| 21 July 2024, Sunday |

Tent-dwelling migrants join protest over Portugal’s housing prices

Marcia Leandro moved to Portugal from Brazil six months ago with a goal: to train as a chef. But Portugal’s housing crisis curbed her dreams and forced her to live in a tent.

Leandro, 43, and Andreia Costa, her neighbour in an improvised tent camp on an empty plot on the outskirts of Lisbon, marched alongside thousands of Portuguese on Saturday in a protest against soaring rents and house prices stoked by growing gentrification and record tourism.

Portugal is one of Western Europe’s poorest countries with an average monthly wage of around 1,200 euros ($1,268), and a 65% increase in Lisbon rents since the start of the tourism boom in 2015 has made apartments unaffordable for many.

Sale prices have skyrocketed 137% in that period, according to housing data specialists Confidencial Imobiliario.

Migrants and other precarious workers are particularly vulnerable. Brazilians, who make up 40% of Portugal’s migrant community, on average earn around 20% less than Portuguese, according to the Migration Observatory. Many receive less than the official monthly minimum pay of 760 euros.

Leandro used to pay 230 euros a month for a bunk bed in a shared room in Lisbon, but when she lost her job as a cleaner she could no longer rent. Other options were too expensive. The tent cost her 160 euros and, now newly-employed, she remains there.

“I’m just living here to save money … I’m here so I can achieve my dream,” she told Reuters outside her two-compartment blue tent where she sleeps and keeps belongings. She’d like to rent a one-bedroom flat, but prices are “absurd”, she said.

At Saturday’s rallies in Lisbon, Porto and other cities, protesters carried banners reading “Housing is a right!” and chanted slogans criticising the Socialist government for what many see as defending landlords and not the people.

Some were dressed up as the moustachioed, top-hat wearing mascot of the board game Monopoly.

“The housing situation is completely unsustainable,” said Dinis Lourenco, 31, one of the Portuguese protesters.

“Salaries have to increase significantly so people can pay the rent, there have to be rent controls, a solution for rising interest rates,” he said.

Lourenco and other critics say measures announced by the government earlier this year that include curbs on Airbnb short-term rentals are not enough to tame the crisis, exacerbated by various factors including wealthy foreigners ploughing money into property and a chronic shortage of affordable housing.

“People are suffocating because of housing,” said Leandro’s neighbour Costa, also from Brazil. Half of her 800 euro monthly wage used to go towards renting a dwelling in her landlord’s garden. Her goal now is to buy a caravan – ideally before the winter.

The 2021 census showed that nearly 38% of Portugal’s foreign population lived in overcrowded households, and various rights groups have said migrants often face discrimination in access to housing.

  • Reuters