‘You’re not welcome’: Mexico City residents denounce Airbnb | Housing News

Mexico City, Mexico – Sergio González, 52, born and raised in Mexico City, describes himself as “twice displaced”. In 2019, after a failed legal battle, he was forced out of the apartment he had lived in for 16 years. Last month it had to move again after its landlord refused to renew tenants’ leases, opting instead to renovate the apartments and rent them out at higher rates.

González’s situation is familiar to many tenants in Mexico City, where soaring rents and real estate values ​​are aggravating longstanding disputes over land and housing.

According to Máximo Jaramillo, professor of economics at the University of Guadalajara, housing prices have increased by 42% in real terms since 2005, while average wages have fallen by 21%. Meanwhile, developers are increasingly converting affordable housing into luxury condos or Airbnbs, or simply leaving buildings empty while waiting for high-income tenants.

González’s former home, the Liverpool 9 building in the central district of Juárez, followed this model. In 2014, the owner formed an association with real estate developer Reurbano to remodel the building and sell the units. According to Reurbano, the apartments have since all been sold. From the outside, many appear empty but at least one is now operating as a short-term rental. Two tourists arrived in Liverpool 9 during my interview with González and confirmed that they had booked an Airbnb at the same address.

With increased tourism, many apartment buildings in central neighborhoods like Condesa, Roma and Juárez have been converted into Airbnb units that can cost eight times the price of a long-term rental.

Airbnb rentals saw an average annual growth of 204% between 2012 and 2019 in Mexico City, economist Diego Tamayo told Al Jazeera via email. At the same time, Mexico City experienced negative population growth as some moved to more affordable outskirts of the capital or even other cities.

González witnessed the social effects of this exodus. Much of the staff of local businesses in Juárez, just west of Mexico City’s historic center, cannot afford to live there. Instead, as two baristas told Al Jazeera, they travel up to an hour and a half from the outskirts of town to get to work. González sees this as “deeply damaging because it means the loss of networks of trust and the social fabric.”

In September 2014, new management gave tenants in Liverpool 9 three months, rent-free, to vacate their flats. The residents instead hired a lawyer, citing the tenants’ right of first refusal to buy their homes. A long legal battle ensued, leading to “deep emotional, physical, mental and economic exhaustion”, according to González. The tenants were allowed to stay while the case was in court, but knew they would only have five days to vacate if they lost the case.

And they lost – although the original landlord gave them severance and gave longtime administrator Alicia Córdoba the apartment she lived in. González moved to the corner of Turin 41.

González alleges residents were harassed by new management during those years in limbo. In September 2016, electricians cut power, causing a conflict captured on video. He also complains of intentional noise pollution and surveillance, strategies he says were used to pressure tenants to leave.

Andrés Sañudo, director of new projects and contracts at Reurbano, denied Gonzalez’s allegations and said the company had undertaken lengthy efforts to negotiate a fair deal with the tenants.

Sergio Gonzalez in front of the building he was forced to leave [Vanessa Freije/Al Jazeera]

Few legal protections

Mexico City tenants have few legal protections against evictions, rent increases and harassment. To complicate matters further, 58% of tenants do not have a contract, according to Carla Escoffié, a housing lawyer and director of the Center for Human Rights at Monterrey Free Law School. Displaced tenants rarely take legal action, she said, adding that “they feel it’s something they can’t fight.”

Comprehensive data on forced displacement, which does not require police or judicial intervention, is difficult to obtain. Through an Access to Information request to the Ministry of Citizen Security, Habitat International Coalition-América Latina (HIC-AL), a nongovernmental organization focused on housing rights, found an annual average of 2,970 legal evictions between 2014 and 2020.

But “apart from these judicial evictions, there are many things that happen through pressure, through the intervention of organized crime or through the insistence of a promoter saying: ‘Get out, get out, get out'”, said Silvia Emanuelli, the director. of HIC-AL in Mexico. “We don’t have figures for such cases.”

In the Santa María la Ribera neighborhood, some tenants and owners of the historic Dr Atl 269 building are considering leaving due to a developer. According to four, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, Ángel Arredondo installed security cameras in public spaces without their permission and harassed occupants with minor complaints. He even forwarded a grievance – of unsightly recycling stored in public spaces – to Mexico City’s Attorney General of Social Affairs (documentation of which was provided to Al Jazeera).

Amid the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification, the resort has remained affordable. The building is designated as social housing and most of its residents are elderly homeowners who have lived there for decades. Renters, meanwhile, pay just 4,000 Mexican pesos ($203) a month. But an Airbnb rental in the same building, which all four sources say is owned by Arredondo, costs about 10 times that amount (excluding taxes or Airbnb commission). Arredondo, who declined to comment for this story, reportedly approached other owners to purchase their units.

The benefits of renting on Airbnb aren’t just monetary for small landlords, many of whom seek greater security. Before the pandemic, Valeria Gauna, 40, struggled to find a trusted tenant for her apartment in Colonia Alamos. She was worried that a tenant might damage the property or squat, so she decided to list her apartment on Airbnb instead. Gauna is convinced that the platform will intervene in the event of a problem.

Jaramillo of the University of Guadalajara says this decision-making is the result of weak legal protection for landlords and tenants. In Mexico, there is only one way to resolve housing disputes: the decision of a judge. “What should be a last resort is actually the first and only option there is,” he says.

While the platform benefits small landlords, advocacy site Inside Airbnb, which tracks the platform’s effect on residential communities, shows that the majority of hosts in Mexico City are not like Gauna. In fact, 63.8% of hosts have multiple listings and the most prolific, “Mr W”, has 207 listings in the capital alone.

Digital nomads

Protests in Mexico City over rising rents with Airbnb entry
Protests in Mexico City against displacement [Vanessa Freije/Al Jazeera]

Despite all the controversy, Mexico City officials are seeking closer collaboration with Airbnb. On October 26, the city’s head of government, Claudia Sheinbaum, announced an agreement with Airbnb to attract more “digital nomads” to the city.

During the pandemic, Americans flocked to the capital in search of a warmer climate and cheaper housing as they worked from home, helping kickstart the city’s economic recovery, legal representative Diana Alarcón said. of the government of Mexico.

Housing rights lawyer Escoffié believes the city does not take negative consequences for local tenants seriously. She points to several studies that show that Airbnb’s presence in cities leads to higher rents and house prices. Many international cities, including San Francisco and Tokyo, have regulated the platform. Others like Barcelona have even banned short-term rentals.

Escoffié sees the opposite in Mexico, pointing to Sheinbaum’s statements in which she said, “We don’t want rents to go up.”

Escoffié commented: “To me, that feels like an admission that ‘we don’t know what effects this will have’.”

Residents of Mexico City have taken to social media to demand the government address rising housing costs. According to HIC-AL, Mexico City’s lowest earners spend an average of 50% of their income on rent, and many residents struggle to pay their rent without pandemic assistance.

More than 800 people and 50 housing rights organizations have signed a manifesto calling for the city’s deal with Airbnb to be canceled until the government completes a study on the platform’s impact on housing. access to housing. Alarcón confirmed that such a study is underway. Airbnb’s public relations representative declined to comment beyond the official press release.

According to Alarcón, the services sector – 58.4% of gross domestic product – will benefit the most. A 2022 Airbnb-commissioned study by UK consultancy Oxford Economics found that digital nomads drive job creation in Latin America and the Caribbean, providing 15 new jobs for every 1,000 Airbnb listings.

But some residents are still unconvinced that the purchasing power of digital nomads will benefit them. Popular frustration is evident in Juárez, where signs charge: ‘Your tourism is evicting families’ and ‘They say a long, long time ago [before Airbnb]there was real life in this building.

The posters also target developers like Reurbano, whose logo appears with devil horns. Sañudo de Reurbano marvels at the outsized attention his business of just 14 employees has garnered. Unlike most large housing trusts that operate in the shadows, he says Reurbano publicly engages in urban planning. But it “puts you in the eye of the hurricane”.

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