"We must understand that the rehabilitation of buildings not only benefits the property, but the entire society"

Urban rehabilitation and European funds

"For some time now, the problem of the contemporary city has not to do with its expansion but with the reconstruction of the urban space and the already built housing stock. A challenge that the European Recovery Funds aim to address directly, offering new job opportunities that must be taken advantage of together ", said Oriol Nel·lo, professor of the Department of Geography at the UAB and moderator of the fourth session dedicated to Urban Rehabilitation and the European Funds ”.

To address the challenges of housing from different angles, the Fundació Catalunya Europa, together with the Club of Rome Office in Barcelona and the Fundació la Caixa, have launched the Municipalist Conference on Housing, as part of the cycle “ The transformation of the city ”. The program has the support of Barcelona City Council, the AMB, the Diputació de Barcelona, the city councils of Santa Coloma de Gramenet and Sant Boi de Llobregat and the collaboration of the PEMB and Barcelona Global.

The round table was attended by the Deputy Director General of Sun, Information and Evaluation of the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Miguel Baiget, the dean of the College of Architects of Catalonia, Assumpció Puig, the mayoress of Sant Boi de Llobregat, Lluïsa Moret, and the president of the Association of Developers and Builders of Buildings of Barcelona (APCE), Lluís Marsà.

Public policies for the rehabilitation of public space and the existing housing stock in Catalonia and Barcelona represent a tiny 0.1% of Catalan GDP, far from the 0.6% -0.7% average of many European countries. A critique shared by all the speakers, which has served Miguel Baiget to emphasize the urgency of acting and exploiting the potential for improvement in the sector. Spending a small budget on rehabilitation means that the rate of renovation of the Spanish residential park is 30,000 homes a year, between eight and ten times lower than in countries such as France, Germany and Italy. An alarming fact if we consider that we have an old housing stock, with more than half of the homes built before 1980, and energy deficient, with more than 80% of buildings with the worst certifications in terms of emissions and energy consumption and only 3% of the buildings with an energy rating of A or B, as pointed out by the dean of the Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya.

In this context, the Spanish government has launched various strategies to reverse these figures, all linked to the European Recovery Fund. With the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan, the government has committed, by 2030, to exponentially increasing rehabilitated housing to 300,000 a year, with the idea that rehabilitation can become a strategic sector to get out of the current economic crisis and which also offers social and environmental improvements. On the other hand, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan of Spain has been used to award 3,420 million euros to five different aid programs aimed at encouraging the rehabilitation of residential environments at different scales, and which will be managed by the Autonomous Communities. To achieve this goal, different instruments will be developed at different scales, such as rehabilitation grant programs, measures to improve the fiscal and regulatory framework, a line of guarantees to finance rehabilitation, and other resources specifically targeted at rural settings.

In her speech, Puig highlighted the importance of influencing the social benefit of the maintenance and renovation of buildings. Currently, the investments that need to be made to adapt the existing Catalan park to European objectives exceed € 16,000 per home, including accessibility improvements, corrections of structural deficiencies and the provision of greater energy efficiency. Between 40 and 80% of the investment may be covered by the European Funds, but the rest must be paid by the owner. Therefore, there is the challenge of promoting and convincing of the need to carry out these rehabilitations, especially in those neighborhoods of greater vulnerability. Also that of adapting the regulations to these new, more sustainable approaches. And finally, that of working transversally and training and involving all possible agents, so that the instruments reach everyone and the success and benefits of rehabilitation can be shared. As Puig said, it is necessary to convince that "the rehabilitation of buildings not only benefits the property, but the whole of society. We are talking about the fight against climate change."

Lluïsa Moret has focused on the idea that the objective is not only to comply with the management of these funds, but to transform the cities and the quality of life of the neighbors. According to the mayor, the future perspective must be that of sustainable urban development, intervening in a comprehensive, integrated and inclusive manner. This means that the rehabilitation approach must be a city strategy, which can serve to create local ecosystems of public-private partnerships, and to open many doors that favor economic reactivation, job creation and the exploration of new logics of more sustainable building. But, the most important thing is that community empowerment takes place, that the neighborhood participates in the rehabilitation processes and understands decent housing as a vital fact to preserve. This approach to the citizen is evident that from where it is best achieved is from the city councils, and that is why Moret calls for a greater role for these entities in the management of rehabilitation.

Work from public administrations must have the support of the private sector, an aspect that Lluís Marsà has highlighted in both rehabilitation, regeneration and urban renewal. In fact, comprehensive rehabilitation is currently 20% more expensive than building anew and this largely explains the paralysis of the sector. Marsá insists that it is the administration that must address these issues as soon as possible, highlighting the great lack of qualified personnel and companies destined to carry out construction activities, as well as the eventual price increase for rehabilitation and new construction. He also agrees with Puig that the construction requirements regulations are outdated and this affects the ability to act. For this reason, Marsà defends greater speed in the granting of urban planning and licensing, without which it will not be possible to take advantage of the European Funds.

Finally, Oriol Nel·lo closed the session by evaluating the European Funds as a unique opportunity for rehabilitation. The first of the challenges is to ensure the transversality of the interventions, both in the sector and at various scales. Inter-administrative cooperation must also be prioritized between those institutions that have the resources, the Autonomous Communities, and those that present the greatest problems, especially the municipalities with vulnerable neighborhoods. Third, the importance of involving the neighborhood in the policy co-production process. In this sense, it is necessary to avoid generating perverse effects among citizens in the management of these funds. And, finally, a proper control and evaluation of the ability to influence these aids. A path that necessarily implies cooperation and the involvement of all sectors.