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Post-crisis urban transformations in Athens and Barcelona; a comparative approach

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MATISSE (Post-crisis urban transformations in Athens and Barcelona; a comparative approach)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

The project MATISSE was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action funded by the Horizon 2020 and it was hosted by the School of Geography, University of Leeds from May 2019 until August 2021 (grant agreement 79561). Inspired from dialogues in Critical Urban Studies, Urban Political Economy and Social and Spatial Justice, this project looked into the process of housing financialisation in Greece and in Spain, by exploring comparatively the cities of Athens and Barcelona. It investigated austerity policies, the investment strategies of transnational investors in Spain and Greece and the consequences this has for households facing housing unaffordability pressures. More precisely, MATISSE’s research objectives were to: (i) understand how policies of debt and restructuring are redefining property markets at the local level; (ii) trace investment strategies of transnational investors and their practices as credit and home-owners; and, (iii) ascertain the social and spatial implications for people when homes as mortgages, or austerity-induced debt, are auctioned or bought by transnational investors. It involved an interdisciplinary research action with policy implications for the governance of inclusive, innovative, and reflective societies, fully responding to the challenges set out in the Horizon 2020 ‘Societal challenges’ programme.
The MATISSE project was organised in five work packages each consisting of distinct responsibilities. WP1 was about the overall management of the project, the training activities and the knowledge transfer between the beneficiary, the PI and the host institution. WP2 comprised of comparative critical policy analysis on housing in the cities of Athens and Barcelona. WP3 was the empirical part of the project that was developed through (i) conducting 50 expert interviews in Athens and in Barcelona; (ii) in situ observation in key Real Estate Fairs and an Non-Performing Loan management conference; (iii) conduction of Participatory Mapping Workshops with residents in neighbourhoods affected by rent increases. WP5 consisted of the analysis of research results. It brought together empirical findings with desk- based research in financial databases and developed a Transnational Investors’ Database, disclosing the ultimate global shareholder of Real Estate Investments Trusts in Barcelona and Servicers in Athens. Moreover, analysis of research results integrated WP2 and WP3 into comparative knowledge on post-crisis housing and property restructuring in Athens and Barcelona. Finally, WP5 consisted of the dissemination and communication activities of the research to experts, the academia and the broader public. Overall MATISSE produced highly relevant results for Critical Urban Studies, housing policy makers and the society. The integrative analytical comparative framework employed in the research, responded to theoretical debates regarding housing financialisation and current unaffordability pressures. Moreover, this research tenders to broader considerations about housing challenges that arise due to rent increases in major European cities.
Analysis of data collected identified that financial logics in housing can be challenged (i) internally by economic settings as developed by local financial elites and state actors; and, (ii) externally by political forces such as coalitions amongst progressive forces between housing campaigners and progressive local governments. Nonetheless, local contestations and idiosyncrasies may also be incorporated in investors’ business plans, expanding and extending the scope of financialisation. As such, there are limits to housing financialisation that relate to the local economic, political and social dynamics of each case at hand. Moreover, it is these limits that set actually the base of nuances in housing financialisation that reflect such specific socio-economic conditions. Additionally, the relation between current housing affordability pressures and housing financialisation in the two cities researched was proved. These findings may be considered as progress within the state of the art; MATISSE has contributed to contemporary theoretical debates on critical urban studies, by looking into local specificities comparatively and disclosing dynamics on housing that, so far, had remained underexplored. As such, the project’s potential impact may relate to: critical reflections for the fields of Housing and Urban Studies; housing policies and considerations around housing unaffordability and displacement pressures; practical knowledge on concurrent socio-spatial processes that affect housing in Europe; housing concerns of campaigners, residents and policy makers; timely research with implications for European policy objectives as laid out in the Horizon 2020 ‘Societal challenges programme’.
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