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Refugees, rates and record inflation: How Poland's housing market is under unprecedented pressure

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By James Jackson
Women, fleeing from Ukraine, stand on a platform at the train station in Przemysl, Poland, Thursday, March 3, 2022
Women, fleeing from Ukraine, stand on a platform at the train station in Przemysl, Poland, Thursday, March 3, 2022   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

When refugees began pouring out of Ukraine, neighbouring Poland was overwhelmingly supportive, opening its door and hearts to those fleeing war.

Volunteers from across the country mobilised to provide emergency shelter, helping to ease overcrowding at border camps. 

But more than three months since Russia's invasion, strains are beginning to show.

The influx of refugees wanting temporary accommodation and a rise in interest rates have sparked fears of housing shortages. 

The interest rate hike means it's harder for young Poles to secure mortgage credit and get on the housing ladder.

That has put more pressure on the rental market, already under pressure from the Ukrainian refugees arriving since 24 February. 

'Landlords sometimes hang up upon hearing a foreign accent'

Social activist Jarmiła Rybicka said the situation for Ukrainians was “really tragic.” 

“The flats on the market that do not disappear immediately almost always refuse to accept Ukrainians," she told Euronews. 

"I myself often call to ask about offers on their behalf, because an accent makes some landlords hang up the phone. 

"People from outside Europe who studied or worked in Ukraine have an even harder time."

Warsaw estate agent Michał Możarowski said many Ukrainians he has worked with -- unsure about when the war will end -- do not want to commit to staying in Poland long-term. 

“Landlords prefer a year-long lease, and no one knows how long the war will continue. This means Ukrainians are not the preferred tenants.”

'Rental prices are at an all-time-high'

Housing in Poland was in a dire state even before Russia invaded Ukraine, tenancy lawyer Beata Siemieniako told Euronews. 

The country was already one of the most overcrowded in the European Union, with almost 50% of young people living in overcrowded households, homeownership stagnating for the past decade and the country was lacking more than two million dwellings, according to a 2019 study

"The stock of public housing is a tiny fraction of what other European capitals offer," said Siemieniako. "Demand has pushed up rental prices to the maximum levels known so far.”

Now, major cities are now full to the brim, with the Otodom housing portal recording a 166% increase in searches and a 60% drop in offers of housing available for rent. Headlines, meanwhile, warn of a "wave of homelessness".

Credit: Reuters
A petrol station in Warsaw, Poland. Fuel prices have soared in recent months.Credit: Reuters

'The whole system is absurd'

In Ursus -- a clean, quiet suburb of Warsaw that has transformed in the past 30 years from fields to a residential suburb full of gated apartment complexes -- estate agent Możarowski says “the market is challenging, especially the rental market". 

"It’s very hard to find a property or flat to rent due to the war,” he said.

The cost of living crisis is acute in Poland. Price inflation was 13.9% in May, up from 12.4% in April. 

Just a year ago Możarowski sold his apartment in Ursus to have more space for his young family. He made a tidy profit, which is normal in this leafy district. The situation is different now. Pointing to new build apartment blocks still covered in scaffolding, Możarowski says that two of the property developers he works with have dropped their prices by an unprecedented 8%, “so that they can actually sell the apartments and reinvest the money in other projects". "People can’t afford to buy because of the mortgage rate increase. It’s not a seller’s market anymore,” he said. 

In the first quarter of this year, sellers saw a 20% drop in properties sold. Young professional Jasmina Rozanska -- who earns around the national average salary of €1,200 per month -- was looking to buy a flat in Warsaw. But after the interest rate increases, that doesn’t look possible. 

“This decision has clearly buried my chance of getting credit," she told Euronews. "The whole system is absurd. Nothing on the market is worth that kind of money. Since the war started even unattractive rental ads disappear within a few hours.”

Poles, worried about a housing crash and desperate to avoid negative equity, are even trying to sell their homes in housing rental groups on Facebook

Opposition lawmaker Adrian Zandberg warned last month “the situation is extraordinary. After the RPP decision [on interest rates], thousands of families are threatened with bankruptcy”.