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Against MIPIM

On the 13th of February 2024, the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City organized an online discussion about MIPIM, the largest real estate fair in the world, planned to start in mid March in the city of Cannes, in France. The discussion was attended by housing and social rights movements and action groups from all over the continent, aiming to raise awareness about the ills of MIPIM, its (sometimes subtle, less visible) impact on our cities, and the planned actions against it. 


Indeed, the movements and groups involved in the European Action Coalition (EAC) are fighting against evictions from homes, increased cost of living, increasing precarity and socio-economic inequality in cities. These manifestations of social injustice have unfolded in the last decades because our cities have transformed into sites of real estate investment, profit extraction through high rents and high costs of land, and financial speculation (from expensive mortgages to using buildings as collateral for other loans). They have been analyzed as the urbanization of capital (Harvey, 1985a), the spatial fix (Harvey, 1985b), the de-contextualization of urban development and planning through financialisation (Savini and Aalbers, 2016), the transformation of homes into an asset class (Gabor and Kohl, 2022). All these analyses (and others, addressing for example the topic of neoliberalization or the entrepreneurial transformation of urban governance) point to the fact that cities, the built environment, and houses are increasingly used to serve capital interests, private profits and expansion requirements (for ever growing private investors), to the detriment of social/ human needs and rights. 


To confront such processes leading to dispossession and exploitation, the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and to the City was formed as “a convergence process between movements from different cities in several European countries fighting for the respect of these fundamental rights. After having campaigned independently for years, those movements (groups and, social movements composed by tenants, slum/ self-built neighborhoods dwellers, squat residents, victims of inadequate housing, victims of eviction or affected by indebtedness, professionals and researchers) felt the need to gather in order to strengthen this fight to take common action and  common positions on European Housing issues.”



It is important to notice that the EAC engages with the topic of “crisis”, as our research project does in alignment with movement knowledge and descriptions of the current realities. The EAC refers to the impact of “the crisis phenomenon” on housing conditions:   “increasing commodification process, deregulation, reduced public investment and financialization that made access conditions to decent housing even more difficult and caused the weakening of housing policies, the increase of inadequate housing, victims of evictions and homeless people and the sharp rise of rents and housing prices”. The EAC identifies MIPIM as a key event in the advancement of this “crisis” and, even more so, it actually formed in 2014 in the aftermath of concerted campaigns against MIPIM, held in France and the UK. 


MIPIM is a huge event, with over 20.000 participants at its peak years, taking place annually since 1990, gathering investors (from banks to asset managers), developers and constructors, brokers/ intermediaries, economic journalists, architects, planners, and public authorities. Urban researcher Antoine Guironnet investigated it in detail in the last years, revealing the complex negotiations taking place at/around it. At the EAC-organized discussion on the 13th of February, he presented the main results of his book Au marché des métropoles. Enquête sur le pouvoir urbain de la finance (2022), highlighting that: 


1. the fair is actually facilitating processes of commodification and financialization of housing and the built environment, in cities that have been hitherto less exposed to real estate and financial capital, but which start to attract investors’ interest; 

2. the fair is dominated by West European financial actors and investors, and less actors from other geographies;

3. for many years, office buildings were (and still are) the main interest for investors and developers at MIPIM, as these were the most profitable in terms of rents. But recently, there is a growing interest towards housing as an “alternative asset class” as it is being called on the financial market;

4. for the local authorities, participating at the MIPIM fair is a way of raising their profile in the global competition between cities to attract capital - usually promising policies and planning that integrates investors' desires or even private-public-partnerships. 


The last point has important consequences for the transforming role of the state (from the local to the national state) in relation to real estate and financial actors. It is a path of what economist Daniela Gabor (2021) has termed “de-risking” of assets for financial investment: a process through which the state intervenes directly and indirectly to alleviate and ensure the investors against the risk of low (or in-continuous) return in certain asset classes or localities. But the way “risk” is identified and evaluated is a clear political act. In this context, we ask how do different understandings of risk, crisis, needs, development are negotiated among different actors? Are struggles for the city and for adequate housing a form of “risk” for investors, which must be policed by the state? Are histories of developmentalist states, socialist states, welfare states a form of “risk”, which must be erased from public memory and discourse? What do all these mean for local movements and action groups?



The respective activists who spoke at the EAC event - from Italy (Milano and Rome), Czech Republic (Ostrava), France (Grenoble), Romania (Cluj-Napoca), Greece (Athens) - are all engaged in opposing processes and actors such as those surrounding or being encouraged by MIPIM. They offer even examples of won battles, such as in Athens where the Strefi Hill was protected against investors supported by the local authorities and riot police. The entire EAC is preparing for another month of concerted and multi-sited actions against the MIPIM, for the right to housing for all in all our cities, for Housing Action Days 2024. The collective demands are:


• Housing and land must be a public good! End to land speculation through the socialisation of land ownership and large housing companies and the massive investment of the states to the social housing sector.

• Democratic city planning! We need a permanent democratic debate on urban planning and housing policies to stop speculation and gentrification and strengthen tenants’ rights.

• A radical change in urban and territorial policy! For a solidarity-based and ecological urban and territorial development!

• Alternative housing should be a right! Squats and other occupations should not be criminalised or penalised but rather supported as alternative solutions for housing and collective organizing.

• End of Homelessness! We demand a clear plan with appropriate means to provide people with decent and stable housing solutions.

• End of forced evictions! Rehousing! Winter moratoriums on evictions should be a first step towards the respect of basic human rights.

• The Requisition of empty housing and buildings from local and central public authorities and their transformation into affordable public housing!

• A rent decrease across Europe! The control on rent and property prices for both public and private housing.



More materials on the EAC website, social media pages and youtube channel



References


Gabor, D. (2021) The Wall Street consensus, Development and Change, 52(3), 429-459.


Gabor, D. and Kohl, S. (2022) My home is an asset class, The Greens/EPA in the EU Parliament, https://www.greens-efa.eu/en/article/document/my-home-is-an-asset-class (Accessed February 2024).


Guironnet, A. (2022) Au marché des métropoles. Enquête sur le pouvoir urbain de la finance. Éditions Les Étaques.


Harvey, D. (1985a) The Urbanization of Capital: Studies in the History and Theory of Capitalist Urbanization. John Hopkins University Press.


Harvey, D. (1985b) The geopolitics of capitalism, in Gregory, D. and Urry, J. (eds.) Social Relations and Spatial Structures. Macmillan Press, pp. 128-163.


Savini, F. and Aalbers, M. (2016) The de-contextualization of land use planning through financialisation: Urban redevelopment in Milan, European Urban and Regional Studies, 23(4), 878-894.


Author: Ioana Florea

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