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Residential Properties and Air BnB: Greece should not lose one more chance

 

We can finally make use of all those thousands of old and abandoned buildings throughout the country!

 

As it is the case in our country, the Airbnb phenomenon has gained both fanatic supporters and opponents. In an effort to keep an equal distance between the two sides we will say that the truth, at least here, is somewhere in the middle.

 

Many view the use of housing for tourism purposes as a threat because it raises rents and real estate prices to levels that are too much to handle for Greek standards. The reality is that the tourist boom is generating a huge opportunity to create affordable housing but also to revitalize degraded areas of the center of Athens and other big cities. This, however, requires a plan and a vision of both the national and the municipal governments.

 

The tourist rental of the houses came at the most appropriate time to give a revitalizing "breath" to a large part of the population who saw his real estate assets get greatly devalued during the years of the crisis. We are not even just talking about the expensive and luxurious real estate, especially in the northern suburbs of Athens, which had reached bubble levels before 2009, but also for the small apartments of the lower-middle-class neighborhoods of Koukaki, Pagkrati, Patisia, and Kypseli.

 

However,  the Airbnb phenomenon does not come without its side effects. House rents in many parts of the country have risen too much in relation to wages. Finding someone to rent a flat today in Pagrati at reasonable prices is a very difficult task. The same thing in Koukaki is simply impossible.

 

Those distortions in the housing market created by Airbnb are not a Greek phenomenon. It has also been seen in other cities in the world, such as Lisbon and Barcelona. In those cities, the permanent residents are actually driven to the suburbs, as rental rates are prohibitive.

 

Athens, however, is not Barcelona where nothing new can be built. Athens is full of empty, unused and largely abandoned real estate properties. There are actually thousands of properties that are crippled either because they are shared by many owners or because they belong to the State and are not being exploited.

 

An opportunity is being created. If there is an organized plan to capitalize on these properties, affordable housing can be created. Imagine a condominium with apartments rented to youngsters and young couples at low prices. The "subsidy" of this low rent may come from the exploitation of some of those apartments through Airbnb.

 

Corresponding moves can also be made in areas other than large urban centers. For example, in the city of Chania in Crete, where many university students cannot find apartments at affordable prices, hotspots can be created that during the school year will accommodate students and summer tourists.

 

Such initiatives are not necessarily far-fetched. There just needs to be a change in the logic of both the national and the municipal governments, to have a vision and a plan that can create and fund such projects.

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