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25 years of MIPIM is enough

Real estate managers, asset dealers and city sellers at this years MIPIM, the world's biggest property fair, will for the first time be met by a Europe-wide coalition, calling for an end to the great city sell-off.

During the past 25 years some of us have been promised private homes, but all we got is debt and the threat of eviction. Others paid rising rents, and what we got is a lack of maintenance, and gentrification. Many have been pushed out of our neighbourhoods; others are homeless or badly housed. During the past 25 years much investment has come through our cities, but at the end the vast majority of us are poorer. In their view we, the producers of their buildings, the inhabitants of their assets play only one role: We pay for their business and loans; be it as tenants, as mortgage payers or as citizens and tax payers.

Now, after 25 years, after all the costs, the losses, the crashes it is really time to say “no” to this business. For a long time we have been saying no: no to evictions in Barcelona and Rome, no to homelessness in Paris and Budapest, no to gentrification in London and Berlin, no to rent increases and no to demolitions…but that has not stopped them. Now we are coming to where they gather to say “no” even in Cannes! No to their destructive ideas of a total market, where houses and other social infrastructure become private, purely financial, assets! No to their reduction of the city, our common habitat, to a globally competing business place, filled only with commodities. No to the plundering of our environment and urban heritage! No to their workfare, precaritisation and control! No to the public bailout of their crisis, their crashes. No to their systems of greed, structural irresponsibility and profit extraction!

Look back in anger

When the first Mipim took place 25 years ago the crisis of the social factory with its mass housing machines was already 20 years old. In reaction to that crisis the neoliberal ideology of homeownership has been normalised and the “right to buy” progressively replaced the right to equal housing rights. In 1989 the time was ripe for the lift-off of the property business from its territorial relations and the freeing from its role as a mere service for industrial production and social reproduction. The real estate business became an “industry” in its own. As Mipim was one of the main promoters of this development we call this phenomenon “Mipimism”.

Mipimism was warmly welcomed by market-driven governments in Europe. Germany for instance, after long political disputes, in 1989 abolished a law which protected the huge sector of non-for-profit rental housing from being sold out. Soon after the iron curtain fell and Eastern Europe became an El Dorado for privatisers and speculators. At the same time the growing European Union totally moved in the direction of neoliberal market policies without a counterpart; in social rights and equality. Step by step, all barriers for the free float of globally accumulated and heavily concentrated capital were abolished. Much of this capital was invested into housing and commercial real estate, making living in Europe's major cities more and more unaffordable. Tourism, urban entertainment, the concentration of retail, mega-events and large scale urban projects transformed many city regions into agglomerations of transnational property investments.

At the same time financial accumulation and new technologies of shadow banking promoted the development of a huge transnational mortgage and housing bubble. The crashes since 2007, the public bail outs, the fundamental crisis of the EU and the mortgage misery in southern Europe during the past years…all a consequence of 25 years of Mipimism.

Diagnosis of the results

Let’s have a look at the results, as they appear to the members of our European Action Coalition:

In Southern Europe the Troika reacted to the debt crisis with conditions which deeply affect people’s housing. Instead of liberating the real use-value of the housing stocks from financial abuse and transforming it into social, public or common housing, the Troika enforced a bailout of the failed mortgage banks without protecting indebted homeowners from the consequences. As a consequence there has been a dramatic increase in housing precarity and forced evictions in all countries.

In Spain economic growth during the past decade was mainly based on tourism and real estate. The result was an enormous housing bubble. At the same time no social housing provision was established. In order to get a house people were forced to shift into the debt system and lend money at high risks and on bad terms. When the bubble burst people were not able to pay their mortgages. 200.000 families have been evicted, 400.000 foreclosure processes are going on. At the same time the unemployment rate is 27% and 3.5 million homes are empty. The state bailed out the banks resulting in extraordinary high public debt, being a threat for the whole economy not only in Spain.

Also Portugall during the past 25-30 years promoted private mortgage and the creation of a housing bubble as a “solution” for mass housing. Their crazy logic: the more credit available, the higher the prices of houses will be. Now, after the crash most families are indebted for their whole life. Because of the austerity politics of the Portuguese government on the orders of Troika, people are also losing their jobs and can’t afford the loans anymore.
In its “memorandum of understanding” the Troika also imposed the full liberalization of the rental housing market which means rent increase and evictions. Also the new urban renewal plans and the sale of public housing, land and infrastructure is part of the austerity regime.  Consequently, there is a deep transformation of city centres. Local residents and traditional commerce gets replaced with hotels, franchised shops, hostels and luxury houses. Within few years this has caused a fundamental change in the social composition of the city. The working classes will have no space inside the central city districts any more.

In Greece the housing problem is a direct consequence of the austerity politics implemented by the Greek government following the Troika adjustment programs and consecutive memoranda since 2010. Housing precarity has increased because of the expansion of credit and dependence of access to housing from bank lending in previous years, but also because of the heavy taxation that the government is imposing on private property and the increasing housing costs. People can no longer pay for their houses because of rising unemployment (almost 30% at the end of 2013), reduction of income, cuts in pensions and wages leading to an acute impoverishment of wide parts of the population. As a result people are indebted towards the banks, the state and social security funds. Inability to pay and poverty is penalised and people are threatened with confiscations of income, pensions, mobile and immobile property. The protective frame and moratorium of evictions that was in place until the end of 2013, is now being withdrawn, and housing auctions and evictions are starting to take place. But it is not only private property and housing that is under threat. As part of the adjustment program a huge privatisation and clearance program is taking place, putting all public land and property on sale to international and local investors in order to increase public revenues. Housing precarity and auctions are also used as a way to produce a slump in the real-estate market in order to provide for better ‘investment opportunities’ further jeopardising the right to housing and the city.

In Britain council housing stock has been decimated, home ownership has massively decreased, tenants have been pushed into insecure tenures, a third of renters are in the private sector and a large number of them are impoverished. Squatting residential properties has been criminalized in a general shift to shore up property rights. We are seeing a massive deregulation of the planning procedures in the interest of developers. Demolition and rebuilding of social housing is failing to provide affordable homes for local people and leads to ever more reduction of secure council stock. Thus homelessness has risen steeply with funds solely for management, rather than breaking the cycle. It is readily apparent that change will not occur from representational bodies, due to the fact that a third of parliamentarian members are buy to let landlords. ‘Revolving doors’ policies between local municipalities and private developers are common practice and are showcased spectacularly at MIPIM. These ensure profits for an elite of housing speculators and investors at the cost of ordinary tenants.

In the Netherlands a broad social rental sector was built from the beginning of the twentieth century that gave access to affordable good quality housing to approximately 1/3 of the Dutch population (5 million people in 2012). But this social housing system has been under attack over the last 25 years. The social housing corporations got entangled in a leak to the capital market; they privatised the social housing stock, demolished thousands of social rental homes and were floated in megalomaniac urban renewal and gentrification programs. As a result the social housing stock has been seriously reduced. At the same time the Dutch government has been executing neoliberal policies promoting privatization, home-ownership and high rent increases. Currently the government is paving way for a massive sell off of the social rental housing sector to foreign investors. Also since 2013 it is further taxing the social housing sector millions of euros to pay for the debts of the crisis. In these dynamics, the shortage of affordable housing in the Netherlands is growing, hence people are increasingly forced to accept temporary rental contracts without any tenants rights. ‘Vacant property protectors’, commercial companies that were born from the interests of real estate, have found a way to by-pass all tenants’ rights completely, thus setting a new norm for the right to housing: it will be precarious.

In Belgium the governments (federal, regional and municipal) in general have failed to create a housing policy that respects the constitutional Article 23 concerning the right to housing, thus failing to ensure affordable (social) housing for those that need that in the long term. Increases in the cost of real estate in the form of gentrification of cities has resulted in less access to housing, the eviction of residents and in general the negation of the right to housing. Especially in the main Walloon cities, housing speculation has as a primary consequence the process of gentrification and therefore the displacement of the original population. In Charleroi, Liège, Brussels, as in Louvain-la-Neuve, in the province of Brabant, people can no longer afford to live in their home town and are moving to more accessible areas for the benefit of new, more affluent residents. In Brussels about half of children already live in inadequate housing,- unsafe or too small. Most better quality housing is very expensive. The demand for social housing is the most pressing in Brussels (40,000 households waiting).

In the countries of ex-Yugoslavia MIPIMism arrived only after the wars had ended, therefore quite late and in the form of selling off of infrastructure and natural resources. The effects of homegrown and international privatization have been disastrous, leading to mass impoverishment, unemployment and critical levels of precariousness. Property development is almost completely deregulated and politicians are able to sign off public assets without due process. The current uprisings in Bosnia are a good example of the effects of the marketization of public assets and the deregulation of planning and political power which go hand in hand in the states of post-war Yugoslavia.

In Germany more than 2 million housing units were sold after 2000. Approximately 900,000 housing units today are under direct control of financial investors. At the level of the housing and facility management the results were disastrous: Forced to extract a return and interest from an aged housing stock, landlords reduced maintenance and the workforce in their management. A proportion of the companies “defaulted”. In spite of these experiences public banks and governments in 2013 have continued to sell housing companies to private business controlled by financial investors.

Concrete accusations of Mipim-attendees

In Cannes members of the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and to the City will point out the following concrete cases of violations of housing rights, democratic and social principles in their cities by actors who attend the MIPIM
:

From Lisbon “Habita” accuses ESTAMO, which is a public company responsible for the sale of public land and buildings and the CML which is the municipality of Lisbon. Together these two public entities are promoting speculative operations and sell the public infrastructure in retail. “Habita” also accuses real estate funds from banks like Millennium-BCP that have been buying land and promoting processes of mass eviction of the poor from working class areas in collaboration  with municipal entities.These banks are also among the actors which are mainly responsible for the housing bubble in Portugal. The bubble indebted thousands of families for life, and evicted them from their foreclosed homes. Even in losing their home, they still maintain a debt to the bank.

The Athens groups “encounterAthens”, Committe of struggle for a metropolitan park in Helliniko, occupied theater EMPROS, Solidarity for all, Network for the protection of Saronikos bay are accusing the state company TAIPED (hellenic republic asset development fund), the greek government and the Troika for the austerity and privatisation policies they are implementing, in favour of the banks, financial sector and big investors. The processes of deprivation and dispossession that are taking place are putting people and local communities in fear, insecurity, while undermining the possibilities of their future recovery.

The “Radical Housing Networkin London accuses the mayor Boris Johnson of cultivating a metropolis for global elites and forcing lifelong communities to disperse. Across the capital council estates are being demolished and unaffordable homes are taking their place. We accuse Brent Housing Partnership and the corporate councils of Brent and Southwark, the construction firm Willmott Dixon, developers Lend Lease, Berkeley Homes, and the housing associations Catalyst and Genesis that control the new housing product. All these will be in attendance, making MIPIM-deals without transparency or consultation of those affected.

The “Bond Precaire Woonvormen”, a Union of people whose housing situation is precarious from the NETHERLANDS, is accusing Camelot Europe, one of the largest ‘vacant property protecting’ commercial companies, that is by-passing all existing tenant laws and using people in need of housing as ‘real-estate pawns’ and as ‘out-sourced dwellers’ that only serve to facilitate speculation. The Mipimist Camelot is currently housing thousands of people throughout Europe, without assuming the slightest responsibility that a landlord should bear. Speculation research collective “SPOK” is accusing the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area since the shortage of affordable housing in the region is grinding yet at the same time the (office) vacancy rates are excessive.
The BELGIAN organisations “Habitat et Participation”, “Solidarités Nouvelles” and “Réseau brabançon pour le droit au logement” point their accusations to the Belgian government and the investors at Mipim who should have moral and social responsibilities. They explain how big developers, hand in hand with the government, transform Brussels by constructing buildings for the middle and upper classes. This work goes much faster than the construction of new social housing. In older neighbourhoods, small owners benefit from the arrival of a new population and the increase in prices by dislodging former tenants to renovate and re-let at double the price. In Charleroi, a formerly working industrial area with a high unemployment rate, the city center is being “revitalized” by the “cleansing” of neighborhoods which started with the renovation of the station in 2010.

Tenant Associations from RUHR DISRICT (Germany) accuse some of their large financialized landlords of extracting profit from the housing companies without respect to standards and needs. Currently they i.e. accuse LEG to demand unjustified rent increases.

The Serbian government is accused for the project “Belgrade on the Water” which it is presenting at this year’s MIPIM. This so-called masterplan is another word for a land grab which will encourage international land banking, expropriation and consolidation of prime riverside land, the use of political power to sell off public land for the benefit of transnational capital and the United Arab Emirates, and the seeking of party-political gains by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, whose political career is directly responsible for the war in Yugoslavia, and whose government has only further dispossessed the people of Serbia.

Decentralised Action

Parallel or in context with the activities in Cannes the following decentralised actions will take place by local organisations in the cities:

In Sabadell near Barcelona the Platform of Victims of the Mortage and the  Crisis (PAH) since 5th March has been occupying a bank office protesting against forced evictions of several families.

On Thursday 6th March housing groups and residents from across London demonstrated outside the London City Hall to express their anger at Mayor Boris Johnson and over 20 UK councils participating in the MIPIM conference.

On Saturday 8th March a local group in Düsseldorf, Germany, organized an open meeting in a housing estate of the former public landlord LEG, which via Goldman Sachs meanwhile is being traded at the stock exchange. In Düsseldorf – as in many other cases – LEG has increased the rents heavily.

In Portugal, on March 26th, residents from different popular neighborhoods of Amadora (near to Lisbon) will promote a convergence process of the struggle: a demonstration will be organized in front of the City Hall of Amadora because this has been a major player in the execution of hundreds of evictions on land recently bought by speculation funds like Millennium-BCP. Moreover, this town hall has also increased social rents, impoverishing the families of social housing neighborhoods and forcing them into the rental market

In Athens, on March 15th, groups, individuals and social movements fighting for the right to housing and the city, will demonstrate in front of the seat of TAIPED in the center of Athens (Kolokotroni Square) against the privatisation of public land and property, which leads to the displacement of local groups and their usage, and the delivery of public assets to private speculation.


Statement released by the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City on Reclaiming Spaces.

For more articles on the series, go to the Cities in Conflict home page.


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