Greece's crumbling treasure of homes

Greece's crumbling treasure of homes

In the last few days, some loud explosion-like noises rang out across Athens. On two separate occasions, residents in the heart of the city rushed out of their homes to see what was happening, only to discover that an old abandoned house in their neighbourhood had collapsed.

The first home (pic above) gave way on Sunday morning in an area called Kerameikos, named after the potters that worked in that part of Athens in ancient Greece. Two days later, a second home collapsed in Plaka, at the foot of the Acropolis. No one was hurt in either incident. After crumbling piece by piece for decades, the homes fell apart, just like a house of cards.

Central Athens is full of buildings like this. Municipality officials put the number at about 1,000.

Many of them were built more than one hundred years ago and are listed buildings that require expensive renovation work that owners cannot afford to pay for. Other homes have multiple owners that cannot agree on what to do with the asset.

A source of pride for many Greeks, these homes represent a national treasure. They provide a view of the city's past, feature architecture that has long since eclipsed and visual relief from the concrete-heavy city.

This treasure, however, has been caught up in politics.

A push by the Athens city council to reform laws that would allow it to step in and force improvements to the buildings was included in a draft bill that was submitted to parliament in 2015. The bill, however, was shelved as the country went to early elections that year.

Since then, the left wing Syriza party took office and its officials say that the draft law was "poorly prepared" and that they will "put it right" with their own legislation. Nothing has happened.

In the last few months, there has been some talk on resuming a public discussion on how to restore the old homes but that is it. Given that Greece is in an elections year (polls will be held by September, at the latest), it is unlikely that any action will be taken before 2020.

The delays, however, are proving costly. Without action, without a plan, Greece is losing more than a bunch of homes but part of its heritage.

Stelios Bouras is an Athens-based freelance journalist. He writes on real estate on his blog and consults property companies on media issues.

This story was originally published on LinkedIn on February 13.