In the Alcaldía Juárez, a vibrant artistic and historic area of Mexico City that includes the mythical Zona Rosa, featuring LGBTQ bars and restaurants and a large Korean population, long-term renters are losing their homes as apartments are being converted into more profitable day-rate Airbnb rentals.
No studies have been conducted, but former residents say rental prices have more than doubled to prohibitive levels of 20,000 to 30,000 pesos per month. Before, 10,000 pesos (U.S. $520) was the norm, Dario Martínez told El Big Data after he had to leave his place in Juárez.
Truthout talked to members of a neighborhood group, 06000 Observa, about local organizing efforts to protect the area’s cultural heritage and housing rights in the historic center of Mexico City. Half of the members of the group — around 20 — say they have been affected by issues with Airbnb. For their safety — violence and harassment against those who speak out is common — they requested that their individual names not be used.
“Here in the historic center, we are aware of dozens of buildings that used to be social housing or middle-class housing that have now been completely converted into Airbnb. . . . The biggest apartment buildings are being converted into hotels, but when it isn’t possible to change the legal land use, they are converted into Airbnb,” the group told Truthout via email, listing buildings that fit that criteria. The Bamer building, one on Isabel la Católica street, a building called Casa Borda, and more. Casa Borda is a historic building that was once owned by José de la Borda, the richest man in Mexico during part of the 18th century.
Rosalba Loyde is a Mexico City-based expert in urban development and housing who has been advocating for laws that regulate companies like Airbnb. She stressed that the situation with Airbnb in Mexico City isn’t similar to the situation in Barcelona or New York, where local authorities have passed strict regulations on Airbnb use following strong opposition and protests.
“Some buildings are being remodeled in order to be used completely on the platform,” Loyde told Truthout.
“Generally, we’ve noted that some areas in particular are being emptied of their inhabitants — Juárez, San Rafael, Santa Maria de Ribera and the historic center . . . They’re being handed over to tourism, and the expulsion of the inhabitants isn’t peaceful — it comes with violent and forced evictions . . . supported by corruption in various institutions like the Public Registry of Property and courts,” 06000 Observa said.
The group described corrupt lawyers and “housing mafia” who use mechanisms within the city’s housing institute “to take possession of properties.”
The violent and corrupt real estate world precedes Airbnb, but it is a context the company happily benefits from. Recently, one housing rights activist, Carlos Acuña, was removed from his home by such “mafia,” he told Truthout, as the owners wanted to build a hotel. Acuña said his rent was paid, his contract was still valid, and a court case was pending against the building owner.
Even official figures show an increase in illegal evictions in Mexico City of 43 percent over the last four years — and these figures tend to be well below real numbers, due to the lack of trust in authorities. The evictions are often aggressive and ignore due process. Renters have describedreceiving death threats and being robbed as a form of intimidation to move.
“We’re worried that this is going to get even worse and that the long history of urban and worker resistance in these areas will eventually be erased . . . and the city will become a type of theme park for tourists where living is replaced by consuming,” 06000 Observa said.
Democratizing the economic benefits, or hoarding them?
Mexico City’s Zócalo was previously the ceremonial center of the Aztec city, Tenochtitlan, and it receives over 10 million visitors per year. (Tamara Pearson)
“To democratize the benefits of travel, Airbnb offers a sustainable alternative to the mass tourism that has been spreading in cities for decades,” Airbnb’s PR spin reads, in Spanish. However, in Mexico, it has evidently left its air mattress roots far behind and joined the property market.
Another huge company, Shell, announced a $300 million fund for “investing in natural ecosystems” earlier this year. The fund serves to paint Shell as eco-conscious, but it is tiny in comparison to Shell’s annual $388 billion revenue from oil and gas. Like Shell’s greenwashing, Airbnb’s messaging is trying to counter the reality that the company, instead of bringing benefits to all, is just helping the rich get richer.
Airbnb claims that its users spend twice as much money as other tourists, and that much of that money is spent away from hotel districts. Likewise, Mexico’s Competitiveness Institute (IMCO — a think tank that studies the economic and social factors affecting competitiveness) also argues that the company distributes the economic benefits of tourism to more people.
But in Mexico City, a solid 50 percent of those renting through Airbnb own and advertise multiple properties. Some 48.2 percent of the places advertised are full houses or apartments. The average price per night for a whole apartment is 1,451 pesos — an average week’s wage in Mexico.
The Mazatlan Post