Acropolis Neighborhood Koukaki Airbnb Top Greece Draw

FILE - A man drives his motorcycle as in the background stands the ancient Acropolis hill with the Parthenon temple, in Athens, on Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Under the Acropolis and in the shadow of the Parthenon, the Athens neighborhood of Koukaki is quickly turning from a residential to transient area so popular with tourists that apartments are rapidly being turned into short-term rentals with the area the fifth most popular choice worldwide of Airbnb users in 2016, and growing.

Many properties across Athens are being turned into rentals after being purchased by wealthy foreigners, particularly Chinese and Russia, who can get Golden Visas that come with five-year residency permits and European Union passports if they invest at least 250,000 euros ($282,961) and they never have to step foot in what they own.

In a feature on the neighborhood’s transition, Agence France Presse reported there was an 800 percent jump in short-term rentals there – in 2016 with signs it’s now almost totally turned away from rentals.

It is steps away from the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum and the pedestrian walkway that goes down to the popular tourist areas of Thissio and Monastiraki and near the restaurants and bars of close-by Psirri and Gazi.

Dimitra Dionysopoulou, who lives in the shadow of the Acropolis, told AFP there is no mistaking the signs of the Airbnb takeover.  “Renovation noise, debris disposal bins on every street, and rolling luggage,” said the 50-year-old Athenian mother

Hundreds of flats in Koukaki’s aging concrete buildings are now on offer. Rents have doubled and entire families of tenants have been pushed out by cash-hungry owners, said Dionysopoulou.

With Greeks being pushed out of their own neighborhoods by people from China to Canada, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA is considering limiting how many nights a month a property can be used for short-term rentals.

Angelos Skiadas, head of Greece’s tenant association, told AFP that the home-sharing craze has even spread to far-off Athens suburbs with no tourist interest. “Homeowners think this is a cure-all that will solve their problems for life. Many use Airbnb as a threat (to raise the rent,”) he said.

The shortage of rentals is also becoming acute on popular islands such as Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu where workers and seasonal hires can’t find places to live with their low salaries and space shortages.

The Greek hotel owners association commissioned a study from Grant Thornton that found that more than 76,000 properties in Greece were available on home-sharing platforms, driven by Airbnb and other sites such as HomeAway.

The study said declining availability pushed up rents in central Athens by 9.3 percent in a year, hitting pensioners, low-and-middle-income families and single-parent families the most with no signs of stopping.

Koukaki residents have also been hit with a wave of high-rises being built and planned before they were able to get the government to put a moratorium on construction blocking the view of the Acropolis with no report whether the units are being built solely for short-term rentals and not for long-term residents.

But property owners whose units had been idle or nearly abandoned during a nearly nine-year-long economic crisis said Airbnb has been a Greek godsend, giving them crucial income during a period when property taxes were going up on empty properties whose value had fallen sharply.

Stratos Paradias, head of the Greek homeowners’ association, said that home-sharing – led by Airbnb – has helped bring the country’s real estate market “back from the dead”.

Between 2008 and 2017, home prices fell by over 40 percent and only began increasing last year, Bank of Greece figures show.

“Home-sharing is an institution that’s here to stay … It creates jobs and revenue for people, many of whom have no other option for paying their taxes and debts,” said Paradias, whose association has some 55,000 members.

“This activity has boosted tourism [and] made it affordable for more people to visit … Hotels can’t meet the demand,” he added, arguing that because of the crisis, there were “tens of thousands” of idle properties.

The fashion is spreading across the property with the anarchist haven of Exarchia, a neighborhood of gritty, grimy, graffiti-covered buildings and places where clashes with riot police occur, is also a popular Airbnb attraction.

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