Greece’s selling of Golden Visas, giving wealthy foreign investors residency permits and European Union passports, has seen them buying up apartment blocks on the cheap and then turning them into short-rentals after mass evictions, the British newspaper The Telegraph claimed.
Greece provides the visas for investments of more than 250,000 euros ($282,680), including in property and it has seen Chinese and other foreigners buying up whole swathes of Athens neighborhoods and booting the residents to make way for the rentals through popular portals such as Airbnb.
There’s also worries among European Union officials that the schemes aren’t being properly vetted and that criminals wanting to launder money from illicit enterprises are using the visas to get into the EU and hide their cash.
The Telegraph wrote that the visa program “is leading to mass evictions, with renters removed from their homes to make way for AirBnB properties,” and that in some areas popular with tourists, including Koukaki near the Acropolis and the anarchist stronghold of Exarchia that is filled with filthy, graffiti-ridden buildings that as much as 93 percent of the properties are now short-term rentals.
“Homes are increasingly being bought and converted into AirBnB properties, primarily by Chinese investors, under the Golden Visa scheme being actively promoted by the Greek government,” the paper added.
Greek hoteliers have been furiously trying to stop short-term rentals especially with Greece going through a record run of tourist seasons that last year saw some 33 million visitors, three times the country’s population, and more seeking the short-term rentals that are often cheaper than hotels and offer whole apartments instead of a room.
Airbnb told the paper that the report “is an attempt by a hotel group to protect its profits and smear hosts who spread tourism benefits beyond hotels to local families, business and communities,” and block competition.
The paper said that in the past two years the number of AirBnB properties jumped from 9,000 to 129,000 and that, according to unnamed “real estate sources” most of these rentals “come from Golden Visa portfolios.”
“Golden Visas have in the last five years rejuvenated the real estate market in Greece and the government is now planning to expand the program,” the report added, noting that the Greek visas are the cheapest in the EU, and 10 times less than in the United Kingdom.
As a result, Greek “golden visas” are very popular among Chinese, Russian and Turkish citizens, the paper said, claiming that many people and businesses were evicted from their rentals by new owners.