Municipal housing policies: Strategic areas, land and local plans
The challenges in housing are not new, but they have grown notably over the last two decades and, especially, after the financial crisis of 2008. Housing problems are not only related to access, but also to maintenance, indebtedness and other difficulties derived from the rise in prices, especially in the rental stock.
To address the challenges of housing from different angles, the Catalunya Europa Foundation, together with the Office of Club de Roma in Barcelona and the la Fundació la Caixa have launched the Municipalist Conference on Housing, within the framework of the cycle "The transformation of the city ". The program has the support of the Barcelona City Council, the AMB, the Diputació de Barcelona, the Santa Coloma de Gramenet and Sant Boi de Llobregat municipalities and the collaboration of the PEMB and Barcelona Global.
The first of the round tables, on municipal housing policies, strategic areas, land and local plans, has had the participation of the mayor of El Prat, Lluís Mijoler, the mayor of Santa Coloma, Núria Parlon and the councilor for housing and rehabilitation of the Barcelona City Council, Lucía Martín. The moderation was carried out by Oriol Nel·lo, professor of geography at the UAB and member of the board of the Fundación Catalunya Europa.
Nel·lo explains that a few years ago, "great expectations were placed on the issue of land reserves for protected housing, and now we are also putting in place with the regulation of rents." Even so, the housing situation does not see substantial improvements either from the point of view of access or maintenance. On the other hand, there are expectations of improvement derived from the Next Generation Funds of the European Union, which will allow a significant economic sum to be allocated to housing rehabilitation policies.
For the mayor of El Prat, Lluís Mijoler, the debate on housing comes late. It affirms that the municipalities are alone, without sufficient powers or resources to advance the right to housing and confirms, as does the mayor of Santa Coloma, Núria Parlon, that the local world has assumed responsibilities in housing that do not they corresponded - or that they did not correspond only to the municipalities, since they have a limited financial and indebtedness capacity. In the metropolitan area, in addition, the difficulty of the scarcity of developable land is added.
Mijoler argues that advanced legislation on housing contrasts with the economic abstention of the Generalitat, as well as other local entities. The mayor of El Prat has also called for the exclusive management of rents by local teams and defends the involvement of public and private actors in order to increase the stock of affordable housing. One of the initiatives carried out by the Prat de Llobregat City Council in this regard has been the association with the Cooperativa Obrera de Viviendas (COV). In this case, the council gave them a plot of land so that the cooperative could promote the construction of affordable housing. Of the homes that emerged, 25% are cooperative members, between 10 and 15% to deal with emergency situations and residential exclusion (managed by the City Council) and the remaining 60% for citizens registered in the registry of plaintiffs
Núria Parlon, mayor of Santa Coloma, believes that housing has always been considered as a private property and not as a public good. For this reason, access, tenure and conservation are marked by income inequalities. Parlon believes that "in a country where private property has always predominated, we must make a commitment to the rental culture throughout life." Housing needs change over the years, says Parlon: "We do not need so many square meters when we are young, instead, we need a larger space if we form a family or we cannot live in a 5th floor without an elevator when we have problems with mobility".
The mayor of Santa Coloma maintains that traditionally a lot has been invested in public spaces and, on the other hand, the housing stock is old and, in some cases, it can even be considered as sub-housing. The commitment of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, explains Parlon, is the development of conservation and rehabilitation areas in those areas with the greatest social problems, as well as specific housing developments to attend to the different life cycles, among which, a promotion to guarantee rental housing for young people and another promotion aimed at especially vulnerable people, such as women in situations of sexist violence.
For her part, the councilor for housing and rehabilitation of the Barcelona City Council, Lucía Martín, denounced that during the last 40 years housing policies, both in Catalonia and in Spain, have favored speculation and treatment as a property of market and not as a commodity. Currently, the public park for rent is 2%, a percentage very far from the 30% of some European cities. In Spain and Catalonia, a lot of public housing was made for sale, which after a few years was disqualified and returned to the private park.
Martín has been favorable to cooperation with private actors, avoiding speculation and betting on the generation and management of affordable rental housing that, despite generating benefits, do so in a limited and long-term manner. One of the examples that is currently being carried out in Barcelona is the Metropolitan Operator that not only builds but also buys homes to incorporate them into the affordable rental park. This operator is a public-private company in which the AMB and the City Council provide the sun, while the private partner builds and manages the homes. One of the objectives, to attract private capital that is currently in speculative investments and derive it in more ethical investments.
What, therefore, are the prospects for the future? Oriol Nel·lo believes that it is necessary to aspire to a balance of tenure regimes, that is, 30% of free property, 30% of market rent and 30% of social housing. But they are still distant figures and that can hardly be achieved if you work municipality by municipality. It is therefore essential to promote these objectives at the metropolitan level and, above all, from the perspective of a general policy on housing that integrates all the actors, with the leading role of the municipalities.