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Lisbon referendum for housing & against holiday rentals!

Posted by European Action Coalition on 30 December 2022

Portugal: On december 17, Movimento Referendo pela Habitação (MRH) — Referendum for Housing — launched its signature collection campaign for the Lisbon local referendum against holiday rentals!  Airbnb lobbies are very scared of this referendum, and this is a good thing! For the referendum to be implemented, MRH needs to gather a lot of support in the city, build alliances and deepen solidarities. Let’s do what we can to let their struggle be known, because their struggle is our struggle. Housing for people, not profit!

MRH sent us the following text which we are happy to publish!

Movimento referendo pela habitação — Referendum for housing!

In June 2022, a group of residents started meeting to discuss the implementation of a local referendum in Lisbon to tackle the ongoing housing crisis. We are confident that it is our collective responsibility to take back the city that has been surrendered to real estate speculation mainly since the 2008 financial crisis. The inspiration came from the referendum implemented in Berlin in 2021, where the residents of the German capital voted on the expropriation of private property in cases where companies owned 3 000 or more housing units.

Movimento Referendo pela Habitação (MRH) is an horizontal non-partisan social movement which intends to use an instrument of direct democracy for the first time ever in Portugal: the local referendum by popular initiative. The goal is to change the municipal law on holiday rentals (RMAL) in order to prevent commercial activity, such as holiday rentals, to take place in buildings with housing licenses. A second purpose of MRH is to build networks of solidarity between residents to give voice to collective demands for change regarding housing rights.

Holiday rentals in Lisbon

Lisbon has 20.000 housing units which are currently registered as holiday rentals. This makes up for 8,3% of the total of the city’s housing stock. The rampant growth of holiday rentals in Lisbon, which grew 1993% since 2014, is directly contributing to the expulsion of the resident population, to the dismantling of neighborhood relations and to the uncontrolled increase in housing prices. This is the main reason why MRH is setting a referendum on holiday rentals. Today the population is fighting a daily battle to avoid evictions and find affordable houses. The second main reason why MRH is tackling the holiday rentals subject is because a local referendum is limited to the legal purview of the Lisbon City Council (which is the case for holiday rentals).

In April 2022, the Portuguese Supreme Court issued a judgment saying that holiday rentals, being a commercial activity, could not take place in residential buildings, since that violated its registered purpose. This ruling is in direct contradiction to RMAL. MRH wants to compel Lisbon City Council to comply with the law and recognize the social function of housing, which must be for people to live in and not for tourism purposes.

Housing for people, not profit!

For the referendum to be implemented, 5 000 signatures of Lisbon’s registered voters must be collected and presented to the Municipal Assembly for discussion and vote. If the proposal is approved, the Portuguese Constitutional Court still has to validate the constitutionality of the questions presented. Then, if the Constitutional Court approves the questions, the referendum will take place. The result of the referendum is only binding to the Lisbon City Council if the number of voters exceeds 50% of the number of registered voters. This means MRH must gather a lot of support in the city, build alliances and deepen solidarities in order to win. 

Last Saturday, December 17, the Movement launched its signature collection campaign in the largo da Graça. Many supporters came to express their support and participate in the process. We know Airbnb lobbies are very scared of our referendum and we are happy to know so. Now we will take to the streets to gather the signatures and build a strong movement so they can’t stop us. Houses are for living!

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