The unaffordable housing
problem in Cyprus
When the 20-floor Olympic Residence was built by the Limassol coastline in 2012, it was the highest ‘skyscraper’ in the city.
People marveled at the height of the building at the time. Yet no one imagined that within several years, a multitude of other even higher buildings would be built nearby it and reshape the entire fabric of Limassol’s society.
Limassol is already experiencing the repercussions that recent building projects have brought about, even though only 15 of the 28 total skyscraper projects that are currently underway have been completed.
Pushing the infrastructure limits
2020 commenced with the approval from the director of the Department of Urban Planning for the construction of 85 new multi-story buildings island-wide.
This has been met by public concern for the long-term environmental and health impacts that these rapid constructions will have on citizens. These concerns, which include rising levels of pollution in metropolitan areas as well as popular swimming destinations, are anticipated to negatively impact living standards within densely populated areas of Limassol in the coming years.
Numerous local newspapers have outlined the harm that is being done to the city and the environment, as many building permits are being granted without adequate planning or environmental impact studies.
Costas Kadis, the Minister of Agriculture, presented to Parliament figures of two developments currently underway which have received approval to discharge 5,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day from the excavations into the sea.
“The sewage is being disposed of near areas where people swim, resulting in murky water, which is something that should worry authorities, especially during the summer season,” said the director of the Department of Environment, Costas Hadjipanayiotou.
According to Hadjipanayiotou, the city can withstand the simultaneous construction of two high-rise buildings at any given time without affecting water quality. However, that number has been exceeded 10-fold.
Also, the increase in mass-scale industrial projects in Limassol has negatively impacted traffic levels. As the infrastructure does not develop at the same speed as the multi-story urban projects, the large scale impact on rising traffic levels will continue to increasingly affect local life.
"In Cyprus, with our lack of public transport, the resulting high concentration of individuals in a confined space will exacerbate the problem of traffic congestion," said the Greens MP Charalambos Theopemptou in an interview in 2017.
Consequently, pollution levels must be expected to rise accordingly. Stelios Achniotis, the president of Cyprus Technical Chamber, also questionedwhether the city's current infrastructure could sustain these changes.
Living expenses are outpacing salary increases
Aside from the environmental impact, the gentrification of the island is steadily pushing up living costs.The ‘golden passport’ program has significantly contributed to the rise in property values on the market and has made it increasingly difficult for young adults and families that are wishing to build new homes to find adequate housing in the city.
Parallel to the rising cost of life and rent, the minimum wage on the island has stayed the same over the past years, meaning that the more expensive cost of living is not being reflected in the paychecks. As a result, the average age that a Cypriot leaves home has steadily risen to 27, because their salaries do not grant them the financial freedom to do so.
In 2018, as a response to the ever-increasing rent prices (which rose 25% between 2016-2018 alone), the young people in Limassol were prompted through a Facebook event to gather outside the Limassol District Administration office with posters to voice their concerns on the matter. The event organizers, also known as ‘Limassol for All’, were not blaming the landlords, but rather those higher up the corporate ladder for the over-valuing of property to meet the standards of the passport scheme.
A group of locals decided to take matters into their own hands in 2019 by filing an appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal challenged Limassol Municipality’s decision to grant a town planning permit for the NEO project. In the suit, the plaintiffs argued that construction will have negative effects on the quality of life for neighboring residents, the impact on the surrounding landscape and the sea. Since the appeal was filed, no satisfactory solutions have been implemented by the government.
Green spaces are being consumed by a concrete jungle
In the scenario that a family can comfortably afford to live in the city while working and sending their children to school, a plethora of environmental consequences and health concerns remain.
The absence of appropriate surveying in areas where construction is approved has led to decreased rainfall and a change in the average climate. In Limassol temperatures have risen as a result of the towers cutting off the natural breeze coming from the sea, which has also resulted in higher humidity levels within the city. The uncontrolled placement of high rises throughout the city will continue to have a detrimental effect on the environment and the quality of life of all residents.
In addition, the surge of construction has not been accompanied by projects to build parks, squares, or green spaces. Green spaces in cities mitigate the effects of pollution and can reduce a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect, which is heat trapped in built-up areas. Increased temperatures in summer lead to a higher demand for cooling. This expands energy consumption, which in turn intensifies fossil fuel consumption, increasing pollutants in the air and the amount of harmful smog.
Such effects on cities leave families and young couples questioning the benefits of raising their children in high-urban density areas. While these buildings will continue to grow in the foreseeable future, it means that the roads will have to widen in order to accommodate for further traffic and parking spaces. But there is no space left for such expansion.
Cyprus to follow the EU Green Initiative
As a whole, the EU is making great efforts to meet, or even exceed, the annual environmental goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. The ultimate goal of the agreement is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While most of the member states are making great strides towards achieving this, Cyprus is lagging (see Fig. A. below).
The inclusion of green spaces in city planning is the first step to making urban areas healthier to live in. The second is to include the opinions of locals in urban planning strategies to avoid harmful environmental consequences and the worsening of living conditions that gentrification ultimately brings about.
Many lessons can be learned from the EU’s solution-oriented strategy in achieving environmental goals. One example is Green Infrastructure, a blueprint for greener cities that provides the “ingredients'' to solving urban and climatic challenges. Its features are designed to serve a wide range of ecological services and functions such as water purification, air quality, space for recreation as well as climate mitigation and adaptation. The approach stands to boost the quality of life through environmental, social, and economical aspects, all while satisfying a variety of stakeholders’ needs.
Research shows that Cyprus needs to take its commitment to sustainability more seriously in the near future. Otherwise, its residents and climate will become vulnerable to the earth’s increasing ecological problems. There is no question that in the years to come, more skyscrapers will sprout along Limassol's coastline. However, there is reason to hope that the upcoming generation will start to seek out sustainable living alternatives with the aim to become a part of the solution to climate change.