When a problem becomes too big, it becomes a European problem. PS Socialists ask European Commission to make
When a problem becomes too big, it becomes a European problem. PS Socialists ask European Commission to make "lack of accessible housing" a European priority

Government seeks answers for Portugal’s housing crisis from European Commission

Critics say move shows government’s “enormous failure”

In a letter sent by Portugal to European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen, the government has asked for housing to be considered one of the Commission’s priorities, as it represents an “elevated weight on the income of families”.

For critics of the government’s deeply unpopular ‘Mais Habitação’ (More Housing) programme, the request shows that PS Socialists, in the final analysis, appreciate that it doesn’t have the answers the country so desperately needs.

Since the programme was first touted in February, property prices have continued to increase; landlords have ‘fled the market’ (because of clauses affecting rentals) and foreign investment (in property) has cooled.

In the meantime, talented/ highly-qualified young people are reported to be leaving the country for destinations where their qualifications will see them earning three times as much – and much better able to afford a roof over their heads.

Clearly in an effort to fend off criticism, the government’s response has been that the problem of access to affordable housing is an issue affecting other European countries, not just Portugal. But that doesn’t explain why Portugal has decided it needs to be the country to request action, when it is pushing forwards with a housing programme, vetoed by its own president, which it claims will solve the problems.

The letter also refers to the ‘brain drain’ as well as the issues of how to recover from forest fires (so far this year much less devastating than in previous years).

According to Expresso, these letters to the European Commission mark the return to business after the summer break.

This year’s for example also re emphasises the need to ‘complete the banking union; commercial agreements with India and Mercosul (Latin American countries), touches on ‘questions of water, proposing the creation of a ReWater EU campaign’ (along the same lines as RePower EU), and ‘insists on reinforcement of the arsenal of  response to crises).

But the ‘main focus’ appears to be on accessible housing – rather the difficulty in securing it for everyday working citizens.

“It is really a European problem, and thus it makes sense for a community intervention”, Secretary of State for European Affairs Tiago Antunes explains to Expresso.

Opposition parties don’t buy it. Buoyed by the very vocal criticism of President Marcelo – and his symbolic veto, almost certain to be overridden by the PS executive in a subsequent vote in parliament – Iniciativa Liberal has said today that it is clear that Mais Habitação “will create more problems” for citizens, and by removing confidence in the market (with measures like the enforced rental of vacant habitable properties, and the threat of removal of licenses for short-term holiday rents) there is already less housing available in the country.

IL leader Rui Rocha says the letter “is a form of admitting that the Mais Habitation package, which hasn’t even yet come into effect, is an enormous failure that won’t solve any of the problems facing Portuguese people”.

Months on from President Marcelo’s description of the programme as ‘a poster law’ that will achieve nothing, it not only looks as if everyone outside government agrees with him, those on the inside do too.

Since this story went up online, numerous figures from political parties across the spectrum have come out to condemn the government: PCP communists, for example, saying the govermment would be better employed actually doing something, instead of writing letters.

Leader writers too added their overview – a pithy one coming from Armando Esteves Pereira of Correio da Manhã who points out that if António Costa had been in his job for just a few months, it would be perfectly understandable for him to look at the dire housing crisis affecting families and young people and ask for help. But he has been in charge of Portugal’s government since 2015 “and up until now, he has always pushed this problem forwards with his stomach” (this is not meant to be a reference to Mr Costa’s stomach per se; it is a standard Portuguese expression, translating in English into something like ‘putting the whole thing off’).

“In 2015, houses cost around half of what they cost now; interest rates were low; tourists had not yet invaded the principal cities and ‘alojamento local’ (AL short-term holiday rentals) were emerging. Years before, in the times of the Troika, houses even lost value and hundreds of builders went out of business, with some of the best emigrating.

“Without new constructions, with the interests of foreigners pressuring, the prices of homes have skyrocketed, and the government has been surprised by its inaction.

“The plea to Brussels is really the confession of the sin of Costa’s years in government“, concludes CM’s deputy editorial director-general.

[email protected]