The impacts of austerity in Greece have dropped out of the headlines, but not gone away.
In a vivid account of conditions in his adopted city, Belgian planner Frank d’Hondt reviews the fate of Greeks forced to suffer to repay debts to big banks. Greek unemployment remains at over 20%, while for youths it is more than 40%. Financial support for the unemployed is not generous and lasts only for a year. Not surprisingly there has been a massive migration in search of work abroad. Since the 2008 crash 600,000 young and mainly well educated Greeks have left, and probably will never return, a significant blow to any short term recovery.
There was never a social housing tradition in Greece. As in many more rural countries, the family, rather than a welfare state, was always the dominant social institution. However, the lack of such housing now exacerbates the enduring crisis. Home ownership or renting in Athens is now beyond the means of many. Young renters who have lost their job are having to return to live with their parents and grandparents.
D’Hondt graphically describes how far-reaching (in every sense) the changes in housing markets have been. “More and more owners see no other way or are forced to sell their property to pay the mortgage and/or settle other debts. Many of these houses as well other urban assets end up with speculating Russians and Chinese buyers. More and more home-owning Athenians leave the city and their belongings behind to re-settle in a dilapidated ancestral family house in a remote mountain or island village. This way Athens Metropolis represents a unique case of ‘de-urbanisation'”. Extreme poverty has become highly visible on the streets of the centre of the metropolis itself, which is home to around 3.6 million people. D’Hondt reports that “entire families with young children sleep on the pavements and in the attics of closed shops”.
Meanwhile around 60,000 refugees and other international migarnts have arrived in Greece. Most of them aspire to move on to more prosperous countries in the European Uion. However, as borders have hardened, they are trpped in refugee camps.
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