers, she was always there. She’s fearless,” says Lisbon City Councilor Rui Franco, a colleague and longtime friend of Roseta’s.

Roseta (right) campaigning in 1982.

Mendes, who calls Roseta the “mother of housing,” says the activist’s resolve finally paid off with the perfect political coalition: A Socialist Party government supported by the parties on its left. Now, he says, the race is on to implement regulations before the political calculus changes. As Roseta leaves her MP post, October’s elections could see gains for her critics on the right who’ve labeled the housing law as “electoral propaganda that fixes nothing,” as well as those on the left, who call it not radical enough. Meanwhile, Prime Minister António Costa has called it too ambitious.

The next few months will be crucial in implementing legislation that could ripple throughout Europe. Franco says other European countries are considering a version of Portugal’s law, though he wouldn’t name them. Michaela Kauer, the Vienna-based coordinator for the EU Urban Agenda Housing Partnership, is more skeptical. “People would look at the example of Portugal,” she says. “But I think it’s not always so easily transferable.”

Roseta could well be there, hovering in the background, continuing the fight. “I retire from political activity,” she says, “but I do not retire from life.”

Source link
Read also:
CBS Local › 4 days ago
Citing the "overwhelming demand" for low-income housing in Baltimore and an average wait time of up to seven years, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City said it will stop taking public housing applications starting December 13.
ABC News › Finance › 1 month ago
Housing woes are pushing into 2020 debate from Nevada and beyond as Democrats step up with ideas and proposed spending for affordable housing
Sputnik International › Opinions › 2 weeks ago
New Delhi (Sputnik): As men in India are prioritising their "beauty needs" at an exponential speed, industry experts believe that the men's beauty industry has the potential to reshape the existing rugged idea of masculinity in the country.
Fox News › Politics › 1 month ago
President Trump nominated a slew of judges Friday to posts on California-based federal courts, ramping up efforts to reshape the judiciary after hitting a milestone earlier this month with the confirmation of the 150th federal judge on his watch.
Washington Post › Finance › 3 days ago
The bill, dubbed the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, would use seven grant programs to upgrade housing units into carbon neutral communities with organic grocery stores, onsite childcare and community gardens. Public housing residents would get...
New York Daily News › Opinions › 1 month ago
A recent report by City Limits sheds critical light on the problems faced by New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants in housing court eviction proceedings. As the report details, thousands of public housing units are now privately managed, and...
Forbes › 1 month ago
Why not support a massive civil rights law suit against regulatory overreach that kills housing supply? This kind of challenge is not only morally good but it is efficient, attacking the source of housing inflation that makes suffering greater among...
Chicago Tribune › 3 weeks ago
Housing Opportunities recently acquired its first building in the College Hill neighborhood, an apartment with 11 studio units that will offer quality, affordable housing to local residents, an official said.
RT › 1 month ago
San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the US, but its high housing prices and strict zoning have contributed to a homelessness crisis. The city has declared war on its rough sleepers – because housing them is too easy.​ Read Full Article...
Forbes › Finance › 1 day ago
Yes, Bed Bath & Beyond looks slightly undervalued. As per Trefis, the price estimate of Bed Bath & Beyond’s Stock is $14, which is about 4% above the closing price on 13th November, 2019. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. is an omnichannel retailer offering...
Sign In

Sign in to follow sources and tags you love, and get personalized stories.

Continue with Google