Barcelona residents say they’re being forced out by influx of British ‘digital nomads’

Once known as the “Catalan Manchester” because it was the industrial heartland of Barcelona, Poblenou is today home to fashionable bars, coworking spaces and a rising population of “digital nomads“.

In the streets of this hip neighbourhood, English is almost as commonly spoken as Spanish or Catalan.

However, some residents who grew up in this gentrified “barrio” claim they are being forced out by higher rental prices and bars that charge €6 for a beer.

As Britons, Americans and other northern Europeans trickle in, Spaniards say they no longer feel at home and are moving out.

The Spanish government’s new digital nomads’ visa came into action this month to encourage Britons and other non-EU nationals to work and live under the sun – but Barcelona, Madrid and other big cities are experiencing some unwanted social side effects.

Poblenou began to change in 2000 when old factories were overhauled by Barcelona city council to convert the area into a district called @22, where tech start-ups were given financial inducements to set up and some British companies moved over.

Victor Rodrigo, a journalist who grew up in Poblenou, said he no longer recognises the neighbourhood.

“I have seen how I and my friends, all born in Poblenou, have left the neighbourhood because we cannot afford the rents,” Mr Rodrigo, 27, told La Vanguardia newspaper.

He says all the traces of the old neighbourhood have vanished as a small army of foreigners moved in.

His old school has been replaced by a luxury apartment block where the monthly rent for a room is about €1,400 (£1,236). Elsewhere, a room with a small kitchen costs €2,200 (£1,942) per month to rent.

“A ground floor flat was on sale for €807,000 (£712,000). I would need three lifetimes to pay for that,” Mr Rodrigo added.

Josep Bosch Diego has moved with his girlfriend to the cheaper neighbourhood of Sant Adria. The monthly rent on their three-bedroom flat is €760 (£670) – far more affordable than Poblenou.

“People here cannot afford to pay the rent. What we have here are lots of Britons, French, Nordics, people who are digital nomads or who have very well paid jobs in @22 and they all want flats in this area,” said Maria Aguiló, another former resident.

Natán Molins Hernández, 27, wanted to stay in the neighbourhood where he grew up but said this was impossible. “What we could not afford to do was to pay €1,400 (£1,240) for a flat of 60 square metres,” he said.

“Before it was impossible to cross the road without bumping into someone you knew. Now there are only guiris [Spanish slang for foreigners]. We are not the target for the bars. They want to sell to foreigners. They charge €6 for a beer.”

Eduardo Fortes, an estate agent, said rental prices have doubled in Poblenou in the past six years, from €900 (£795) per month in 2016 to €1,800 (£1,590) last year.

Homeowners would rather rent out their properties to foreigners to make the most money from their flats.

Craig Russell, a 29-year-old tech worker from London, arrived in Poblenou last year. He agreed that the area was home to many foreigners. “This area may have changed over the years, but don’t all areas?” he asked.

“I think that the digital nomad visa will bring more value for the local economy than simply having tourists. They will stay for a while and may even stay for good.”

The phenomenon is not limited to Barcelona. Malasaña in Madrid, a once poor inner city area, has also become popular with Britons and other foreigners who hang out in fashionable bars.

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