Thousands protest in Portugal over housing crisis

A woman carries a placard during a demonstration for the right to affordable housing in Lisbon, Portugal, April 1, 2023. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

LISBON (Reuters) - Thousands of people took to the streets of Lisbon and other cities across Portugal on Saturday in protest against soaring rents and house prices at a time when high inflation is making it even tougher for people to make ends meet.

"There is a huge housing crisis today," Rita Silva, from the Habita housing group, said at the Lisbon protest. "This is a social emergency."

Portugal is one of Western Europe's poorest countries, with government data showing more than 50% of workers earned less than 1,000 euros ($1,084) per month last year. The monthly minimum wage is 760 euros.

Rents in Lisbon, a tourist hotspot, have jumped 65% since 2015 and sale prices have sky-rocketed 137% in that period, figures from Confidencial Imobiliario, which collects data on housing, show. Rents increased 37% last year alone, more than in Barcelona or Paris, according to another real estate data company, Casafari.

The situation is particularly hard on the young.

The average rent for a one-bedroom flat in Lisbon is around 1,350 euros, a study by housing portal Imovirtual showed.

The Socialist government announced last month a housing package that, among other measures, ended the controversial "Golden Visa" scheme and banned new licenses for Airbnb properties but critics say it is not enough to lower prices in the short term.

At the protest, which was organised by the movement "Home to Live" and other groups, 35-year-old illustrator Diogo Guerra said he hears stories about people struggling to access housing every day.

"People who... work and are homeless, people are evicted because their house is turned into short-term accommodations (for tourists)," he said.

Low wages and high rents make Lisbon the world's third-least viable city to live in, according to a study by insurance brokers CIA Landlords. Portugal's current 8.2% inflation rate has exacerbated the problem.

"With my salary, which is higher than the average salary in Lisbon, I cannot afford renting a flat because it's too expensive," said Nuncio Renzi, a sales executive from Italy living in the capital.

($1 = 0.9226 euros)

(Reporting by Miguel Pereira and Pedro Nunes; Writing by Catarina Demony; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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