Urban Inequalities: Tourism’s Disruption of Housing

From 17 to 19 June, the KOI (Collective for Social Interventions) in Sofia (Bulgaria) organized a three-day forum on Urban inequalities: from Right to the City to taking control that aimed “to enrich the understanding of urban problems in Sofia by offering critical perspectives to urban inequalities building on the achievements of local and international activists and researchers”.

The forum brought together international and local urban activists, policymakers, architects, and academics “to discuss topical issues in urban politics ranging from environmental inequalities, uneven access to municipal services and affordable housing, racial segregation, to how new public management reforms impact local inequalities”.

During the forum, I gave an invited talk about the presence and development of short-term rental platform Airbnb within Sofia from 2015 to 2022. The talk started with a general summary of research that shows how this particular platform economy has affected urban housing availability and affordability globally. In Sofia specifically, Airbnb listings have concentrated in those districts that have undergone processes of (commercial) gentrification and also harbour the majority of officially registered tourism accommodations and tourism attractions. These areas are, at the same time, the most affluent areas of Sofia; they house the growing middle- and upper-middle classes of Bulgaria. The talk concluded that, like in other European cities, Airbnb thus benefits a selective number of urban residents and potentially further exacerbates an already problematic private rental market in Sofia.

The study underpinning the talk can be found here: https://www.erdkunde.uni-bonn.de/archive/2018/exploring-the-socio-spatial-inequalities-of-airbnb-in-sofia-bulgaria

The event was supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation: a political education institution with offices in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East that “seeks to contribute to the construction of a more democratic and egalitarian society, promoting research, reflection and debates on capitalism alternatives”.