(This Feb. 16 story has been corrected to make clear that the scheme offers residency rights, not an EU passport, which golden visa-holders can apply for after five years, in paragraphs 9 and 11)
By Patricia Vicente Rua and Catarina Demony
LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal announced on Thursday a hefty package of measures to tackle a housing crisis, including the end of its controversial “Golden Visa” scheme and a ban on new licenses for Airbnbs and other short-term holiday rentals.
Rents and house prices have skyrocketed in Portugal, which is among the poorest countries in Western Europe. Last year, more than 50% of workers earned less than 1,000 euros per month while in Lisbon alone, rents jumped 37% in 2022.
Low salaries, a red-hot property market, policies encouraging wealthy foreigners to invest and a tourism-dependent economy have for years made it hard for locals to rent or buy, housing groups have said. Portugal’s 8.3% inflation rate has exacerbated the problem.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said the crisis was now affecting all families, not just the most vulnerable.
It is not clear when the measures, worth at least 900 million euros ($962.19 million), will come into effect. Costa said some would be approved next month and others will be voted on by lawmakers.
A mechanism would be introduced to regulate rent increases, he added, and the government will offer tax incentives to landlords who convert tourism properties into houses for locals to rent.
Left Bloc party MP Mariana Mortagua criticised the measures, saying the government was giving tax breaks to landlords who have already “benefited from (housing) speculation”.
New licenses for tourism accommodations, such as Airbnbs, will be prohibited – except in less populated rural areas.
The Social Democrats said the measures were an “attack” on the rights of property owners and businesses.
To address the housing shortage, Costa said the state would rent vacant houses direct from landlords for a period of five years and put them on the rental market.
Portugal will end its golden visa programme, which offers residency rights to non-EU nationals in return for investments including in real estate and has been criticised for boosting house prices and rents. Successful applicants can apply to obtain a passport after five years.
The scheme attracted 6.8 billion euros in investment since its launch in 2012, with the bulk of the money going into real estate.
Housing groups said the measures would mean little if the government continued to promote other policies to attract wealthy foreigners to Portugal, such as the “Digital Nomads Visa” introduced in October, which gives foreigners with high monthly income from remote work to live and work from Portugal without paying local taxes.
At a small housing protest in Lisbon, 23-year-old activist Andreia Galvao accused the government of failing to live up to promises it made to address the housing crisis in the past.
“The goal was that by 2024 all Portuguese would have access to quality housing – it doesn’t look like that will happen,” she said. “The situation is dramatic.”
The “Housing is a right” group said the measures do not change the “system in place” in which large real estate investment funds control a significant chunk of the market.
“For the vast majority of people, rents will remain unaffordable and buying a house will continue to be a dream,” it said.
($1 = 0.9354 euros)
(Reporting by Patricia Rua, Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Aislinn Laing, Sandra Maler and David Gregorio)