A bill passed last Friday by Portugal’s parliament sets out a legal basis for housing being treated as a citizens’ right. Under the new law, the Portuguese government becomes responsible for ensuring adequate housing for all citizens as “the guarantor of the right to housing,” writes Peter Yeung at Citylab.
The Basic Housing Law emphasizes the “social function” of housing, with the explicit goals of eradicating homelessness, prioritizing the use of public real estate for affordable housing, and prohibiting tenant evictions across Lisbon—a pressing issue in recent years—unless the state is able to provide similar accommodation nearby. Framers of the law describe it as a foundation and roadmap for future policies, albeit one with some explicitly defined targets, rather than a direct instrument for giving people homes.
The law stipluates that the government will need to present a first-ever national policy for housing to the parliament by March 2020, including special protective measures for young people, the disabled, the elderly, and families with young children.
It also creates a mechanism whereby not only individuals but entire neighborhoods will be able to lodge complaints about housing quality, ongoing construction, or proposed developments, in an attempt to democratize a sector that has seen soaring rent increases amid the tourism boom in Lisbon’s city center.
A majority of support for the bill was gathered in parliament over the past few weeks, and the July 5 vote was largely a formality, according to Helena Roseta, the veteran MP who masterminded it. A coalition of the Socialist Party, the Portuguese Communist Party, the Left Bloc, and the Social Democratic Party voted in favor; the right-wing CDS–People’s Party opposed. That party’s deputy, Alvaro Castello-Branco, denounced it as “electoral propaganda that fixes nothing.”
“This victory is very important to me,” Roseta, president of Lisbon’s Municipal Assembly, told CityLab. “It’s the end result of my entire career. There are general laws for health, education, and social security, but there never was [until now] a law for housing—we must treat it as a social right, as we have with these others.”
Housing “is a genuine crisis; there is an enormous strain on middle-class people—not just the poor—and there is a weight on young people,” she added. “We are in the middle of a process of the financialization of housing, and there are powerful interests fighting to say housing should not be a right, but a market. We cannot forget this, or poor people won’t have a place to live. [Otherwise] they will live in slums.”
The Basic Housing Law is a reaction to a significant and rapid escalation of housing prices and dearth of affordable homes, predominantly in Lisbon, the capital, but also in other parts of Portugal.