‘There are no locals renting here now’, prices skyrocket as remote workers flock to Mexico City – The Irish Times

Karina Franco’s ornate Art Deco building in Mexico City’s historic center has long been the heart of a downtown lifestyle, home to families of artists and activists and supporting an ecosystem of street vendors.

But as the pandemic has upended office norms, a wave of remote workers from around the world has descended on Mexico City, the nation’s capital. The flow of foreigners has yet to slow, driving up housing prices, displacing residents and upending the fabric of neighborhoods.

In August, Franco and the other tenants in his building were informed by their landlord that their leases would not be renewed. Some units have quickly appeared on Airbnb — at rates more than four times the monthly rent — and new, mostly English-speaking neighbors are now filling the hallways.

“It was very shocking at first,” said Franco, 47, a migrant rights advocate who has found a new apartment in another part of town. “Then I felt angry.”

Since the pandemic, Mexico City has become a global hub for foreigners freed from their offices by work-from-home policies and lured by the kind of comforts that a salary paid in dollars or euros can provide.

Between January and October, more than 9,500 permits were issued to Americans allowing them to reside temporarily in Mexico City, according to federal immigration statistics, nearly double the 5,400 issued in the same period of 2019. Many more are entered on tourist visas, which allow them to work from Mexico for up to six months as long as they are paid abroad.

The influx has been a boon for business owners in areas popular with foreigners and landlords taking advantage of record demand for extended stays on platforms such as Airbnb. It has also helped Mexicans with spare rooms earn extra income in the face of runaway inflation.

But the surge has rattled the already tight housing market, threatening to make large areas of the city, where the average monthly wage is $220, unaffordable for many residents.

Mexico City’s left-wing mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has sought to navigate the changing market by embracing transplants and partnering with Airbnb for a campaign that promotes the city as a “creative tourism capital” that encourages foreigners to spend money in less affluent neighborhoods. .

But as rising U.S. and European visitor numbers fuel Airbnb’s rapid expansion, the mayor’s alliance with the rental giant has sparked a row that has enveloped the platform in other major cities, from London to New York to San Francisco, where critics have accused her of driving up housing prices.

Housing activists, wary of gentrification and a shortage of rental housing in the sprawling capital, have accused city leaders of spurring a modern “settlement” that is losing many Mexicans.

Sergio González, a housing activist, said there would be a “big problem” if the city government failed to regulate the housing market at a time when remote workers are causing the “forced displacement of families”.

Amid the backlash, the mayor acknowledged that U.S. and European remote workers could put pressure on housing prices and ordered the city’s housing authority to study Airbnb’s effect.

“Digital nomads are coming,” Sheinbaum told reporters in November. “Obviously we don’t want that to mean gentrification or price increases.”

According to Airbnb, between April and June this year, the number of stays booked in Mexico City on the platform for more than a month increased by 30% compared to the same period in 2019, making the city one of the destinations the most popular. worldwide among long-term tenants.

In the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, whose lush streets and vibrant food scenes have long made them attractive to more affluent residents, coworking spaces offering free coffee and cubicles have proliferated.

English speakers come out of the cafes and, on Sundays, the canteens are crowded with young people in sports jerseys, the televisions switch from football to American football.

The city’s campaign with Airbnb, which is expected to be fully rolled out on the platform’s website early next year, aims to disperse crowds. It will promote guided activities, designed with help from Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural organization, in neighborhoods that don’t typically see high numbers of visitors, according to the company and city officials. Airbnb will also provide information on moving to Mexico, including visa requirements.

Miroslava Miyarath Lazcano Cruz, who has been offering tours through Airbnb since 2019, began a new tour on Airbnb in October of Xochimilco, the popular neighborhood where she lives, which serves as a model for the program.

The tour includes making tamales from handpicked ingredients and floating along the neighborhood’s famous network of ancient canals.

The experience has seen high demand, introducing tourists to the markets and customs of a part of the capital not widely explored by outsiders. Lazcano Cruz said that visitors who have passed through Airbnb have “a vision and a thirst to know the space in a different way”.

Suvi Haering, a Finnish creative director who arrived in Mexico City in November after two months working remotely in France, said working and living in Mexico “pushes you to question your own thinking”.

“It’s the opposite of where I come from, so it’s the most inspiring place I could go to,” Haering said, as she ate at a restaurant in the Roma neighborhood with a friend, a project manager from Denmark, who was staying with her at a nearby Airbnb.

The increase in the number of foreigners living in Mexico City has coincided with a rise in rents. Average monthly rents across the city fell from $880 (€828) in January 2020 to $1,080 (€1,016) in November, according to data from Propiedades.com, a real estate website.

The increase was higher in more upscale neighborhoods. In a slice of Condesa that borders Chapultepec Park, one of the city’s largest green spaces, monthly rents have risen from $1,610 in January 2020 to $2,250 in November, mostly due to the arrival of remote workers, said Leonardo González, analyst at Propiedades.com.

Many are finding short-term accommodations on Airbnb, reducing the available stock of long-term rentals, housing experts said.

Cities around the world, including Barcelona, ​​London and New York, where housing costs have risen sharply, have targeted Airbnb by imposing stricter rules for short-term rentals.

In Mexico, an Airbnb spokesperson said the company was working with government officials “to be part of the solution to the challenges facing communities in Mexico City.”

The company also highlighted the financial benefits for people who rent rooms on the platform: More than half of Airbnb hosts recently surveyed by the company in Mexico City said the extra income helped cover increased food costs. due to inflation.

For Leonor González, income from an Airbnb she began renting in 2020 in a state bordering Mexico City allowed her to continue paying employees during the pandemic when her company set up convention spaces at the ‘stop.

Later that year, she also listed a new apartment, a sleek loft in Mexico City, for $71 a night on Airbnb. It was booked almost nonstop, González said, usually by Americans working remotely for more than a week.

“The truth is, there are no more locals renting here now,” she said of her Condesa neighborhood. “They’re just strangers.”

Mexico City officials say high housing costs in parts of the capital are the result of years of gentrification that began in the 1980s, when a wave of new construction following a devastating earthquake brought younger and wealthier residents.

Yet Diana Alarcón, one of the mayor’s top advisers, acknowledged that remote workers are also contributing to rising housing rates.

“Certainly having a large number of higher income people moving into one area can lead to higher prices,” she said. “This is precisely why it is important to show visitors that there are many other areas to discover in Mexico.”

Ximena Gómez Gutiérrez, a 24-year-old who commutes between her family home in a neighboring state and her job at a reproductive rights organization in Mexico City, took part in a recent protest against the new Airbnb program and the lack of affordable housing.

Living close to work and being able to enjoy a vibrant urban lifestyle has long been a dream, Gutiérrez said.

“But my salary is not enough to even be able to think of living” in the capital, she says. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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