B . Data

1 . Rents

B. 79.2% of the people are overburdened by housing costs

In Greece, 20% of the households live in rental housing (EUSILC 2019), a rate that’s only slightly lower than the European average of 22.2%.3

There are significantly more people living on the rent in urban centres. More specifically, in the Municipality of Athens, according to the latest census data (Hellenic Statistical Authority ELSTAT 2011), 38% of households were renting, while in some areas the percentage reaches even 50%. The situation is similar in the rest of the country’s large municipalities.

According to the census’ data (ELSTAT 2011), 63.16% of the tenants are between the ages of 15 and 44, while in the same age groups, the percentage of owner-occupation is only 23.10%.

According to the ELSTAT data on housing costs, renters are the group facing the most problems. 79.2% of renters are overburdened by housing costs, compared to 21.15% of homeowners. Therefore, housing costs are a major contributor to the rise of inequalities. 4

At the same time, tenants live in worse conditions. 35.3% of renters live in housing with limited available space (“housing overcrowding”), compared to 28.05% of homeowners. Renters are more likely to experience severe housing deprivation due to lack of basic amenities: 8.6% of households in rental housing, compared to 4.9% in owner-occupied housing without a mortgage and 6.2% in owner-occupied housing with a mortgage.

The rental sector is associated with high rates of insecurity, as it houses a large share of vulnerable and financially disadvantaged groups. The risk of poverty is higher in the rental sector. According to ELSTAT, 18.5% of households living in rented accommodation are at risk of poverty, compared to 17.4% in owner-occupied housing.

Up until recently, in the ELSTAT EU-SILC surveys, the percentage of poor households renting at market price was consistently higher than that of non-poor households. Specifically, in 2011, 20.8% of poor households were renting compared to 16.3% of non-poor households, and this increased to 25.1% for poor households and 18.4% for non-poor households, in 2015. This ratio tends to level off in recent years (in 2020, 19.6% of poor versus 20.1% of non-poor households lived in rented accommodation at market price), possibly reflecting either a greater difficulty in accessing rental housing for poor households or a shift in middle and upper-income households towards rental housing.5

A large proportion of rental housing is concentrated in areas with the oldest housing stock, with the most need for maintenance, energy and infrastructure renovation. A significant gap in monitoring the rental sector and understanding the difficulties that tenants are facing is the lack of data on households in crisis (those who are occasionally or consistently unable to make rent payments), as well as on eviction proceedings that are ongoing or have been finalised due to debts.6

According to the nationwide real estate network E-Real Estates’ analysis of the ELSTAT data regarding the changes in residential rental prices7, after a significant decrease in rental costs in 2012-2017 (by 25%), rents started to increase annually, starting from 2018 when they rose by 8.4%, then 10% in 2019, 5.8%-6.7% in 2020, while the forecast for 2021 is close to 7%.

According to data from real estate agencies and ads, in recent years there has been an increase of 30% to 50% in some areas of Athens (Graph 5a) as well as in a number of municipalities in the Attica region (Graph 5b). Similar increases have been recorded in Thessaloniki, and to a lesser extent in other urban centres. 8

In the Athens city centre, where we’ve seen the largest increases, rental prices have risen by 20%-30% on average over the last three years, while in areas further away from the centre, the corresponding increase is estimated to have been in the region of 10%-15%.

In another survey conducted by the same company, it was estimated that approximately ⅔ of the properties in the city centre of Athens are rented for more than 600 euros per month, while the majority of the more affordable properties were built before 1980.

2 . Short Term Rentals

B. Rent increases, residents’ displacement and touristification

Short-term property rentals have spread at an impressive rate worldwide. Notably, in Greece, Airbnb properties in 2010 started at just 132 but still managed to exceed 125,000 just before the pandemic broke out.

If we observe the situation across the Greek regions, we can see that most properties are clustered in the Attica Region, while more than half of the properties are situated in the Central part of Athens, and more particularly in the Municipality of Athens. Additionally, large concentrations are found in some other regions of the country. Particularly striking was a recent finding by Grant Thornton that Chania is in first place nationwide in terms of the percentage of short-term rentals out of the total number of properties available for rent, reaching 95%.

A central feature of the short-term property rental phenomenon is its geographically uneven growth. In the Municipality of Athens, the largest concentrations are found in the most central, easily accessible and highly touristic areas, mainly around the Acropolis and Lycabettus Hill. These are areas of the city that are populated mainly by middle to high income residents, while in zones that are more working class and more distant from the centre, Airbnb property concentrations are smaller.

Gradually, the short-term rental activity detaches itself almost completely from the principles of “sharing economy”, as the vast majority of the properties (87%) are rented out as whole apartments, without the owners living in them, and not as living spaces that the host actually shares with the guest.

As a result of the proliferation of short-term rentals, a significant proportion of the available housing stock is being withdrawn from the conventional long-term rental market, resulting in a reduction in the supply of available properties for rent, while the demand remains stable or increases. Thus, there are significant upward pressures on rental and property prices, especially in the central areas of Athens, without implying that the expansion of short-term rentals is the only cause for the renting cost increase.

These pressures are also reinforced by the intensification of renovation works, which are often undertaken by owners of short-term rental properties, which in turn are pushing up the prices of the available stock as a whole. As rents and property prices are rising alarmingly, especially in the Athens city centre, it is estimated that a significant number of tenants are being displaced from their neighbourhoods. Those who cannot afford the increased rental costs look for cheaper accommodation and move to more remote areas.


At the same time, in order to better accommodate the city’s visitors and tourists, several central areas are being violently transformed, for example with the opening of a multitude of eateries and recreational businesses at the expense of other land uses, a transformation that other areas of Athens have already experienced during the past decades (typical examples are Plaka and Psirri). There is thus a risk that a number of districts will be transformed into single-use “theme areas” that are mainly attractive for tourists, and therefore a risk of losing the mixed use and activities’ character that is normally typical of the urban area of the city centre. Such developments don’t just happen in Athens but are rather a common international experience. The term for it in international literature is “touristification” and “tourism gentrification”.

It is also worth mentioning that the growth of short-term rentals has negative effects not only on matters regarding housing and urban space, but also on the labour sector, since employment in the short-term rental sector tends to be “unofficial” to a large extent, with precarious and sketchy employment relationships, in line with the “flexibility” doctrine (Balampanidis, Papatzani, Pettas, 2021).

3 . Speculation and Financialisation

B. “Golden” investments in residential properties

There are no systematically collected data available that can give an accurate picture of the investments made in residential real estate. Who exactly is investing in residential real estate in Athens? How many residential properties have been recently purchased by ‘big players’? How are the residential properties that attract the great investment interest being used?

Scientific studies that manage to gather and disclose specific data on small to large investments in residential real estate in Greece or in specific regions of the country are scarce. The results of a relevant scientific survey are published in the Athens Social Atlas.

The research focuses on the Exarchia area and the real estate purchases made there between 2009 and 2018. Approximately 60% of the purchases concern residential properties and were made by Greek and foreign individuals (primarily from Israel, China and Cyprus) and legal entities. There is a significant number of individuals who purchased more than 5 properties, reaching up to 32, as well as a considerable number of legal entities who purchased multiple properties, totalling up to 73.

Only a few of the major investment deals that show an increasing investment interest strongly oriented (probably for the first time) towards residential real estate, become known through relevant news reports. Said investment moves are carried out by companies of both Greek and foreign interests and mainly involve the purchase of a large number of individual residential properties for further development, as well as buying selected plots of land and constructing residential complexes, usually luxury residences.

At the same time, investments have already been made in the development of individual buildings to be used as serviced apartments or student accommodation. Finally, acknowledging the increasing difficulty for households to rent or buy affordable housing, investment companies are building up a portfolio of residential properties to be used as affordable rentals or as rent to buy units.

The growing interest in residential real estate investments by major players was highlighted as a new trend at the recent Prodexpo conference on the development of the Greek real estate market. It was strongly argued that the Greek real estate market is now on the rise, after a long period that was characterised by stagnation or even decline, and that housing will be the “future star player”. Also, for the first time, there appears to be interest from major players in investing in the development of the “social” property sector (student residence and nursing homes).

The Golden Visa programme 1 has been a key vehicle for attracting investment in real estate (residential and other) in recent years. By the end of January 2022, 9,619 “golden” residence permits were granted in Greece to real estate investor-buyers (or 28,733 if one includes their family members). Among them, the vast majority are Chinese nationals (6,391 permits), followed at a considerable margin by Turks (619 permits) and Russians (599 permits).

The first “golden” residence permits that were granted in 2014, amounted to a total of just 359 but that number increased drastically in the following years, reaching 9,610 in the year 2021. Based on data from the beginning of June 2019, 40.84% of all “golden” residence permits were issued in the Athens area and 23.56% in Piraeus, while smaller cities are also entering the investors’ radar. A good example would be Chania, where 162 permits were granted.

Additional opportunities for investment in residential real estate are created by the (nowadays online) auctions of foreclosed residential properties, which were fully liberalised for all categories of “non-performing borrowers” in 2021.

According to data processed by iMEdD Lab, in the whole of Greece, from 1st January 2018 to 5th December 2021, more than 47,200 electronic auctions have been completed. It is estimated that 84.2% of the completed auctions have been expedited by banks or companies linked to bank portfolios. It is also estimated that 36.7% of completed auctions concern residential properties, primarily in the Municipality of Athens and secondarily in that of Thessaloniki. (εσωτερικό link με θεματική για ιδιοκατοίκηση).

4 . Vacant houses

Β. High rates of vacant residential properties in urban centres

According to data gathered by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), during the 2011 census, out of a total of 6,371,901 normal dwellings, 897,968 vacant houses that were not being used for rent, sale, demolition or anything else, were listed – a figure that corresponds to 14% of dwellings. The total number of vacant houses, including holiday homes and secondary residences, was 2,249,813, or 35% of the country’s total housing stock. 1

The analysis of the census data has highlighted the geographical differentiation of the stock that can be detected between urban centres – mainly Athens and Thessaloniki as well as touristic areas and holiday resorts – and the abandoned countryside. As the comparative study of data from the successive censuses of 1991, 2001, 2011 in the related article in the Athens Social Atlas shows, these characteristics have changed significantly, with the largest increase recorded between 2001 and 2011. The high rates of vacant houses in urban centres are the most interesting find, since these vacant dwellings aren’t holiday homes.

To cite some specific numbers, in 2011, the percentage of vacant houses in the Municipality of Athens was 31%, 28% in the Municipality of Piraeus and 28.2% in Thessaloniki.

The number of vacant flats in the greater Attica region increased by 77% between 2001 and 2011, while in the Municipality of Athens alone, there are at least 132,000 vacant flats.

Separate inventories have also been made for other building categories in Athens and other urban centres, such as vacant building stock and vacant shops in the centre of Athens, vacant and dilapidated buildings in Piraeus or vacant houses in Thessaloniki.

Finally, a significant number of properties owned by public bodies remain vacant or are underused. For example, according to data from the Ministry of Labour (2017), social security institutions own about 1,120 buildings across Greece, 49% of which are vacant. 2 Similarly, a large percentage of properties owned by the Ministry of Finance (bequests, foreclosures, unknown), municipalities or foundations and other legal entities of public or private law, 3 vacant.

5 . Youth housing

B. Young people in Greece face increased housing difficulties

According to Eurostat’s data for 2020, young people in Greece will leave their parents’ house when they’re 29.6 years old, on average (in 2010, the respective age was 28.3 years old).

Women will move out at the age of 28.4 while men will do so when they’re 30.7 years old. The European average is to leave home at the age of 26.4.

At the same time, during the recession, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of young people aged 25-34 who were still living with their parents. It rose from 50.6% in 2010 to 62.2% in 2020.1

34.3% of young people aged 25-29 are overburdened by housing costs (while the EU average was 13.3% in 2020) (Γράφημα 3 ή 4) and 42.5% live in conditions of housing overcrowding housing deprivation (right behind Romania: 58.7%, Bulgaria: 56.4%, Latvia: 51.1%, Croatia: 48.2%, Poland 47.3%, while the EU average was 22.5% in 2019).

The increasing difficulty for young people to access homeownership is also reflected in the data of the Hellenic Statistical Authority’s (ELSTAT) Survey on Household Income and Living Conditions, as the share of young homeowners decreased significantly between 2005 and 2017.2

Especially in the case of the refugee and migrant population, a very high percentage of unaccompanied minors residing in Greece live in precarious housing conditions. Their coming of age is accompanied by stress as young refugees face even greater difficulties in finding work and thus in accessing a stable income to cover housing costs.

Similarly, young (second generation) immigrants continue to face widespread discrimination, inequalities, xenophobia and racism.

6 . Home ownership

B. Privately owned housing under (multiple) threat

The main characteristics of home ownership

Greece is a European country with consistently high rates of home ownership. According to the most recent data available from Eurostat, in 2020 74.6% of the Greek population lived in a property they owned, while another 5.4% lived in a house that belonged to their family or relatives.4

The percentage of homeowners who have taken on a mortgage in Greece is 11.7%, which is significantly lower than the European average of 26.4%.5

A significant trait of home ownership in Greece is the large social dispersion of ownership. In Greece, the percentage of poor households that own their own property is 71.5%, while the European average is 51.2%.

Moreover, in Greece there isn’t a big difference in access to mortgages between poor and non-poor households (10.5% for poor and 11.9% for non-poor in 2020) 6, a fact that is in contrast to the European averages that haven’t changed since 2011 (close to 11% for poor households and 28% for non-poor).

Over-indebtedness and foreclosure auctions

The share of bad or non-performing loans soared during the recession, while unemployment increased and incomes shrank. Based on Bank of Greece data, non-performing mortgage loans increased (from 5.4% in Dec 2008 to 44.5% in Dec 2018 as a percentage of the mortgage loan balance).

Household over-indebtedness has been accompanied by a significant deterioration in living conditions, an increase in stress levels and health problems, as well as a rise in the number of evictions and the risk of losing the primary (often only) residence.

The risk of losing one’ s primary residence was prevented during the first years of the crisis by the “Katseli Law” for over-indebted households, which was introduced in 2010. The law provided some basic options for the settlement of non-performing loans (NPLs) and excluded the primary residence of the non-performing borrower from the list of his/her assets that could be liquidated.7

Auctions of foreclosed properties were fully liberalised for all categories of borrowers in 2021, while the institutionalisation of online auctions in 2017 also limited the possibilities for social movements that oppose foreclosures to protest such practices and intervene directly.

At the same time, time was gained on the part of the banking system for the development of the secondary market for loans 8 and the setting up of their own property management companies.

According to data processed by iMEdD Lab, more than 52.600 online auctions have been completed from January 1, 2018 to July 31, 2022.

It is estimated that 83,4% of completed auctions have been sped up by banks or by companies that are linked to bank portfolios. Out of auctions carried out with the involvement of banks, 75,5% were against individuals. 8.091 auctions have already been scheduled to happen from September 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023. 9

In a sample of 83,989 foreclosure auctions, 36.7% were residential properties. In a sample of 30,810 foreclosed homes, most of them were located in the Municipality of Athens (3,578) with the Municipality of Thessaloniki coming in second place with 1,317 properties. According to the investigative journalism group Reporters United, and based on data drawn from the official online auctions website, in the Municipality of Athens 2,296 auctions were recorded between 24 September 2018 and 13 January 2021, with the average price for auctioned houses amounting to 62,000 euro.

The gradual liberalisation of the framework was completed with the new “Bankruptcy Law” or otherwise known as the “Debt Settlement and Second Chance Provision”. The new law succumbs to the pressure exercised by creditors, as well as the domestic banking system, to extend bankruptcy to individuals and speed up the liquidation of non-performing loans. It provides for the complete lifting of the protection of the primary residence, blocking access to one’s income and the liquidation of all assets belonging to “non-performing borrowers”.

The framework provides for the creation of a new “Acquisition and Re-letting Agency” which will provide “vulnerable households” with a “second chance”, but only under very restrictive criteria. The scheme provides for the liquidation of all their assets and the transfer of their primary residence to the new Agency, giving the ex-homeowners the right to remain in their property as tenants, paying a subsidised rent for 12 years. After the 12 years, if they can afford to, they will be able to regain ownership of the property by paying a repurchase price corresponding to the then market value of the property.

Price increases in the housing market

According to Bank of Greece data for the third quarter of 2021, residential property prices in the country as a whole recorded an annual increase of 7.9%. The area with the highest increase rate is Athens, with a 9.8% rate of change in apartment prices in the third quarter of 2021, followed by Thessaloniki with 8.7%, other major cities with 5.9% and the rest of the country with 5.7%.

Prices also increased in 2020, despite the economy “freeze” due to the pandemic, with a lower but still significant average rate of 4.5%. In fact, older apartments recorded higher growth rates than newly built ones (flats that are less than 5 years old, which start from a higher price index, though).

Overall, between 2018 and 2021, house purchase prices have increased by 30% in Athens and by 20.8% nationwide.

Although, according to official data from the Bank of Greece, house prices have not yet reached those of the heyday of the real estate market (2006-2007), still the rapid increase in prices that took place in recent years is disproportionate to the households’ salaries and disposable income.10

7 . Energy poverty

B. Greece ranks 5th in energy poverty among EU countries

Energy poverty is the households’ exclusion or inadequate access to energy services such as heating, cooling and lighting, which has adverse consequences to their health and well-being as well as to the environment. However, scientists researching this phenomenon still haven’t agreed on a common definition of the term.

According to the EU Energy Poverty Observatory, more than 54 million households in Europe (i.e. 11% of the total EU population) are experiencing energy poverty and its consequences.

In 2020, 17.1% of Greek households were unable to keep their homes adequately warm, following Bulgaria (27.5%), Lithuania (23.1%), Cyprus (20.9%) and Portugal (17.5%) while the EU average was 8.2%. Therefore, Greece ranks 5th in energy poverty among EU countries.

According to data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) in relation to three key energy poverty indicators, in 2020 in Greece 17.1% of households (39.1% of poor households)) were unable to afford adequate heating, 28.2% (50.1% of poor households) stated that they had difficulty in making timely payments of utility bills, such as electricity, water, gas, etc.

12.5% (20.3% of poor households) live in dwellings with leaking roofs, damp walls, floors, foundations or rotten window frames. The European (EU27) corresponding averages are 8.2%, 6.3% and 14%. Therefore, it’d be accurate to conclude that in some cases, even if the concept of energy poverty is not synonymous with income poverty, the two are often linked.

According to study research on the impact of energy poverty on people’s health, cited in the Heinrich Böll Foundation study, 1% to 2.7% of the deaths recorded annually in Greece, as well as 2.7%-7.4% of cardiovascular diseases and 3.1%-8.5% of respiratory infections treated by Greek hospitals, are due to energy poverty. The indicator of increased mortality is directly linked to severe weather events and, therefore, to particularly low or high temperatures within people’s homes.

In the case of the municipality of Athens in particular, there is a significant geographical dispersion of abandonment and low energy standards of buildings, poverty and reduction of electricity consumption.

However, there are smaller or larger areas where the problems are particularly acute. One zone that stands out is the one including parts of the historic centre of Athens and the areas to the north of it (Patissia, Sepolia, Kypseli, etc.). This zone is home to low-income groups and run-down buildings, there is a significant reduction in electricity consumption, while the possibility of accessing cheaper energy through the natural gas network does not seem to be decisive.1

8 . Vulnerable groups

B. Housing insecurity beyond homelessness 

According to Eurostat data, during the recession years, various indicators that reflect housing insecurity and homelessness in Greece have deteriorated significantly. Notably, the risk-of-poverty and social exclusion rates were 27.7% in 2010, 36% in 2014 and are currently at 28.9%.

Regarding unemployment rates, they stood at 8% in 2008 and increased to 25.8% in 2015, while long-term unemployment rates increased from 3.7% in 2008 to 19.5% in 2014. As for material deprivation rates, they stood at 21.8% in 2008 and increased to 40.7% in 2016. Perhaps even more crucially, the housing cost overburden rates of poor households increased from 18.1% in 2010 to 45.5% in 2015.

According to the European Typology of Homelessness and Housing exclusion (ETHOS), developed by FEANTSA, homeless people aren’t just those that one sees on the streets, living rough. The concept of a home is defined by taking into account three parameters, the lack of which describes exclusion from housing: (1) Having a home means having a suitable dwelling (or space) where a person and their family have exclusive ownership (physical dimension); (2) Being able to have personal space and enjoy social relations in one’s home or space (social dimension); and (3) Having legal documents (deeds) proving that one owns a space (legal dimension).

This breakdown leads to the four main differentiations: (1) Rooflessness on the street, (2) Houselessness, (3) Insecure Housing and (4) Inadequate or Unsuitable housing, all of which indicate homelessness.

In Athens one can also detect different landscapes of homelessness that reflect its different types, such as invisible and informal, invisible and formal, visible and formal, visible and informal homelessness.

According to a study by the Labour Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE) (2015) the data show that in the Attica region, in 2013, households affected by invisible and informal homelessness constituted 13%-14% of the population, i.e. about 514,000 people, of which 305,000 have Greek citizenship and 209,000 are foreign nationals. These are households that do not own a home and are subject to poverty and exclusionary conditions, i.e. either their income is below the poverty line, or all adult members are unemployed or underemployed, or face housing deprivation conditions.

Since the 2000s and especially during the recession, a distinct sector of services for homeless people has started to develop in Greece (more so Athens), prevention services, emergency housing, transitional accommodation and housing and social integration including (see also HABITACT Peer review 2014).

A key problem is the lack of relevant data. A survey conducted by the Municipality of Athens in 2016 on a sample of 451 homeless people, showed that 71% ended up homeless during the past five years due to the economic crisis.

In 2018, the most recent pilot survey carried out in districts of six large Greek municipalities (Athens, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Heraklion, N. Ionia, Ioannina and Trikala) registered 793 homeless people in the Municipality of Athens, of which 353 lived rough on the street, while the rest were living in shelters and supported apartments. In terms of the overall picture in all 6 municipalities, 49% of homeless people were living on the street for the first time. The most predominant reasons for homelessness were those related to financial problems and unemployment. When asked where they lived before becoming homeless this time, a large share replied that they used to live in their own home, an equal proportion stated they lived in rental housing and others lived in the homes of relatives, friends and acquaintances.

Unfortunately, there is also a shortage of data concerning public expenditures linked to the social protection system. According to the EUROSTAT ESSPROS database, expenditure on the housing sector decreased from 0.29% in 2008 to 0.01% in 2020. These figures do not seem to include funds allocated for housing benefit after 2019, while the corresponding Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) website states that data on housing is not available.

As a result of the increased refugee flows noted in 2015, there has been some development of housing services for asylum seekers, mainly in the form of accommodation in refugee camps, while at the same time efforts are made to implement an extensive programme for the accommodation of “vulnerable” asylum seekers in rented apartments all over Greece (ESTIA I & II programme) and the provision of housing for unaccompanied minors.

Aiming at a transition to a so-called “independent living”, the HELIOS programme is also being implemented, a subsidised rental housing programme for beneficiaries of international protection that is combined with other additional integration services.

Thanks to the ESTIA programme, since November 2015, a total of almost 83,000 people have been provided with accommodation, while by the end of November 2021, 14,435 people were housed as a result of that programme, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. In terms of the HELIOS programme, so far there have been in total 16,176 beneficiaries who have received rental housing support, while at the end of December 2021, in particular, 1,839 people were able to receive assistance – most of them of the same nationalities as the ESTIA beneficiaries.

Lastly, in March 2022, the estimated number of unaccompanied minors (U.M.) was 2,079, of which: 90% Boys, 10% Girls, 7% <14 years old, 1,626 U.M. in Shelters, 283 in Supported Independent Living apartments, in Emergency accommodation facilities, 73 in Reception and Identification Centres, 19 in Open accommodation facilities.

Over the past few years, society came to realise the numerous difficulties that certain groups face when trying to access housing, due to their sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or other cultural characteristics, as well as the housing insecurity experienced by people living under the threat of domestic violence – issues that intensified during the pandemic years.

Qualitative studies focusing on the issue of LGBTQI+ people’s housing insecurity, on the one hand, highlight housing vulnerability, insecurity and exclusion paths that often lead to and/or involve homelessness, and on the other hand, a series of informal everyday life practices of mutual support and solidarity that allow people belonging in the aforementioned groups to cope with issues of housing exclusion. 2

Finally, we should also mention chronic situations of inhumane housing in camps with makeshift accommodation, lack of infrastructure and inappropriate conditions in which particularly vulnerable groups are forced to live, in addition to the refugees and asylum seekers mentioned above, such as Roma people and seasonal migrant farm/ land workers in the agricultural sector.

9 . Urban space

B. Absence of a social impact assessment plan regarding scheduled or implemented urban planning interventions

Research by the National Centre of Social Research on the social perspective of urban planning interventions concludes that there is “a need to develop practices that would allow for the identification and monitoring of the effects of spatial interventions on the urban fabric – interventions that are implemented through urban planning and are determined within the context of urban policy programmes”. On that front, the study makes specific proposals for the development of a framework capable of assessing the social impacts of urban planning interventions.

A more recent study on behalf of LSE’s Hellenic Observatory, introduces a multiple deprivation index that could track areas of urban vulnerability and monitor the impact of urban planning interventions and transformations on those areas.

Although the scientific community has suggested a set of appropriate tools, urban regeneration policies in Athens have over the years been characterised by fragmentation and selectivity, and more importantly, they have not taken into account the link that may exist between them and a number of housing issues.1 However, it is a fact that they have a direct upward impact on real estate and rental prices, which has reinforced – more or less visible – trends of gentrification and displacement of parts of the population.

The long-standing lack of coherent housing policies in Greece is also directly related to the absence of comprehensive policies for each individual neighbourhood/community.

More specifically, in Greece, the zero budget allocated for housing development is linked to the zero budget for “Community Development” and the zero budget for “Research and Development Housing and community amenities”, which in other EU countries funds housing programmes and infrastructure.

Since 2009, a series of laws have been enacted that were directly or indirectly related to the economic crisis and the effort to attract investments. Through these laws, the State stressed the major national importance of getting the country back on its feet and began to amend planning and zoning legislation. The aim was to move towards a “new pattern of residential and business development”. Urban and spatial planning was targeted as outdated, inflexible and anti-developmental. Gradually, we see the shift from an overall comprehensive planning to a case-by-case, point-based and flexible planning that can meet the needs of potential investments.

A series of urban planning tools that are being developed (such as the Special Spatial Development Plans for Public Real Estate and the Special Plans for the Spatial Development of Strategic Investments etc.) are indicative examples of the practice described above, along with the abolition of the Organisation of Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens (ORSA) and the assignment of its responsibilities to the Directorate of Spatial Planning of the General Secretariat of Spatial Planning and Urban Environment of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (YPEN). Authority and responsibility for planning in the Athens metropolitan area is broken down to several parts and is assigned on a case-by-case basis to thematic ministries (e.g. the Ministries of Tourism, Development, Finance) or other interested/involved bodies, such as the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED), private companies and foundations, and, more recently, in the cases of Tatoi, the coastal front, OAKA stadium and PYRKAL, where planning was undertaken by private consulting firms of interested investment funds.

The Regulatory Plan of Athens (RPA), despite its selective implementation, has been the reference for the planning and future development of the Athens metropolitan area. Recently, the Municipality of Athens announced that it is launching a tender for a new revision of the capital’s regulatory framework stretching until 2030. A revision that apparently seeks mainly to accommodate new investments that do not comply with the existing framework, as the last revision was done in 2014, and already incorporates guidelines for most of the issues that the current leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is appealing to.

The emphasis on embellishing the city centre and attracting new residents (and investors) is also reflected in plans that were developed during the period of the multifaceted crisis and were also linked to the prevalence of a dominant discourse on the “Athens city centre crisis”.2 Some indicative examples are the following:

  • The “Integrated Urban Intervention Plan (SOAP) for the Athens city centre” was established through the Joint Ministerial Decision 1397/2015, (Official Government Gazette issue 64/B/16-1-2015) with the aim of “redefining the centre of Greece’s capital as the centre of an international and sustainable metropolis, through a systematic, continuous, long-term and coordinated integrated intervention strategy”. Its intervention axes of “revitalising the real estate market” and “give incentives for the return of residents thus halting the phenomenon of displacement/ abandonment” did not provide for the protection of (existing downtown) housing in times of housing crisis. At the same time, issues of impoverishment and marginalisation were often reduced to crime and migration-related problems, while the “measures and actions for the recovery and support of the city centre’s residents” were not implemented.
  • Despite the establishment of a special committee aiming to achieve an integrated approach to interventions regarding the city centre, the “Action Plan for the Athens City Centre” that was announced in 2011 by the Municipality of Athens also focused on embellishment interventions in public spaces as well as measures to increase policing.
  • In a similar context, the project for the pedestrianisation of Panepistimiou Street, called Re-think Athens, focused on “the human environment, which is not only natural or constructed, but also social, economic and multicultural”. The project sparked a heated debate regarding the goal of “bringing residents back to the city centre”, with criticisms pointing out that the focus is mainly on higher social strata, and that it doesn’t provide for any kind of support or assistance for the city’s impoverished neighbourhoods, and therefore ultimately, there were doubts or questions about the social relevance of the project.

More recent urban space intervention examples raise similar questions:

  • For example, the studies for the planning of the new Metro Line 4 do not include any forecasts of its impact on house prices or measures that would help contain them.
  • A typical example is the “Great Walk of Athens”, which was announced and started to be implemented in the midst of the pandemic and became the subject of widespread criticism. By prioritising “social distancing” in public spaces during the pandemic, it focuses on traffic arrangements in the city centre without providing connections to individual residential neighbourhoods, it does not foresee the impact such an intervention might have on the issue of housing in the central areas, it avoids a comprehensive approach to spatial planning by focusing on tourist or leisure activities – that are more relevant to consumers (visitors and tourists) than to permanent users, workers and residents – and therefore proves to be an intervention more likely to serve as a merely superficial “showcase”.
  • Similar concerns are raised by the plans for the maintenance and upgrading of the Strefi Hill infrastructure by a company called PRODEA Investments, as well as those for the showcasing of the archaeological site of Plato’s Academy (Akadimia Platonos). In both cases, it seems that the lack of meaningful consultation with civil society (in the neighbourhoods concerned or in Council meetings of the relevant Municipality or in the Municipality’s Quality of Life Committee meetings) has created an uncertainty about the impact that said projects might have on the daily life of the residents.
  • Similar questions, regarding who benefits from interventions in public spaces and whether they are linked to issues of access to housing, are raised by the interventions that are being scheduled and implemented at the former airport at Elliniko.
  • The even more recent plan to relocate nine ministries from central Athens to the premises of the former PYRKAL in Ymittos is also relevant. It follows the previous decades’ policy to remove public services from the city centre, thus also removing the hundreds of people who worked there and who used and gave the city centre its vibrant atmosphere on a daily basis, while previous plans called for “the return of residents to the city centre”.3