Young and old describe agony of being unable to sustain a roof over their heads
Saturday saw tens of thousands of desperate citizens take to the streets of six Portuguese cities to demand the ‘right to housing’ that is enshrined in the constitution, but increasingly impossible to secure.
With the country’s ‘housing crisis’ now on everyone’s lips; with mortgage payments increasing exponentially due to inflation – and cases increasing where homeowners are deciding to sell or simply hand banks the keys to their properties as they can no longer afford monthly instalments – SIC television news covered the afternoon, hearing first-hand stories behind the banners declaring “Honey, we don’t have a home”; “Having a home is a right, not a privilege”; “Stop evictions!” and “Solidarity above property”.
These were, by and large, the citizens caught in the ‘rent trap’: the harsh reality that sees the majority of landlords demanding monthly payments that are above the national minimum wage, as well as hefty deposits (often more than three months’ rent).
As SIC explains, “the problem is not new”, but with no central government housing policy for the best part of a decade – and the popularity of gentrification – it has been allowed to amplify.
Those in the crowd told how they are still having to live with their parents (at ages where they should be independent); how they don’t want to emigrate, but cannot see how else they will be able to survive – or how they have decided that emigration is the only answer.
These were the younger members in the crowds that in some cities, particularly Porto, marched in spite of the rain.
Elderly Portuguese were also in evidence, many of them long-term tenants who have either been hit with hugely increased rents, or already served with eviction orders.
One of these was 81-year-old David Ferreira who told SIC he had been paying a monthly rent of €422 for years, but has now been told the rent has gone up to over €1,000 a month. His pension won’t cover it. He has no idea where he will go, and risks losing the home he has rented for decades..
“Rents are absurd”, a 34-year-old Brazilian echoed. “This situation has to have a brake. We will have to take to the streets until it does…”
Portuguese engineer Samuel Pina, 27, explained how “it is practically impossible for any young person to hope to have their own home these days. I am lucky enough to have a stable income, but if I wanted to buy a property, it would be impossible…”
Samuel said he lives with his mother. He could not survive any other way. “Something has to be done”, he told SIC.
Blame focused on ‘the government’, and to a large extent on ‘landlords’.
But Portugal’s demonstrations were not the only one’s taking place yesterday: there were others under the “Right to Housing” banner in other European cities, called by the European Action Coalition.
The afternoon in Lisbon was marked by confrontations with police. Demonstrations in other cities went ahead more calmly, but the overall sentiment was the same.
Young engineer Samuel summed up today’s problems: the distance between reality and measures adopted by the government to address the housing crisis “is very large (…) there is a very large niche of people with a lot of power who are completely disconnected from society”.
This is the reason for recent opinion polls that show PS Socialists losing ground rapidly to the point that they are roughly neck and neck with PSD social democrats in terms of people’s voting intentions. Elections are a long way away (not due until 2026) – and all the while right wing party CHEGA, Portugal’s third political force, appears to be gaining ground exponentially.
For yesterday’s demonstrators there was no sense of party as they dispersed. SIC ended its report asking “where did people go? To a shared home with more people in it than rooms, or to their parents’ homes, hoping that they can sleep somewhere that offers more rest than strife”.
Or, in the case of 81-year-old David Ferreira, to the home he faces eviction from, with no idea where he will be going once that happens.
SIC’s rough count of numbers taking part in just the Lisbon demo came to 20,000. Thousands of others amassed through the streets of Porto, Aveiro, Coimbra and Braga.