Finally, the Government seems to have understood that the New Generation of Housing Policies (NGPH) is not “the” solution to the structural housing crisis that emerged in 2015/16. When it was launched, in 2018, the NGPH proposed to resolve this crisis through compensation – important, but insufficient – for the accumulated deficits of housing policies in Portugal: the ambition of this new policy, aimed at various segments of the population and no longer only for the most needy, was to implement the unfulfilled pillar of the Portuguese Welfare State – the pillar of housing.
The lack of financial means for the effective operationalization of the NGPH, resolved a posteriori and by chance with the arrival of the PRR, it shows the naivety of its ambition or, in a more cynical perspective, its demagoguery. But there was another problem: the structural crisis that the NGPH proposed to solve, possibly aggravated by these deficits in the public offer, resulted above all from profound changes in the market – changes in supply and demand following the intensification of financialization and internationalization of the sector.
And it is the More Housing package that touches, for the first time, the main cause of this structural crisis: the market. At the same time, it adds measures to mitigate the conjunctural crisis that has taken hold in the meantime (inflation and interest rates), now affecting a segment that had remained protected from this structural crisis – homeowners with loans. And if this package is not PREC 2.0, as proclaimed by many voices on the more reactive right, it heralds an important change in housing policies in Portugal, contrary to what the left defends, to the left of the PS: a change, in line with what happens in other countries and cities, and which, implementing some market regulation, is already conceptualized as “post-neoliberalization” of housing policies.
Convergence with Europe is also this and it is also the expected reaction from agents in the sector, from the opposition, from activists or from more or less committed commentators.
The fact that the Government launched this package in a relatively haphazard way – presenting a set of measures that many accuse of being disconnected, unfair, not very assertive, difficult to implement and with details divulged drop by drop – should not be an argument for maintaining the status quo. The little time that the Government gave for its discussion does not help: it reinforces panic and revulsion among the agents directly involved in the process, feeding their eagerness to be victimized in the face of public opinion; encourages the race of commentators to the sound bite more bombastic; and it hinders the reasonable negotiation of the various measures and the questioning of their ways of operationalization.
In fact, the operationalization of this package is its essential problem for two reasons:
i. First, due to the unpreparedness and insufficient human resources of the institutions responsible for carrying out most of the measures, from the Institute of Housing and Urban Rehabilitation to the municipalities. A problem made worse by the accumulation of PRR implementation, which in the case of housing has proved to be especially weak and, not least, by the regulatory and legislative tangle created by the State itself.
II. second, because – given the current primacy of housing on the political agenda and the overlapping of the levels of government, national and local, of housing policies – municipal power finds in this issue an excellent opportunity to reinforce its role in inter- and intra-party struggles: see the timingthe form and substance of the reactions of the mayors of Lisbon and Porto.
As for negotiation, some agents are more open than others. negotiate with young president of the Association of Real Estate Promoters and Investorsfull of irrefutable certainties, or with the always angry President of the Lisbon Owners Association whose attitude has contributed to an unfair perception of landlords as an undifferentiated amalgam of insensitive people, will not be the same as doing with the most dialoguing representatives of Local Accommodation Association in Portugal or da Order of Architects. But there are at least three principles that must govern these negotiations, whatever the degree of openness of the various agents involved, including Parliament: 1st realism; 2nd equity; 3rd respect for territorial diversity.
- O principle of realism implies that the State is aware of both its own limitations and the resulting implications, and the modus operandi and the framework of perceptions and motivations of its interlocutors. The State’s self-knowledge allows it to define its possibilities of action, in the short and medium term, and what it should change if it maintains its current ambitions. Knowing your interlocutors helps you to predict reactions and possible perverse effects of the considered measures.
- O equity principle presupposes an understanding of the unequal conditions for carrying out the numerous activities covered by this package (from local accommodation to housing production), valuing the progressiveness of the measures or the elimination of some privileges that fueled this structural crisis: from the regime of non-habitual residents to the visa for digital nomads, not forgetting real estate investment funds.
- O principle of respect for territorial diversity it implies recognizing that, because this crisis does not affect the territories equally and there are even significant differences between different areas of the same parish, the measures and their criteria must also be differentiated.
Whatever the result of the public and parliamentary discussion of Mais Habitação, there is a process of change underway that has only now begun and which, not being linear or completely breaking with the recent past, will with great probability determine the political, media agenda and civic life in the coming years.
And it will not be the realization of the PRR housing projects, assuming that this happens, that will stop it: it is that there is not enough public offer to compensate for the sharpening of the market distortions that occurred in the second decade of the sec. XXI, neither in Portugal nor in any other country. Just as there is no government, right or left, democratic or populist, that is immune to the more than predictable continuous pressure from public opinion and average.
The author writes according to the new spelling agreement