Changes in Housing and Property under the Austerity Regime in Greece

Challenges for Movements and the Left


1. Introduction

Especially since 2008, housing has emerged once again as a key terrain of contradiction and conflict. The field is very much related to the roots of the global financial crisis (especially due to the scale of housing finance); however, it is also one of its most dramatic consequences and of particular strategic importance to the processes of capital recovery (Harvey, 2012). The abrupt destabilization of previous welfare and societal arrangements that provide housing for the vast majority creates a momentum of deeper understanding and questioning of the contradictions expressed through housing – between commodity and human right, and between exchange and use value (Harvey, 2014). In such a moment, previous perceptions and certainties are reviewed. Discussions about alternative ways of providing affordable and decent housing are generated as demands for public intervention and alternative solutions become more widespread (Marcuse, 2009; Hodkinson, 2012).

“I wish you could learn something useful from the past”: artwork by Dimitris Taxis. Foto: Julia Tulke 2013
“I wish you could learn something useful from the past”: artwork by Dimitris Taxis. Foto: Julia Tulke 2013

The housing question returns in more and more contexts. All over Europe, in terms of housing, precariousness and deprivation are escalating. The growing number of arrears, repossessions, and evictions as well as increasing homelessness illustrates this. Although housing is a contextually-determined and path-dependent field, local housing markets and systems have become more and more interconnected due to processes of financialization (Martin 2011), the involvement of global actors, and the prevalence of neoliberal doctrine. In differentiated and uneven ways, this doctrine shapes the locally implemented policy answers on the basis of fiscal austerity, dispossession, privatizations, liberalization, and welfare state retrenchment (Peck et al., 2013; Aalbers, 2015).

Critical urban analysis can play an important role in the process of bridging these different realities and creating a common space of mutual understanding, exchange, and solidarity. First, it can do so by exposing the similar logics underlying recent restructuring measures and the strategies of financial and political elites. This helps obtain a broader understanding of the role of housing and land in the processes of urban restructuring that have occurred since 2008. Second, critical analysis can provide insight into the political heritage (i.e. institutional history and genealogy of policies and discourses) related to housing in different contexts, including the rapid expansion and consolidation of the neoliberal paradigm during the last decades. A greater understanding is gained of why some policies and programs as well as claims, practices, perceptions, and ideologies are more legitimate than others, why they do or do not appear on the public agenda, and why they are more likely to occur in one context than the other. A process of comparison and synthesis is required in order to understand similar trends and convergences as well as important differences. The aim is to contribute to the development of a strong and far-reaching counter-framing of the housing issue and to pose critical questions regarding possible alternative policies, claims, and practices.

This chapter addresses these issues by focusing on the impacts of the global financial crisis and public-debt crisis management policies on housing and real estate property in Greece. First, it explains the specificities and particularities of the Greek housing system. Then, it presents the recent political transformations (e.g. policies, public debates, and social contestations) of the Greek housing system that followed the austerity measures implemented since 2010. The aim is to provide a background for a common understanding of the differentiated effects of neoliberal austerity in the field of housing, which was imposed by international bodies and customized and implemented by local elites.

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