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New Portugal Law Makes Housing A Citizens’ Right

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A Portuguese woman keeps many of her belongings in a storage unit for fear of sudden eviction. 

A bill passed by Portugal’s parliament sets out a legal basis for housing being treated as a citizens’ right. Under the new law, the Portuguese government becomes responsible for ensuring adequate housing for all citizens as “the guarantor of the right to housing.”

The Basic Housing Law emphasizes the “social function” of housing, with the explicit goals of eradicating homelessness, prioritizing the use of public real estate for affordable housing, and prohibiting tenant evictions across Lisbon—a pressing issue in recent years—unless the state is able to provide similar accommodation nearby. Framers of the law describe it as a foundation and roadmap for future policies, albeit one with some explicitly defined targets, rather than a direct instrument for giving people homes.

It also creates a mechanism whereby not only individuals but entire neighborhoods will be able to lodge complaints about housing quality, ongoing construction, or proposed developments, in an attempt to democratize a sector that has seen soaring rent increases amid the tourism boom in Lisbon’s city center.

A majority of support for the bill was gathered in parliament over the past few weeks, and the July 5 vote was largely a formality, according to Helena Roseta, the veteran MP who masterminded it. A coalition of the Socialist Party, the Portuguese Communist Party, the Left Bloc, and the Social Democratic Party voted in favor; the right-wing CDS–People’s Party opposed. That party’s deputy, Alvaro Castello-Branco, denounced it as “electoral propaganda that fixes nothing.”

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