Long before the coronavirus spread across Europe this spring, many cities were complaining that an increase in short-term rental apartments for tourists through platforms like Airbnb was driving up housing costs for locals and destroying the character of historic neighborhoods.
Now that the pandemic has almost disrupted the steady stream of visitors, many European cities are taking the opportunity to bring short-term rents back into the long-term housing market.
In Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, the city government itself becomes the landlord by renting empty apartments and sub-letting them as subsidized apartments. In Barcelona, Spain, housing authorities are threatening to take vacant lots and do the same.
Other city governments are enacting or planning new laws to curb the explosive growth in rents, which are primarily aimed at tourists. Amsterdam has banned vacation rentals in the heart of the old town, and Paris is planning a referendum on Airbnb deals.
When there are many tourists, renting a property for the short term can be more lucrative for the owner than for a long-term tenant. According to city governments, this has distorted housing markets in cities where supply is already scarce.
“We entered the pandemic with enormous pressure on our real estate market and we cannot afford to end the pandemic with the same problems,” said Fernando Medina, Mayor of Lisbon.
The city has started entering into five-year contracts for empty short-term rental apartments. These properties are then sublet at lower prices to people who are eligible for subsidized housing. The city government has allocated € 4 million, or around $ 4.7 million, for the first year of the subsidy.
The program aims to attract 1,000 homeowners this year and has attracted 200 so far. Mr Medina said he was confident that the plan would achieve its goal as a rapid recovery in tourism appears increasingly unlikely in the face of the ongoing pandemic.