Lisbon mayor Fernando Medina [Credit: Urban Global Future Conference]

Lisbon mayor Medina to turn Airbnb-style homes into “safe rentals”

Portugal: In an open letter published in The Independent, Lisbon’s mayor Fernando Medina has pledged to turn Airbnb-style homes into “safe rentals” as the Covid-19 pandemic wanes due to concerns over mass tourism.

In the article, Medina said that while the capital city had benefitted “enormously” from tourism in recent years, the prevalence of Airbnb-style holiday rentals in Lisbon had been “pushing up rental prices, hollowing out communities and threatening its unique character”. The mayor claimed that a third of the properties in the city centre were being rented out on platforms such as Airbnb.

As a result, he has set out his “bold plan” in order to prioritise affordable housing for the hospital staff and thousands of other key workers such as transporters and teachers, who Medina said had been “increasingly forced out” due to spiralling rental costs in their neighbourhoods. Medina is also pledging to add more cycle lanes in streets to ease congestion and create green areas and public spaces to give people more places to socialise and exercise.

Medina said: “We’re offering to pay landlords to turn thousands of short-term lets into ‘safe rent’ homes for key workers” once the pandemic recedes sufficiently. As mayor of Lisbon, I want to bring those who are our lifeblood back to the city centre as we make it greener.”

The UN World Urbanisation Prospects estimates that Lisbon’s population is just under three million citizens, and as the largest urban area in the European Union, over 20 million people are believed to fly in and out of its airport annually.

In 2018, the tourism industry contributed 14.6 per cent to Portugal’s gross domestic product according to the latest official data, but the sector showed a 62 per cent slump in the number of people staying in holiday accommodation in March compared to a year ago, and total hotel revenues dropped by more than 57 per cent.

Rating agency Moody’s has suggested that Lisbon has “the highest ratio of Airbnb locations in Europe“, with “more than 30 rooms per 1000 inhabitants”, a title that Medina does not take kindly to. That would put Lisbon above European tourist hubs such as Paris and Amsterdam, which have both been at odds with Airbnb-style platforms for some time over the lack of standardised regulation and their desire to obtain private renter data from those platforms themselves.

Back in Lisbon, Medina has launched a programme to ensure that elderly residents in Lisbon’s city centre will not be threatened with eviction as more and more properties are converted into holiday rentals.

He said: “The pandemic has brought unbelievable loss and hardship to the people of Lisbon and cities around the world. We must not allow this moment of profound trauma and disruption pass and simply return to business as usual. That is a world destined for catastrophic climate change and gross inequality.

“At home in Lisbon, we are determined to seize this moment and create a new path for our city to ensure it remains healthy, vibrant and open for all,” he added.

Medina said he was consulting with mayors in other cities facing similar concerns, such as Milan, Melbourne, Freetown and Seoul to realise his vision and ensure the city of Lisbon will be a greener, more sustainable and eco-friendly destination for years to come.

However, the news comes as Portugal is experiencing a new spike in positive confirmed coronavirus cases in recent days, with Lisbon the heart of the second outbreak in the country. According to data from the European Union’s [EU] Disease Control Centre, Portugal’s number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants is currently the second highest in Europe after Sweden, which itself as been heavily impacted by Covid-19 infections.

The country has also been omitted from the United Kingdom’s quarantine free holiday list, with travellers now being exempted from having to self isolate from 10 July if they are returning to the UK from any of the 50+ “low risk” destinations and territories in the world.

Portugal’s government has swiftly hit back, with the President of Tourism for the Portuguese government, Luis Araújo, claiming that “the entire national territory should have been appropriately included in the UK travel corridor owing to the successful containment of the outbreak”.

Others, including the Portuguese foreign affairs minister on BBC Radio 4, have been more forthright in their opinions, with Augusto Santos Silva branding the decision “absurd” given that the UK’s coronavirus death rate is 28 times higher than that of the Iberian nation.

Read Medina’s letter in full here.

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