Gentrification and functional change in Budapest – ‘ruin bars’ and the commodification of housing in a post-socialist context

  • 1 Institute of Sociology, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Centre of Excellence,
  • 2 Institute of Sociology, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Centre of Excellence, University of Szeged Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Institute of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology
Gergely OltORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9816-5601 and Adrienne Csizmady
  • Institute of Sociology, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Centre of Excellence, University of Szeged Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Institute of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology
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Abstract

The growth of the tourism and hospitality industry played an important role in the gentrification of the post-socialist city of Budapest. Although disinvestment was present, reinvestment was moderate for decades after 1989. Privatisation of individual tenancies and the consequent fragmented ownership structure of heritage buildings made refurbishment and reinvestment less profitable. Because of local contextual factors and global changes in consumption habits, the function of the dilapidated 19th century housing stock transformed in the 2000s, and the residential neighbourhood which was the subject of the research turned into the so called ‘party district’. The process was followed in our ongoing field research. The functional change made possible speculative investment in inner city housing and played a major role in the commodification of the disinvested housing stock.

Introduction

In addition to the spontaneous housing market processes stemming from the cycle of disinvestment and reinvestment of geographically uneven capitalist development (Smith 1979, 1982), inner city transformation can also be associated with functional change in these areas (Sykora 1993). In this paper, by using the example of Budapest, we examine the context specific trajectory that leads to the commodification of housing (Ghertner 2015) instead of automatically assuming the seesaw of capital (Smith 1982: 151) as a root cause behind the transformation.

We use the example of Budapest because, in spite of a great level of disinvestment, gentrification of the inner city neighborhoods had not been very intense until recently (Kovács, Wiessner & Zischner 2013: 11). After the transformation to a liberal market economy from socialist planning, certain scholars expected Budapest to become a spectacular case of gentrification (see for example, Smith 1996: 172). However in 2010 even the father of the rent gap theory, Neil Smith, was self-critical in an unpublished interview: ‘I am a little bit surprised that gentrification has not gone as far as I thought it would have gone. I have been tricked by the institutional issues: the complexity of publicly owned vis-à-vis privately owned housing’ (Smith 2010 cited by Czirfusz et al. 2015: 58). However, since early 2015 an explosion of property prices has taken place in the inner city of Budapest and the exclusion of lower status (or even middle-class) tenants has become more common. Besides the influence of macroeconomic trends (Csizmady, Hegedűs & Nagy 2017), the unplanned functional change of the inner city into a tourism and night time economy hotspot (Smith et al. 2018) played an important role in the commodification process. Instead of reinvestment and physical upgrading to high status residential properties, apartments in still dilapidated buildings were used for short term rentals and housing for multiple occupation (see ‘buy to let’ gentrification Paccoud 2017).

In this paper we use our previously published research results (Olt & Lepeltier-Kutasi 2018; Olt et al. 2019), some of our yet unpublished data (Baji, Olt & Csizmady 2018) and the preliminary results of our ongoing field research to outline the dynamics of urban transformation in Budapest during the last three decades. We use our interpretation of urban changes to argue against the universal, automatic and exclusive use of the rent gap theory (Smith 1979) and for taking into account the social embeddedness of urban changes (Bernt 2016a: 642–643). We suggest that in the case of Budapest the process of the post-socialist social and economic transformation is responsible for an institutional setting that limited the workings of the seesaw of capital and at the same time that made possible the unplanned and largely unregulated functional change of the inner city. With this move we also argue against the taken for granted and often implicit assumption that everywhere in the world states effectively impose the neoliberal housing market conditions (see Lees, Wyly & Slater 2008: 77; Slater 2017a: 89) that make the seesaw of capital possible. In addition to global forces, locally specific processes (see Gentile 2018) play a central role in the commodification of housing in such diverse contexts as India or Hungary (see this parallel at Ghertner 2015: 560). Our critique of universal assumptions of political economy is based on arguments proposed by post-colonial scholars (Roy 2009, 2016; Robinson 2016). We use the de-territorialized concept of post-socialism (Tuvikene 2016: 140–141) and argue for the ongoing institutional effects of the post-socialist transformation that shaped gentrification after the regime changes (Bernt 2016b: 581; see also the above quote of Neil Smith).

In the following section, a relevant segment of the discourse concerning gentrification is briefly introduced. The subsequent section introduces the context of Budapest. The fourth section of the paper explains the evolution of the ruin bar scene and the consequent commodification of the inner city housing stock. In the conclusions, we argue for the importance of contextual factors in gentrification research, and for focusing on other factors beyond disinvestment and reinvestment.

Universal rent gap theory?

Reinvestment after disinvestment?

Neil Smith explained gentrification as disinvestment and subsequent reinvestment in the built environment (Smith 1979: 545). Disinvestment creates a higher possible rate of profit for new investment according to the theory of uneven development (Smith 1982: 151) based on the 19th century assumption of political economy about the declining rate of profit. A disinvested building yields a lower rent than one that has been refurbished, but reinvestment happens only where physical decay is advanced enough for profitable reinvestment. This is the logic of the ‘rent gap’: gentrification can be expected in the most dilapidated inner city areas, where the profit rate from reinvestment can be high enough (Smith 1979: 546; 1982: 149) This dynamic of uneven development is, in other words, the ‘locational seesaw’ of capital (Smith 1982: 151).

Later Smith acknowledged that there are many other factors influencing where gentrification happens in the city (Smith 1996: 69). Earlier claims about disinvestment being a direct predictor of later reinvestment were revised to be considered only a tendency (Slater 2017a: 92). But ‘lack of maintenance’ and value loss of fixed capital in buildings still remained central to the explanation (Slater 2017b: 119). However rarely described cases of failed gentrification (see Colombo & Porcu 2014; Kallin 2017) and lack of gentrification in many low-status urban areas (Timberlake & Jones-Wolfe 2017: 246) do not support this explanation. Although stigmatisation was used as an explanation of unrealised gentrification after disinvestment (Hammel 1999: 1289), stigmatisation is also part of the explanation of why disinvestment, the root cause of gentrification, happens and how state-led gentrification is justified (Wacquant 2007: 69).

Recently a few scholars started to criticise the economic determinism of the seesaw of capital explanation of gentrification (Bernt 2012; Maloutas 2012; Ghertner 2014, 2015; Bernt 2016a). In response, proponents of the theory highlight that the state creates the housing market conditions necessary for the working of the rent gap (Slater 2017a: 89). However, it is implicitly assumed by these scholars that every state necessarily creates neoliberal housing markets around the globe (see Lees, Wyly & Slater 2008: 77) hence the rent gap works everywhere. There is a growing body of literature that questions this assumption. T. Maloutas (2012: 37) gives examples of urban real estate dynamics very different from the US examples. M. Bernt (2012: 3046) argues that ‘maintaining social order’ with urban regeneration does not equate with serving the interests of the property-owning class (i.e. neoliberalism). A. D. Ghertner (2014: 1565–1566) shows that commodification of land and housing is far from an automatic process.

From a more general point of view, a growing number of social scientists (see Ong 2007; Robinson 2011a: 1103; Collier 2012: 186) question the narrative of all-encompassing ‘neoliberalisation’ (Brenner, Peck & Theodore 2010: 202). In many instances the provision of the rule of the market and the defence of contractual obligations and property rights (central elements of neoliberal governance) are far from the actual strategy of the state (Roy 2009: 86). Instead of serving the interests of the property-owning class, local and national client-patron relations can be more important for seizing and keeping political power and managing state affairs (Roy 2009: 84–85).

Alternatives to the rent gap theory rather look at gentrification as a consequence of a growing demand for urban property. This can be induced by post-industrialisation (Hamnett 2003) that means in certain contexts the growth of tourism (Cócola Gant 2016). With global demand for local property, (Smet 2016: 500–503) urban property prices are growing in a virtually unlimited fashion1. It can be questioned whether previous investment is necessarily a barrier to growth (see alternative approaches to spatial disparities at Gyuris 2014: 137, 215, 223), and therefore disinvestment is needed for (further) investment. The phenomenon of super-gentrification (Lees 2003) is an excellent example of that.

Contextual effects – post-socialism

Champions of universal political-economic explanations 30 years after the regime changes in the former socialist block refer to post-socialist cities rather as dependant and semi-peripheral (Nagy & Tímár 2012: 122, 125). They dismiss institutional explanations of empirical differences as self-orientalising narratives (Petrovici 2015), and suggest that governance is even more neoliberal in these countries than in Western examples (Chelcea & Druţă 2016). However we largely agree with Neil Smith (see the quote in the introduction) about the importance of the tricky institutional specificities of the post-socialist transformation in gentrification.

First, time has little to do with the continuous social effects of any grand transformation process (see Stenning & Hörschelmann 2008: 324–325). For example, in the case of gentrification, the institutional effects of the ongoing transformation itself (the exact way of privatisation) are critically important (see Sykora 2005: 101; Bernt, Gentile & Marcinczak 2015: 105; Bernt 2016b: 581). Post-socialism is not simply about the legacy of socialism, but to a large extent also about the ongoing effects of the transformation following regime change (see Tuvikene 2016: 141–142). Second, the simplification of the world system approach dismisses major differences within the region (Wiest 2012: 832) that are to a large extent caused by the different ways of transformation.

Third, highlighting empirical differences does not mean a narrow minded narrative of a totally different (exotic and oriental) post-socialist world. Rather certain mechanisms and phenomena are different according to a de-territorialised concept of post-socialism (Tuvikene 2016: 140–143). Instead of using parochial Anglo-Saxon political-economic theories expected to be universal, empirical differences could also encourage the revision of theories (Robinson 2011b: 16; Grubbauer 2012: 45; Robinson 2016: 18–19). For example, A. D. Ghertner (2015) argues that for an explanation of the commodification of common lands in India and state owned properties in the post-socialist context (see this somewhat surprising parallel with the example of Budapest at Ghertner 2015: 560), we need to pay more attention to the social context and non-economic issues.

Finally, it is a highly debatable approach to equate informal practices of state power in housing privatisation (see Chelcea, Popescu & Cristea 2015) and the general weakness of states with neoliberal governance (see again Roy 2009). We would, rather, highlight the point that political decisions about who can privatise state owned assets resulted in neo-patrimonial2 relations between the new private owners and the members of the political class (Szelényi & Csillag 2015) and these patron-client relationships are still very detectable in economic life (Stark & Vedres 2012). These effects of the post-socialist transformation result in context-specific features of gentrification.

Methodology

We undertook research in the most central part of District VII. Data collection started in 2006 and is still ongoing. In this paper we present 37 interviews with residents, entrepreneurs, employees and real estate market experts. Non-participant observation of residents’ forums was also carried out. Further qualitative data were obtained through content analysis of over 40 newspaper articles about the area under transformation. Important insights were gained during the regular meetings of hospitality entrepreneurs where one of the authors was allowed to participate between 2010 and 2014.

The qualitative data was supplemented with two representative surveys conducted in 2005 and 2010 with more than 1000 respondents (see the results in more detail in Csanádi, Csizmady & Olt 2012). Quantitative data about housing prices across the whole city (at the level of streets) was provided by the National Tax and Customs Office for the period between 1997 and 2016. We aggregated this data into 500x500 m grids and examined property price changes in these units year by year (for the details and more results see Baji, Olt & Csizmady 2018).

Gentrification in the context of post-socialist Budapest

The consequences of different modes of privatisation

It is hard to exaggerate the significance of the exact method of housing privatisation. As M. Bernt (2016b: 572) noted, the fragmentation of the property structure after privatisation is a crucial factor in the explanation of differences in the level and pattern of gentrification in Berlin and St. Petersburg. Almost every capital city of the region went through a different privatisation process after 1989 (Sykora 2005: 101). In most cases the restitution and privatisation of whole buildings took place, like in Berlin (Bernt 2016b: 577) or Prague (Sykora 2005: 96). In Warsaw, however, legislation on restitution was absent and the courts made decisions about new property rights (Kusiak 2019). The process involved a high degree of arbitrariness and corruption (Kusiak 2019: 663). In Bucharest too, corruption occurred during the privatisation process and influenced the ownership structure (Chelcea, Popescu & Cristea 2015: 117–118).

In Budapest the right to privatise was given to tenants of state and later municipally owned apartments for 10% of the estimated market prices (Hegedüs & Tosics 1998)3. As a result, 90% of the whole city and at least 80% of the inner city was owner occupied until recently (Kovács, Wiessner & Zischner 2013: 9). It was clear from our interviews that former tenants turning into owners wanted property rights for the safety and self-sufficiency they connected with private ownership. These buildings became so called condominiums4, where many diverse interests of dwellers coexisted and collided (see Bernt 2016b: 572 on St. Petersburg) and are indeed hard to manage, refurbish and reinvest (Smith 1996: 176; Kovács, Wiessner & Zischner 2013: 5). This claim was supported by our interviews with condominium operators and investors involved in refurbishment and building additional floors to these buildings. This way of privatisation meant that commodification of apartments and buildings was very limited and use value for (often low status) owners was the main reason for acquiring property.

The pattern and extent of gentrification

Areas designated for urban rehabilitation before the housing legislation in 1993 were exceptions to the privatisation law. This meant that in these areas local government remained the single owner of buildings and even urban blocks. In lower status areas of the city where the housing stock was also in worse condition, a large proportion of the tenants were unable and/or not willing to privatise tenements. These exceptional rehabilitation areas and the fragmented power structure of the city (with 23 districts having full municipal sovereignty) caused different rehabilitation strategies to occur in parallel in Budapest (Kovács, Wiessner & Zischner 2015: 258–259) (see Fig. 1.). State led gentrification (in District IX and at the Corvin-Promenade) and the EU-funded social rehabilitation of the Magdolna-Quarter (actually concentrating poverty) were both present (Jelinek 2010; Czirfusz et al. 2015: 64).

Figure 1
Figure 1

The inner city of Budapest and rehabilitation areas

Source: Olt & Lepeltier-Kutasi 2018 (map prepared by Ludovic Lepeltier-Kutasi)

Citation: Urban Development Issues 65, 1; 10.2478/udi-2020-0002

Only the most central and already higher status areas of the city (in District V and District VI), near to world heritage sites, started to become gentrified spontaneously (by selling privatised apartments to new owners) (Kovács, Wiessner & Zischner 2015: 262). Similar trends were observed in the most central part of District XIII where the housing stock was built in the 1930s and 1940s and was in better condition than in the historic core built in the 19th century (Süveges 2019). Our analysis of housing market data provided by the National Tax and Customs Office (see Appendix) also shows this pattern of change (Baji, Olt & Csizmady 2018). Between 1997 and 2016 housing prices of the least disinvested and best located inner city areas increased to larger extent (in percentage change) than in lower status and more disinvested areas. This result does not support the original predictive claims of the rent gap theory.

As a consequence of the above described institutional factors, up until the early 2010s the level of gentrification in Budapest was moderate (Kovács, Wiessner & Zischner 2013: 11). However it was not municipalities and state actors that helped people to stay put, but rather privatisation for the tenants and owner occupation. Municipality-led ‘displacement without reinvestment’ (see Ghertner 2014: 1563) played an important role in the transformation of the inner city. Buildings were often vacated before any investors arrived to reduce maintenance costs and to get rid of ‘problematic’ (often suggesting Roma) residents (see Ladányi 2008). These groups are already excluded from the city to pockets of poverty in the worst locations where low quality private tenements and social housing are mixed (Vigvári & Szeitl 2016).

Neo-patrimonial housing privatisation and ‘ruin bars’

Neo-patrimonial privatisation

In the most central-part of District VII, the plan of the so called Madách-promenade (first proposed in 1902) (Román 1998) prevented the fragmentation of ownership and created the chance for municipality-led urban rehabilitation in the early 2000s. However this process was realised in a massively fraudulent scheme (Sipos & Zolnay 2009) and later high level politicians, including the mayor of the district, were sentenced to prison. Buildings were first sold for very low prices to offshore companies secretly owned by local politicians. Later these offshore companies were sold to foreign investors for much higher prices, enriching politicians and their circles. This is the essence of neo-patrimonial privatisation (Szelényi & Csillag 2015). However investors understood well that this way of privatisation can be legally problematic. Typically smaller and speculative companies, instead of global real estate giants, became the new owners without the actual capital to realise investments. Therefore the transformation was much slower than expected. The other informal element (see Roy 2009) of the process was that the municipality neglected heritage protection rules and many of the protected heritage buildings were demolished. In a similar manner to Moscow (Badyina & Golubchikov 2005: 123), investors with political connections were not afraid to use illegally issued permits for demolition. National level political fights between the ruling coalition parties of that time stopped the process, but 40% of the former housing stock was already demolished or damaged by then (Perczel 2007: 45).

As a result of the neo-patrimonial privatisation, powerful global real estate developers were absent, and vacated dilapidated buildings stood empty for years without any new investment. In these buildings, still owned by the municipality, new bars (or as they were then called ‘gardens’) started to operate with short term contracts and for relatively low rents (about a thousand EUR monthly for a whole building) during the summer months (Földes 2003). These temporary spaces in ruined buildings were the so called ‘ruin bars’ (Földes 2003; Lugosi, Bell & Lugosi 2010: 11–12). After a few years of operation, in different buildings every year, the municipality refused to renew the rent contracts of the handful of bars because of noise complaints and gave permits only to bars with cultural programmes (Földes & Dudás 2005). Between 2006 and 2011 cultural venues operated in municipally owned premises. Even the operation of these non-profit venues with a cultural mission had a neo-patrimonial element: they paid zero or very low rent in the left-liberal era, and were evicted for political reasons after the swing to the right in 2010.

The ‘party quarter’

It seemed that ruin bars were only the pioneer phase of gentrification as in many other examples around the world (Lugosi, Bell & Lugosi 2010: 13). But this was not the case in Budapest. The mortgage crisis of 2008 changed the plans of speculative investors: instead of the expected further increase, prices nominally decreased by 25%. Fortunately5 for the real-estate investors, the national level regulation of commercial activities was deregulated in 2009. Municipalities lost their licensing rights for bars and could only regulate the opening hours. In empty buildings now owned by speculative private investors, new ruin bars started to operate with capacities exceeding 1000 guests and with stable (5+5 years) and of course much higher priced rent contracts. In our study area, struggles over the opening hours ended in 2013 with a complete victory for entrepreneurs in a neo-patrimonial and illiberal manner (for details see Olt et al. 2019). At the same time in adjacent inner city districts, bars have to close at midnight or earlier to appeal to ‘law and order’ voters. As a result our research area became a hotspot of the night time economy.

In a completely unplanned way (Smith et al. 2018) and without any transparent process of regulation (Olt et al. 2019), the most central part of District VII became the so called ‘party quarter’ of Budapest. Besides the local processes outlined above, global factors of tourism growth and low cost airlines contributed to the functional change. The number of ‘ruin bars’ (large capacity venues occupying whole buildings) remained around 10, but during the years almost every single retail space in the area was turned into a bar. According to estimates by entrepreneurs, 200 thousand guests arrive on a weekend evening to a 0.5 sq. km. area of the city (Olt et al. 2019: 6). The local authority did not have reliable data about the number and capacity of venues, but private firms carried out data collection and made estimates recently. According to that there are almost 200 bars and pubs in these few streets (Bucsky 2019) but there are many restaurants and buffets also open the whole night. The huge number of tourists and other consumers first affected the rents of retail spaces. According to our interviews with bar owners, by 2016 rental prices often exceeded the amount of money that it is possible to earn from operating a bar. Therefore many bars concentrate on selling more alcohol without any cultural offer.

The commodification of housing in inner city Budapest

In the next few paragraphs we show how the transformation described above contributed to the commodification of housing in Budapest, and add other nonlocal factors to explain the process. We claim that the functional change of the area was to a significant extent responsible for the commodification of housing.

Because of the boom of partying tourism many long term residents decided to move. Owner occupation meant a very stable population in the inner city of Budapest: approximately 42% of residents lived there before 1989 (Kovács, Wiessner & Zischner 2013: 11). According to our own survey conducted in 2010 48% of residents lived in the most central part of District VII before 1989, and only 30% of residents moved there after 2000 (Csanádi, Csizmady & Olt 2010: 123). Moving as owner occupiers is a costly process especially for the relatively poor property owners in Hungary (Kováts 2017). Although there are no reliable data available, according to the estimates of political parties participating in local elections, thousands of residents left the area between the two elections (in 2014 and 2019). Many of our interviewees moved or considered moving, or told us that all their neighbours moved away. In one case tenants were fighting for their privatisation rights for 10 years from 2004 because they did not want to move from their building. But when they were allowed to privatise their tenements in 2014, they left immediately because of the noise and dirt of the ‘party quarter’ (see the details in Olt & Lepeltier-Kutasi 2018).

The use value of the apartments decreased, and in many buildings most of the apartments now accommodate tourists. In an earlier publication we presented the radical increase in the number of short term rentals in Budapest (Smith et al. 2018). From our interviews with real estate market experts we know that between 2014 and 2016 a large proportion of the rental flats for housing disappeared from the market. We visited hostels and Airbnb apartments in inner city buildings that were still in very bad physical condition. Real estate prices increased by 40% in the inner city of Budapest between 2014 and 2016 (FHB 2016). This trend continued until 2019 (Portfolio 2019) but only with sporadic renovation of buildings (or reinvestment in the built environment). New real estate projects in our research area were advertised with luxury living conditions for future owner occupiers before the 2008 crisis. After the ‘party quarter’ developed our interviewees were lamenting that their once prestigious home is now in a partying hostel. The majority of owners in these buildings are now interested in tourism and the night time economy and the rules of the buildings are set by them. This means that loud music in common spaces (such as inner courtyards of the buildings) is now allowed, and apartments are not suitable for long term residence anymore. The advertisements for new real estate developments started after 2016 are silent about living conditions and only mention yields and high quality property management services. In these texts an apartment is no longer a home, but simply an asset.

Besides these trends in tourism we also have to mention macroeconomic factors. After the mortgage crisis in 2008 hit more than a hundred thousand Hungarian households severely, mortgage lending rules became much stricter (Csizmady, Hegedűs & Nagy 2017: 15). This means that many young Hungarians, in contrast to the 10 years older cohort, have no other option than the unregulated and unaffordable private rental market (Csizmady, Hegedűs & Nagy 2017: 3), and the super-homeownership housing structure is slowly changing (Csizmady, Hegedűs & Nagy 2017: 7). We can see the emergence of ‘generation rent’: while in 2000 only 10% of Hungarians under the age of 35 were renting, in 2015 the figure was 30% (Balogi & Kőszeghy 2019: 35). This caused further speculation in the housing market.

The Hungarian National Bank has decreased interest rates since 2012 and kept them very low. Meanwhile several Hungarian private equity firms turned out to be Ponzi-schemes in early 2014 and this vaporised more than 1 billion EUR of savings. Finally the government offered Hungarian citizenship for 500 thousand EUR and long term residency in Hungary for non-EU citizens (see ‘Schengenification’ Gentile 2018: 4). Many of these new citizens bought inner city housing as a good investment (KSH 2018). These factors also pushed speculators towards the real estate market and contributed to the commodification of housing. The result of these processes is the looming housing crisis in Hungary without any governmental programme yet to fix it (Habitat 2019).

Conclusions

The universal use of the rent gap theory based on disinvestment reinvestment cycles resulted in a ‘saddening array of studies… which can’t get over the problem that gentrification… is in a way similar… but also diverges from’ the cities where the theory was first devised (Bernt 2016a: 641). It seems that in certain cases, the logic of the rent gap does not apply, and stigmatisation prevents and causes gentrification at the same time. The assumption that disinvestment is the reason for reinvestment is challenged from the theoretical and empirical point of view. We pointed out this contradiction in the theory and suggested an alternative way of understanding the transformation of Budapest.

In this paper we suggested that functional changes and the commodification of housing was the cause of property price inflation in Budapest. Although disinvestment was present, gentrification remained limited, especially in low status areas. Instead of automatically assuming the seesaw of capital, we showed that the consequences of the post-socialist transformation prevented large scale reinvestment in the built environment. The housing privatisation of the early 1990s caused a fragmented ownership structure that decreased the chances of profitable housing developments.

The assumption of the universal relevance of neoliberal governance is a central argument for the universal use of the rent gap theory. We also highlighted that housing privatisation after the transformation was not entirely a neoliberal process. The first neo-patrimonial element was the ‘give away’ privatisation of tenements in the early 1990s. This political decision discouraged globally powerful players from entering the housing market in Budapest. The second neo-patrimonial element was the corrupt privatisation of whole buildings in an inner city rehabilitation area in the early 2000s. Again, global real estate companies were not involved in these transactions because the circumstances for a rational business calculation for profit on this housing market were less secure than in cases that were closer to the ideal type of neoliberal market. We argued that these neo-patrimonial processes were the consequences of the post-socialist transformation and that a global power hierarchy only explains these contextual features vaguely.

The functional change and closing of the functional gap (Sykora 1993) was also caused by the post-socialist institutional context. On the one hand nightlife for international consumers in the inner city of Budapest was not yet developed. And on the other hand, the patron-client relations between politics and business and the weakness of the legal state made an unregulated boom in the night time economy possible (see Olt et al. 2019). The ‘party quarter’ became an international attraction, and this also had housing market consequences. The new function of the real estate stock, such as using it for large hospitality venues or short term rentals for tourists, generated global demand. This made possible the commodification of run down apartments and buildings without substantial reinvestment.

This local setting, together with the macroeconomic circumstances in Hungary after the 2008 mortgage crisis and global changes in tourism, induced speculative price increases in the best stock in the city with spill over effects on the lower status areas later. These processes also changed how people look at real estate: instead of a home with (often limited) use-value, apartments in dilapidated buildings became assets on a global market.

We conclude that gentrification in Budapest can be understood better if we take the social, economic and political effects of the post-socialist transformation seriously. Instead of using assumptions about the nature of capital like universal natural laws, we suggest looking into the details of the actual social processes behind urban change. If we take empirical experiences from different contexts seriously, theories could be revised. With this approach we could see better when and why the rent gap works, and what the limitations of this political-economic explanation are. All of these suggestions and critiques are not simply for the sake of debate, but to better understand how we could reduce injustice in urban change.

Acknowledgment

The research was funded by the OTKA grant nr. 84051 ‘New Trends in Suburban Development’. The paper was made in the frame of OIKONET (is funded with the support from the EC. Project number: 539369-LLP1-2013-1-ES-ERASMUS).

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  • Csanádi, G., Csizmady, A. & Olt, G. (2010) Recent trends in urban renewal in Budapest, Urbani izziv, 21(1), 117–125.

    • Crossref
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  • Csanádi, G., Csizmady, A. & Olt, G. (2012) Átváltozóban, Eötvös Kiadó, Budapest [in Hungarian].

  • Csizmady, A., Hegedűs, J. & Nagy, G. (2017) The effect of GFC on tenure choice in a post-socialist country – the case of Hungary, International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(2), 249–275.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Czirfusz, M., Horváth, V., Jelinek, Cs., Pósfai, Zs. & Szabó, L. (2015) Gentrification and Rescaling Urban Governance in Budapest-Józsefváros, Intersections, EEJSP, 1(4), 55–77.

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  • Földes, A., 10.06.2003, ‘Láthatatlan’ alternatív szórakozónegyed, belső udvarokban, Index. Available from: http://index.hu/politika/bulvar/alter0608/ [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • Földes, A. & Dudás, G., 13.05.2005, Leáldozott a romkocsmáknak, Index. Available from: http://index.hu/kultur/eletmod/rom0511/ [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • Gentile, M. (2018) Gentrifications in the Planetary Elsewhere: teleurbanization, Schengtrification, colour-splashing, and the mirage of ‘more-than-adequate’ critical theory, Urban Geography, 39(10), 1455–1464. DOI: [accessed: 15.12.2019].

    • Crossref
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  • Ghertner, A.D. (2014) India’s urban revolution: geographies of displacement beyond gentrification, Environment and Planning A, 46, 1554–1571.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ghertner, A.D. (2015) Why gentrification theory fails in ‘much of the world’, City, 19(4), 552–563.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Gretten, F. (2019) Push, WG film, Sweden.

  • Grubbauer, M. (2012) Toward a More Comprehensive Notion of Urban Change: Linking Post-Socialist Urbanism and Urban Theory, [in:] M. Grubbauer & J. Kusiak, eds., Chasing Warsaw. Socio-Material Dynamics of Urban Change since 1990, Campus, Frankfurt, 35–60.

  • Gyuris, F. (2014) The Political Discourse of Spatial Disparities Geographical Inequalities Between Science and Propaganda, Springer, Switzerland.

  • Habitat (2019) Yearly report of housing poverty, Habitat for Humanity and Periferia Research Centre, Budapest. Available from: https://habitat.hu/sites/lakhatasi-jelentes/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2019/11/hfhh_lakhatasi_jelentes_2019.pdf [accessed: 15.12.2019].

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  • Hegedüs, J. & Tosics, I. (1998) A közép-kelet-európai lakásrendszerek átalakulása, Szociológiai Szemle, 2, 5–31 [in Hungarian].

  • Jelinek, Cs. (2010) The Phenomena of Displacement and Relocation during the Process of Gentrification in Budapest, Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai – Sociologia, 60(2), 105–116.

  • Kallin, H. (2017) The state of gentrification has always been extra-economic, [in:] N. Benach & A. Albet, eds., Gentrification as a Global Strategy: Neil Smith and Beyond, Routledge, London.

  • Kovács, Z., Wiessner, R. & Zischner, R. (2013) Urban Renewal in the Inner City of Budapest: Gentrification from a Post-socialist Perspective, Urban Studies, 50(1), 22–38.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Kovács, Z., Wiessner, R. & Zischner, R. (2015) Beyond gentrification: Diversified neighbourhood upgrading in the inner city of Budapest, Geografie, 120(2), 250–273.

  • Kováts, B., 22. 12. 2017, Néha a professzor téved, Index. Available from: https://index.hu/gazdasag/penzbeszel/2017/12/22/neha_a_professzor_teved/ [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • KSH (2018) Lakáspiaci tükör, Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. Available from: http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/stattukor/lakaspiacar/lakaspiacar181.pdf [accessed: 15.12.2019] [in Hungarian].

  • Kusiak, J. (2019) Legal Technologies of Primitive Accumulation: Judicial Robbery and Dispossession-by-Restitution in Warsaw, IJURR, 43, 649–665. DOI: [accessed: 15.12.2019].

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ladányi, J. (2008) Lakóhelyi szegregáció Budapesten, Új Mandátum Könyvkiadó, Budapest [in Hungarian].

  • Lees, L. (2003) Super-Gentrification: The Case of Brooklyn Heights, New York City, Urban Studies, 40(12), 2487–2509.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Lees, L., Wyly, L. & Slater, T. (2008) Gentrification, Routledge, New York.

  • Lugosi, P., Bell, D. & Lugosi, K. (2010) Hospitality, culture and regeneration: Urban decay, entrepreneurship and the ‘ruin’ bars of Budapest, Urban Studies, 47(14), 3079–3101.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Maloutas, T. (2012) Contextual Diversity in Gentrification Research, Critical Sociology, 38(1), 33–48.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Nagy, E. & Timár, J. (2012) Urban Restructuring in the Grip of Capital and Politics: Gentrification in East-Central Europe, [in:] T. Csapó & A. Balogh, eds., Development of the Settlement Network in the Central European Countries, Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg.

  • Olt, G. & Lepeltier-Kutasi, L. (2018) Urban Rehabilitation and Residential Struggles in the Post-socialist City of Budapest, [in:] S. Oosterlynck, L. Beeckmans, D. Bassens, B. Derudder, B. Segaert & L. Braeckmans, eds., The City as a Global Political Actor, Routledge, London.

  • Olt, G., Smith, M.K., Csizmady, A. & Sziva, I. (2019) Gentrification, tourism and the night-time economy in Budapest’s district VII – the role of regulation in a post-socialist context, Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events. DOI: [accessed: 15.12.2019].

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ong, A. (2007) Neoliberalism as a mobile technology, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32, 3–8. DOI: [accessed: 14.05.2017].

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Paccoud, A. (2017) Buy-to-let gentrification: Extending social change through tenure shifts, Environment and Planning A, 49(4), 839–856.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Perczel, A. (2007) Pest régi zsidó negyedének sorsa, jelenlegi helyzet, Múlt és Jövő, 18(2), 37–58. Available from: http://www.multesjovo.hu/hu/2007-2.html [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • Petrovici, N. (2015) Framing Criticism and Knowledge Production in Semi-peripheries – Post-socialism Unpacked, Intersections, EEJSP, 1(2), 80–102.

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  • Robinson, J. (2011a) Cities in a World of Cities: The Comparative Gesture, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(1), 1–23.

    • Crossref
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  • Robinson, J. (2011b) The Travels Of Urban Neoliberalism: Taking Stock Of The Internationalization Of Urban Theory – 2010 Urban Geography Plenary Lecture, Urban Geography, 32(8), 1087–1109.

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    • Export Citation
  • Robinson, J. (2016) Thinking cities through elsewhere: Comparative tactics for a more global urban studies, Progress in Human Geography, 40(1), 3–29.

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    • Export Citation
  • Román, A. (1998) ‘Madách Imre, avagy egy sugárút tragédiája’, Budapesti Neg yed, 18–19. Available from: http://epa.niif.hu/00000/00003/00015/roman.htm [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

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Appendix

The pattern of housing price increase in Budapest between 1997 and 2016 Source: Baji, Olt & Csizmady 2018 (map prepared by Péter Baji)

Footnotes

1

It is quite alarming how, in the documentary film ‘Push’ (Gretten 2019), Saskia Sassen reacts to laments about gentrification all around the world: ‘If only…’ [it was gentrification] – she says, raising her index finger.

2

In patrimonialism or feudalism, property rights given by the lord to vassals are more limited than in liberal systems (Szelényi 2016: 14–15). Neo-patrimonialism refers to the politically influenced market and property relations after the post-socialist transformation (Szelényi & Csillag 2015: 29).

3

This process already started during the socialist regime. The low price privatisation was termed in the public discourse as a ’gift of the nation’, and many low income people became property owners.

4

A condominium is a building or complex of buildings containing a number of individually owned apartments or houses. In Hungary if a building is a condominium it also means that the owners of the individual apartments have undivided common property rights over the common spaces of the building.

5

According to our off-the-record sources, it was not a coincidence, but the regulation consciously served the interests of these particular investors.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

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  • Bernt, M. (2016b) How post-socialist is gentrification? Observations in East Berlin and Saint Petersburg, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 57(4–5), 565–587. DOI: [accessed: 14.05.2017].

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  • Brenner, N., Peck, J. & Theodore, N. (2010) Variegated neoliberalization: geographies, modalities, pathways, Global Networks, 10, 182–222.

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  • Bucsky, P., 09. 12. 2019, Nagy üzlet a feketézéssel fertőzött bulinegyed, csak nem a kerületnek, G7. Available from: https://g7.hu/adat/20191209/nagy-uzlet-a-feketezessel-fertozott-bulinegyed-csak-nem-a-keruletnek/ [accessed: 15.12.2019] [in Hungarian].

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  • Chelcea, L. & Druţă, O. (2016) Zombie socialism and the rise of neoliberalism in post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 57(4–5), 521–544. DOI: [accessed: 15.12.2019].

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  • Collier, S. J. (2012) Neoliberalism as big Leviathan, or…? A response to Wacquant and Hilgers, Social Anthropology, 20, 186–195.

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  • Colombo, D. & Porcu, M. (2014) Provincial Neoliberalism: A Case Study, Justice Spatiale – Spatial Justice, 6, 1–15.

  • Cócola Gant, A. (2016) Holiday rentals: The New gentrification Battlefront, Sociological Research Online, 21(3). Available from: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/21/3/10.html [accessed: 14.05.2017].

  • Csanádi, G., Csizmady, A. & Olt, G. (2010) Recent trends in urban renewal in Budapest, Urbani izziv, 21(1), 117–125.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Csanádi, G., Csizmady, A. & Olt, G. (2012) Átváltozóban, Eötvös Kiadó, Budapest [in Hungarian].

  • Csizmady, A., Hegedűs, J. & Nagy, G. (2017) The effect of GFC on tenure choice in a post-socialist country – the case of Hungary, International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(2), 249–275.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Czirfusz, M., Horváth, V., Jelinek, Cs., Pósfai, Zs. & Szabó, L. (2015) Gentrification and Rescaling Urban Governance in Budapest-Józsefváros, Intersections, EEJSP, 1(4), 55–77.

  • FHB (2016) FHB Lakásárindex – Lakáspiaci kilátások, FHB. Available from: http://www.fhbindex.hu/FHB-Index [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • Földes, A., 10.06.2003, ‘Láthatatlan’ alternatív szórakozónegyed, belső udvarokban, Index. Available from: http://index.hu/politika/bulvar/alter0608/ [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • Földes, A. & Dudás, G., 13.05.2005, Leáldozott a romkocsmáknak, Index. Available from: http://index.hu/kultur/eletmod/rom0511/ [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • Gentile, M. (2018) Gentrifications in the Planetary Elsewhere: teleurbanization, Schengtrification, colour-splashing, and the mirage of ‘more-than-adequate’ critical theory, Urban Geography, 39(10), 1455–1464. DOI: [accessed: 15.12.2019].

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ghertner, A.D. (2014) India’s urban revolution: geographies of displacement beyond gentrification, Environment and Planning A, 46, 1554–1571.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ghertner, A.D. (2015) Why gentrification theory fails in ‘much of the world’, City, 19(4), 552–563.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Gretten, F. (2019) Push, WG film, Sweden.

  • Grubbauer, M. (2012) Toward a More Comprehensive Notion of Urban Change: Linking Post-Socialist Urbanism and Urban Theory, [in:] M. Grubbauer & J. Kusiak, eds., Chasing Warsaw. Socio-Material Dynamics of Urban Change since 1990, Campus, Frankfurt, 35–60.

  • Gyuris, F. (2014) The Political Discourse of Spatial Disparities Geographical Inequalities Between Science and Propaganda, Springer, Switzerland.

  • Habitat (2019) Yearly report of housing poverty, Habitat for Humanity and Periferia Research Centre, Budapest. Available from: https://habitat.hu/sites/lakhatasi-jelentes/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2019/11/hfhh_lakhatasi_jelentes_2019.pdf [accessed: 15.12.2019].

  • Hamnett, C. (2003) Unequal City: London in the Global Arena, Routledge, London.

  • Hammel, D. (1999) Re-establishing the Rent Gap: An Alternative View of Capitalised Land Rent, Urban Studies, 36(8), 1283–1293.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Hegedüs, J. & Tosics, I. (1998) A közép-kelet-európai lakásrendszerek átalakulása, Szociológiai Szemle, 2, 5–31 [in Hungarian].

  • Jelinek, Cs. (2010) The Phenomena of Displacement and Relocation during the Process of Gentrification in Budapest, Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai – Sociologia, 60(2), 105–116.

  • Kallin, H. (2017) The state of gentrification has always been extra-economic, [in:] N. Benach & A. Albet, eds., Gentrification as a Global Strategy: Neil Smith and Beyond, Routledge, London.

  • Kovács, Z., Wiessner, R. & Zischner, R. (2013) Urban Renewal in the Inner City of Budapest: Gentrification from a Post-socialist Perspective, Urban Studies, 50(1), 22–38.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Kovács, Z., Wiessner, R. & Zischner, R. (2015) Beyond gentrification: Diversified neighbourhood upgrading in the inner city of Budapest, Geografie, 120(2), 250–273.

  • Kováts, B., 22. 12. 2017, Néha a professzor téved, Index. Available from: https://index.hu/gazdasag/penzbeszel/2017/12/22/neha_a_professzor_teved/ [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • KSH (2018) Lakáspiaci tükör, Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. Available from: http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/stattukor/lakaspiacar/lakaspiacar181.pdf [accessed: 15.12.2019] [in Hungarian].

  • Kusiak, J. (2019) Legal Technologies of Primitive Accumulation: Judicial Robbery and Dispossession-by-Restitution in Warsaw, IJURR, 43, 649–665. DOI: [accessed: 15.12.2019].

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ladányi, J. (2008) Lakóhelyi szegregáció Budapesten, Új Mandátum Könyvkiadó, Budapest [in Hungarian].

  • Lees, L. (2003) Super-Gentrification: The Case of Brooklyn Heights, New York City, Urban Studies, 40(12), 2487–2509.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Lees, L., Wyly, L. & Slater, T. (2008) Gentrification, Routledge, New York.

  • Lugosi, P., Bell, D. & Lugosi, K. (2010) Hospitality, culture and regeneration: Urban decay, entrepreneurship and the ‘ruin’ bars of Budapest, Urban Studies, 47(14), 3079–3101.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Maloutas, T. (2012) Contextual Diversity in Gentrification Research, Critical Sociology, 38(1), 33–48.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Nagy, E. & Timár, J. (2012) Urban Restructuring in the Grip of Capital and Politics: Gentrification in East-Central Europe, [in:] T. Csapó & A. Balogh, eds., Development of the Settlement Network in the Central European Countries, Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg.

  • Olt, G. & Lepeltier-Kutasi, L. (2018) Urban Rehabilitation and Residential Struggles in the Post-socialist City of Budapest, [in:] S. Oosterlynck, L. Beeckmans, D. Bassens, B. Derudder, B. Segaert & L. Braeckmans, eds., The City as a Global Political Actor, Routledge, London.

  • Olt, G., Smith, M.K., Csizmady, A. & Sziva, I. (2019) Gentrification, tourism and the night-time economy in Budapest’s district VII – the role of regulation in a post-socialist context, Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events. DOI: [accessed: 15.12.2019].

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ong, A. (2007) Neoliberalism as a mobile technology, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32, 3–8. DOI: [accessed: 14.05.2017].

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Paccoud, A. (2017) Buy-to-let gentrification: Extending social change through tenure shifts, Environment and Planning A, 49(4), 839–856.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Perczel, A. (2007) Pest régi zsidó negyedének sorsa, jelenlegi helyzet, Múlt és Jövő, 18(2), 37–58. Available from: http://www.multesjovo.hu/hu/2007-2.html [accessed: 14.05.2017] [in Hungarian].

  • Petrovici, N. (2015) Framing Criticism and Knowledge Production in Semi-peripheries – Post-socialism Unpacked, Intersections, EEJSP, 1(2), 80–102.

  • Portfolio, 08.01.2019, Már nem a belváros drágul a legjobban, Portfolio. Available from: https://www.portfolio.hu/ingatlan/20190108/mar-nem-a-belvaros-dragul-a-legjobban-309795 [accessed: 15.12.2019] [in Hungarian].

  • Robinson, J. (2011a) Cities in a World of Cities: The Comparative Gesture, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(1), 1–23.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Robinson, J. (2011b) The Travels Of Urban Neoliberalism: Taking Stock Of The Internationalization Of Urban Theory – 2010 Urban Geography Plenary Lecture, Urban Geography, 32(8), 1087–1109.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Robinson, J. (2016) Thinking cities through elsewhere: Comparative tactics for a more global urban studies, Progress in Human Geography, 40(1), 3–29.

    • Crossref
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