Athens: the apartment building phenomenon

“Housing has become a commodity and the type of property has changed in Greece. It remains to be seen how this changes human geography in apartment buildings and life in Athens neighborhoods, ”explains Thomas Maloutas, professor of social geography at Harokopio University. [Antony Surace]

The Athenian building is a living organism whose evolution reflects broader social and economic changes, most recently from the decade-long financial crisis, followed by the emergence of Athens as a popular tourist destination, the advent from short-term rentals, the Golden Visa program and the influx of foreign capital that followed, before the pandemic paused – but not stopped – some fascinating developments.

Thomas Maloutas, professor of social geography in the geography department of Harokopio University, is one of the experts who has extensively studied the “phenomenon” of the Athenian building.

“What has changed today is our perception of the whole ‘antiparochi’ affair,” he said, referring to a law passed in 1929 that flourished during the post-war period by which the owners of houses and land sold their property to a real estate developer. in exchange for a unit or two in the newly built block.

“Most people believed that antiparochi was a bad thing for the city, that it destroyed its architectural heritage, that it caused over-built neighborhoods and depressed their value. If this is not entirely wrong, we have accepted that this residential park has succeeded in providing a roof over the head of a wide range of social levels in a country that did not have a policy. housing. In addition – and this was recognized much later – the way residential development occurred in central Athens did not result in the creation of ghettos, i.e. areas with exclusively poor populations trapped in a cycle of isolation. The building, this bizarre phenomenon, has in fact created a socially inclusive space, ”explains Maloutas.

New legislation introduced in the mid-1980s banned ground-floor and mezzanine apartments, which also changed the vertical division of space. Before that, larger apartments – and wealthier tenants – tended to be at the top of the building, smaller ones – and less well-off residents – lower.

“Apartment buildings became more socially homogeneous from the mid-1980s onwards. The upper floors continued to be more expensive, but they did not cater to a different social class than the lower floors. The social divide between the floors has narrowed. In addition, the tendency for the size of the apartment to be determined by the floor it was on decreased over time, ”explains Maloutas.

The antiparochi system, meanwhile, has all but disappeared over the past decade, as the motives – tax and zoning – that motivated the regime have been abolished.

“In addition, Athens is not what it was in the 1960s: its population is growing every day, which has led to intense demand. There are no longer any empty plots, because most of the city has already been built, ”explains Maloutas.

“The residential market stagnated during the economic crisis, a development which was due on the one hand to what was happening to us, the Greeks, and, on the other hand, to the fact that Athens had little interest in investment for foreigners. This interest began to appear gradually as the country emerged from the crisis, which also coincided with the rise in the tourist trend. A new type of demand has been created, directly linked to the residential market. It is revealing that in the period just before the pandemic, three out of four purchases were made by foreign buyers and not by Greeks, ”he explains.

These changes have changed the social identity of some apartment buildings, but not radically, according to the expert.

“Part of the population moved to the suburbs from the early 1990s onwards. Apartments became unwanted and many of them gradually began to find new tenants in the form of immigrants. That more or less remained the case until Airbnb came in and changed the equation. People who had found accommodation in the less desirable parts of apartment buildings were pressured to leave. Until the advent of Airbnb, apartment buildings were the bulwark against gentrification because no investor would buy these apartments. But Airbnb has given the owners of these apartments hope for income, which means their vulnerable tenants have been displaced, but not, of course, to the point of creating a wave of homelessness, ”says Maloutas.

This in turn resulted in an increase in rental rates, which amounted to 30% over the period 2016-17. “The pandemic held it back, but didn’t stop it, because a lot of the apartments didn’t take over long-term leases,” he says.

Regarding the advent of many apartments and apartment buildings in central Athens owned by foreigners, Maloutas says this is a development whose impact on the city will become apparent over the years. coming years.

“On the one hand, the new owner does not care about the social origin of the tenant – many Greek owners have done this, often in a racist manner. On the other hand, housing has become a commodity and the type of property has changed in Greece. It remains to be seen how this changes human geography in apartment buildings and life in Athens neighborhoods.

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