Big cities: “Let’s fight against the transformation of our habitats into a vast speculative vein”

Tribune. Housing has been much more and much less than it should be or what small investors want it to be for a long time. Neither human right nor “safe investment”, it has become an essential ingredient in the financialization of the economic system; an evolution with consequences that are as considerable as they are difficult to combat.

For those who participate in this dynamic, the value of an apartment, a building, a house is only marginally linked to their initial function. It is their inclusion in asset portfolios, their financial securitization and their articulation with hundreds or even thousands of other securities that make these homes no longer useful but profitable.

Around ten million seizures

The excessive marketing of fragile real estate debts and the subprime crisis of 2008 have been one of the most terrible illustrations of this phenomenon over the past two decades. According to the Dutch-American sociologist Saskia Sassen, in the United States alone, over a period including the years 2006 to 2010, ten million foreclosures deprived 35 million people of their homes. And this is just one manifestation of the magnitude of the problem.

Even today, many destinies come up against the transformation of their places of life into veritable mines to be exploited to the maximum. So much so that Saskia Sassen sounded the alarm in 2015 on the massive increase in international investments in urban real estate and on the effects that this would have on what makes the social vitality of a city: its diversity, its capacity to welcome a plurality of audiences, the multiplicity of services and cultures to which it gives access.

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This phenomenon does not affect all countries in the same way. Legislation, for example by protecting tenants, can more or less effectively regulate it. From the City district in London, where one in three housing units – which for its owner has become one of many assets – would remain empty in the long term, to the historic center of Lisbon, where the same proportion of housing was available in 2020 for short-term rentals, however, there is not a nation that is able to escape it completely.

The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced this trend by the instability it has introduced in certain markets and by the need for different players to migrate part of their interests in commercial real estate to other forms. investments – including apartment buildings. The press, including The world, echoed it. The city of Paris and its region themselves are increasingly concerned by the appetite of young start-ups or by large international groups on the borders of finance and real estate.

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Big cities: “Let’s fight against the transformation of our habitats into a vast speculative vein”