Housing, a constitucional right with several challenges

Housing is a fundamental right enshrined in the Spanish Constitution as a guiding principle of social and economic policy. It states that citizens have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing, and that the public authorities are responsible for making this right effective, promoting the necessary conditions for this to be the case and establishing the relevant regulations [1].

Jordi Bosch, technical director of the Observatori Metropolità de l'Habitatge, states that theory is confronted with a very different reality, especially after the financial crisis of 2008 and more recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic. The deregulation of the housing market began in 1985, turning real estate into an attractive financial asset for speculation. Jaime Palomera, spokesperson for the Sindicat de Llogateres, explains that as a result there are increases in supply and price bubbles that are not accompanied by proportional increases in wages, progressively worsening the ability to access and maintain housing, as well as the living conditions of citizens.

According to Nuria Parlón, mayor of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, and Lucía Martín, councillor for Housing of Barcelona City Council, housing in Spain has always been understood as a private matter and not as a public good. The lack of guarantee of this right is a problem that public institutions have been dealing with for decades. In fact, Antoni Sorolla, director of Institutional Relations at Sogeviso, explains that the Catalan public budget invested in social housing is only 0.1% of GDP, while the European average is 0.6%. This translates into a social rent that represents only 1.6% of the housing stock, while in countries such as the Netherlands it is more than 30% [2]. In fact, Bosch claims that the rental segment is the most disadvantaged in terms of access and maintenance prices, causing the living population to experience greater difficulties in making ends meet. Specifically, the overburden rate of the rental population in the Barcelona metropolitan area, i.e. the number of people who spend more than 40% of their income on housing costs - housing and utilities - stands at 42%. This rate of overburdening is the highest in the European Union, which has an EU-28 average of 24.9% [3].

This context generates growing challenges, such as over-indebtedness and the impoverishment of families, the scourge of evictions, the age and deterioration of the housing stock and the late emancipation of young people. Along these lines, Juan Antonio Módenes, researcher at the Centre d'Estudis Demogràfics, states that in Catalonia the emancipation rate of young people aged between 25 and 29 was 20% at the end of 2020, the lowest since 2007 [4]. Assumpció Puig, dean of the Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya, adds that 70.6% of the buildings in the Barcelona metropolitan area were built before 1981 [5], which has an effect on the quality, habitability and energy efficiency of housing. Thus, only 6% of dwellings have one of the three best energy certification categories (A, B, or C) [6]. There is therefore room for improvement.

To guarantee the right to housing, David Guardia, coordinator of the development phase of the Sostre Cívic project, says that different tenure and management models should be combined, beyond buying and renting, such as cooperatives and the transfer of use, temporary ownership and surface rights, among others. In parallel, Guifré Homedes, CEO of Amat Inmobiliaris, stressed that the transformation of empty homes and commercial premises into social housing could be promoted, encouraging owners to carry out renovations and refurbishments to comply with the optimal qualities to be inhabited and improve energy efficiency. In any case, all the speakers agree that in order to be financed, these strategies would have to be developed through public-private and public-community partnerships; and to be more effective, they would have to be conceived in a cross-cutting manner and on a metropolitan scale.

The content of this article is the result of the debate that took place during the series of Municipal Housing Conferences held in May 2021. To see the chronicle and the video of the four conferences, click on the following links:

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[1] Congreso de los Diputados (2003). La Constitución espanyola de 1978. Título I. De los derechos y deberes fundamentales. Available here.

[2] Observatori Metropolità de l’Habitatge de Barcelona. L’habitatge a la demarcació de Barcelona. (2018) p. 9. Available here.

[3] Observatori Metropolità de l’Habitatge de Catalunya. Garantir l’accés i la permanència en l’habitatge, dos reptes col·lectius. (2018). Available here.

[4] Observatori Català de la Joventut. Situació laboral de les persones joves a Catalunya.  (2020). Available here 

[5] IERMB i AMB. Anuari Metropolità de Barcelona 2016. Repensar la metròpoli: noves claus per a un projecte col·lectiu, (2017), pp. 75-76. Available here.

[6] Institut Català d’Energia. Observatori de l’estat energètic d’edificis de Catalunya. (2020). Available here.  

Cities  Housing