Gentrification in México City is not a new process, in fact it has been going on for at least two decades now. The displacement, dispossession, and exclusion of families and communities that have lived in these neighborhoods for decades are the consequence of the complicity of real estate companies, the government of México City, companies like Airbnb, and the rising phenomenon of foreign digital nomads.
To better understand these circumstances, one must recognize that there are viable solutions that can address this issue and transform it into opportunities that benefit every inhabitant of the city. However, due to economic interests and corruption, local communities face a lack of protection and little decision-making power. Nevertheless, people are fighting back to defend their livelihoods and the right to the city through solidarity and trust networks.
“Gentrification” describes a process in which a place becomes fashionable and consequently people with greater purchasing power begin to move to these areas, forcing the former inhabitants with roots and history to move away from those places. This displacement dismantles the social fabric of these communities.
Gentrification has to be understood not only by the displacement of people but also by the change of local commerce and the local economy. The most affected areas of the city are located West from México City’s downtown, which are historically working-class neighborhoods. Some examples are neighborhoods such as Condesa, Roma, Polanco, San Rafael, Escandon and the Juarez.
As I mentioned before, gentrification in these vicinities has been happening for almost two decades, now with the dispossession of working-class neighbors by those with greater purchasing power, such as professionals with a university education and whiter skin or mentality. We cannot deny that in Mexico as a country, and especially in México City, there is a deep and systematic racist and classist society where your skin color defines the access to opportunities and justice. For example, in a study carried out by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) in 2016, it was found that 38% of respondents in Mexico considered that racial discrimination was a major problem in the country. (Source: CONAPRED)
Racial discrimination is especially common in Mexico against Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 21.5% of the Mexican population identifies as Indigenous, and 1.2% identifies as Afro-descendant. However, these communities are the main groups that are discriminated against and marginalized in Mexican society. (Source INEGI) In addition, their representation in the mass media is scarce. We do not see brown people in television commercials, in television programs, and when we see them in the movies, they play the roles of drug trafficker, the poor, or the criminal. Because of this, brown Mexicans feel the necessity to look and act whiter.
A study conducted by the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in 2017 found that lighter-skinned Mexicans have more opportunities for education, employment, and access to public services than those with darker complexions. (Source: CIESAS)
That being said, Sergio Gonzalez Juaricua is a neighbor and member of the 06600-Neighborhood Platform and Observatory of Colonia Juarez which is one of the most gentrified neighborhoods in México City. He told us that the term gentrification is outdated and therefore they created a new concept that correctly encompasses the phenomenon that exists in México City: This concept is that of “whitening due to dispossession”.
This is where the whitening of neighborhoods comes in, because when a neighborhood becomes fashionable, we are talking about a substitution of the profile of the neighbor, the merchant, the food, the shops and above all the exclusivity of these towards a person with a profile with more money and whiter complexion.
This term tries to highlight and make clear that gentrification is much more than the displacement of people, rather that this phenomenon operates as a strategy to artificially increase land prices. This means that real estate companies set their sights on a neighborhood, they buy the land at cheap prices, and they begin to destroy local commerce by increasing rent or renting commercial premises only to stores, restaurants and businesses that meet the fashion, mainstream and elite standards for the new inhabitants.
Apart from that, they generate taller buildings than what is legally allowed due to earthquakes, putting many people's lives at risk while the authorities turn a blind eye. In addition, many of these properties were expropriated by the government due to the earthquakes of 1985 and 2017, being used for the construction of social housing, however, for unknown reasons, these properties ended up in the hands of private individuals. These individuals do not follow the regulations of the Environmental Attorney and Territorial Planning, and many of these buildings are located in areas fully identified in the National Atlas of Risk and Civil Protection as located on a geological fracture which can be devastating in future earthquakes.
This destruction of the social fabric and local commerce of the neighborhoods has deep implications on how local communities are losing their identity and sense of belonging. The advantage of local commerce is that the business owners are in many cases residents of the community, which translates into a more economically sustainable, resilient and participatory community that can safeguard its history and culture.
Unfortunately, once real estate companies see these neighborhoods as commercial opportunities to exploit, there is an economic incentive for the city government to oblige. México City not only allows it but promotes it; This problem is increasing exponentially.
In October 2021 the City Major, Claudia Sheinbaum, and Airbnb signed an agreement that promotes the country's capital as a destination for creative tourism and encourages digital nomads from different countries to come to the city to work. On one hand, the real estate cartel is systematically organized to exploit certain areas, expelling the local communities and creating standards of how these areas should look. On the other hand, Airbnb is concentrating their operations in the same areas already exploited.
Thus, these actors encourage owners of buildings and apartments to convert them into Airbnb’s, evicting their tenants, some with more than 3 years renting the same property. This attracts people with a lot of money that see this as an opportunity of having a lot of apartments--all in Airbnb. One of the most relevant data to share is that 40% of all the apartments that Airbnb has in México City belong to hosts who have more than 5 properties on the platform. (Imagen Noticias, 2022)
But, how does this translate to the life-changing consequences for all the people that were displaced, evicted or excluded from these neighborhoods they call home?
We talked with Marta Suarez, a community member who was displaced from her apartment when the landlord told her that as soon as her contract ended, she had 30 days to leave the building located in Roma Sur. Why? The entire building was scheduled for demolition and developed into Airbnb apartments.
From that day her life changed completely. First, she looked for apartments near her neighborhood, however, the prices represented 70% of her income. She had no choice but to move out of the neighborhood. Therefore, she was forced to move to the outskirts of the city, specifically in Tlalnepantla, which is in the periphery of the city in another state, “The State of Mexico”. This means a daily commute of two hours to work and two hours back to her new “home”. A longer commute has many profound consequences, not only having to take a daily route of four hours, but also the general transportations costs and the time that she should have been spending with her family.
Not to mention that these places are less safe, with lower quality infrastructure, education, and medical care. In this process she lost her right to centrality, accessibility to public transport and general quality of life. What is even more sad is that she is not the only one. Like Marta, there are thousands of displaced people from these neighborhoods.
Sergio also told us that there are between 2000 and 3000 less people in the vicinity of the Juarez because of these displacements, according to a study that the Observatory conducted with census data from 2010 and 2020. This can be confirmed by data that tell us that there are more than 14,000 apartments available in México City, of which 2 out of 3 are empty for 6 months or more per year (Imagen Noticias, 2022).
According to the city's Mexican Association of Real Estate Professionals (AMPICDMX), rents increased by at least 15% in Condesa and Roma, where a small apartment costs more than $750 USD per month. The largest and most desired apartments range from $2,000 USD to $3,000 USD in price (BBC News Mundo, 2022). The average minimum wage in Mexico is about $320 USD a month according to the Mexican federal government.
Laura Zazueta, president of AMPICDMX, affirms that there is no housing crisis in the area, since there are many spaces available. Of course, what she forgot to mention is that, for the average Mexican, these prices exclude them from being able to afford these “available spaces.”
We the audience have to acknowledge that, although the problem is systemic and profound, there are still viable solutions that can be implemented to reverse gentrification. In the process, these solutions can protect local communities and their commerce while guaranteeing a fairer and more equitable treatment between those who rent an apartment and those who live in it. At the same time, México City can continue to be a metropolis that attracts foreign digital nomads into its vibrant lifestyle.
For starters, real estate developers can consider less exploited areas of the city to diversify the concentration of people. If people who want to come to live in the city are more aware and have a broader perspective of the problems of gentrification in México City, then we as the citizens have a better opportunity to receive them in more areas around the city. All while bringing income and community-based development to the local population. Providing attractive services for visitors that involve them in local commerce, culture, and what makes México City so special: its people.
With this in mind, the city government and real estate developers must recognize that every neighborhood is different in context and necessities. Therefore, to truly understand the essence of each community, it is fundamental to involve the community residents, local businesses and community organizations in the decision-making process. Urban development and planning solutions to gentrification must consider and involve the perspective of local residents to ensure that their voices are heard, and their interests are protected.
We must also document the strategies, the implementation, and the results to coordinate databases of precedents and testimonies that help at the national level as a means to facilitate the process of laws and regulations against gentrification.
Secondly, there needs to be a change in the civil code regarding laws that regulate the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. This can be achieved through a rent regulation law that protects tenants from unfair price increases and maintains a balance between the right of landlords to receive fair rent and the right of tenants to have access to affordable housing. A family that has an apartment and rents it as additional income is very different from real estate agents or people who have multiple apartments at their disposal.
Third, in Mexico there are exclusive residential, commercial, and mixed areas, each one with different obligations. The residential areas have the least fiscal obligations, while the real estate companies buy an apartment building, remove the people living in there, and convert the entire building into an Airbnb. This means a new kind of hotel in a residential area that does not have to pay hospitality taxes, nor do they generate the jobs that a hotel generates. They also do not coordinate with the local community board. It's essentially a business strategy that exploits legal loopholes, which in turn leads to gentrification.
If you are a digital nomad, whether it's working remotely, visiting as a tourist, or planning on living in México City, then it is important to consider that your decisions about accommodation, consumption, and involvement with the local people and culture have an important effect–positive or negative– on the development of gentrification and the dispossession of families from their homes.
Therefore, some recommendations to avoid perpetuating the problem are first trying to get to know the culture and its people. By this I am not only referring to making Mexican friends to go out for drinks or socializing, but also to build relationships with those people that are working and living in the same neighborhoods as you. Consume local, whether it's beauty salons, neighborhood restaurants, dry cleaners, local shops, etc. Visit the street markets where the prices are better, and products are of better quality. This helps the local economy so do not be afraid to interact with people. Be involved with the community and ask what you can give back regardless of what you do for work.
There are many things that can be done, from teaching English classes, personal finance classes, collecting plastics for recycling, and much more that can be achieved by asking neighbors and community centers. Mexicans in general are very hospitable and are aware of when a foreigner wants to get involved and get to know the culture versus when the foreigner only sees it as an urban landscape without caring much what happens after they leave.
If you are going to rent an apartment, consider the rentee. Will it be a family that rents it as an extra income or a person who has multiple apartments? Research the area before deciding on a neighborhood. Research its history and current events. It is important to be aware of factors that may be contributing to gentrification, for this you can ask community organizations about a certain building or residence and see if they have some kind of information regarding any conflicts with the owners or developers. You can find these groups on Facebook searching the neighborhood and the word “Vecinos” in Spanish that means neighbor.
Finally, try to look for more diverse areas than those that are in fashion. This helps take pressure off the neighborhoods where gentrification is the most intense and helps other areas of the city to benefit from the economic spillover from visitors.
Authorities should promote initiatives that support local businesses and listen to local food producers. Local purchase programs such as Markets on Wheels organize mobile markets that travel to different neighborhoods in México City every weekend. In this way, local producers will be able to sell their products to people who live in the area, encouraging local spending and reducing transportation costs for customers.
Authorities should create an online directory of local businesses so residents can easily find nearby shops, restaurants, and other businesses. The directory may include information such as hours of operation, products sold, and special promotions.
There should also be local tourist routes in México City in neighborhoods that are not in gentrified areas. These routes would highlight local businesses and cultural attractions that can involve foreigners with the community.
Tax incentives like property tax discounts should exist. These can be offered to local businesses that meet certain requirements, such as creating employment in the community or investing in neighborhood improvements. There should be advisory boards for local businesses to help one another comply with tax requirements, improve their efficiency, and increase their profitability. Tax Credits should be offered to local businesses that use renewable energy sources or engage in sustainable, community-centered practices.
These policies can help maintain economic diversity in at-risk communities and protect local businesses from competition with big commercial stores. Inclusive development projects should be promoted that consider the needs and interests of all members of the community, including low-income residents, local businesses, real estate agents and investors.
Our city has many problems to solve, yet we must protect the neighborhoods from gentrification, as we also consider all the people in the city. People that have been fighting for decades for the protection of their neighborhoods, as is the case of the people of Xoco and their fight against the real estate cartel.
Also, our brothers and sisters in Ecatepec (see below), who have the least urban infrastructure and basic services in the city. Nevertheless, they work- day in and day out- to keep the city running, as well as our brothers and sisters in Xochimilco who are guardians of an ancestral place that serve as essential ecosystems for the city. And yet, they have very low social development. There are people in Milpa Alta and Tláhuac that need to be heard and their interests delivered and protected by every inhabitant of this city.
Gentrification is more than the forced displacement of people. It is an idea that the city is intended for a privileged few. It’s a vision of what the city should look like, starting from a racist and classist idea of the new colonialism that not only gives power to a minority, but also tries to set whiteness aspirational standards that make people who do not fit feel bad about their place of origin, their skin, and their socioeconomic situation.
It seems to me that the real essence of México City has so far been resistance. The city is what it is largely because people have defended their heritage and traditions for over 500 years.
In spite of all this, México City continues to have its own face, its own vibration and identity. This is a huge achievement. One that we must protect and improve because the city belongs to all locals and foreigners, therefore, it is our responsibility not to leave anyone behind in the construction of a fair, inclusive and diverse city.
At the same time, we must recover the essentials of our sacred traditions of the past, and supported by our own roots and new values, take the step of fighting for the city we want. The city we deserve. The city the world deserves.
BBC News Mundo. (2022, 5 mayo). «Viven en una burbuja»: el impacto de la llegada de «extranjeros covid» en CDMX. https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-61156407
5 puntos para entender el acuerdo de la CDMX con Airbnb. (2022, 12 noviembre). Dinero en Imagen. Recuperado 31 de enero de 2023, de https://www.dineroenimagen.com/actualidad/5-puntos-para-entender-el-acuerdo-de-la-cdmx-con-airbnb/148499
Escobar, S. (2023, 2 enero). ¿Qué se requiere para mitigar la gentrificación en la Ciudad de México? Gobierno capitalino prepara regulación para Airbnb. El Economista. https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/econohabitat/Que-se-requiere-para-mitigar-la-gentrificacion-en-la-Ciudad-de-Mexico-Gobierno-capitalino-prepara-regulacion-para-Airbnb-20230102-0032.html
Social, P. T. D. S. Y. (s. f.). Entran en vigor salarios mÃnimos 2023 en todo el paÃs. gob.mx. https://www.dineroenimagen.com/actualidad/5-puntos-para-entender-el-acuerdo-de-la-cdmx-con-airbnb/148499