Housing renovation brings benefits not only for the household but also for society and the environment

Despite the fact that the construction of new housing has always formed part of our country's housing policies, Juan Antonio Módenes, researcher at the Centre d'Estudis Demogràfics, states that with the current and future population structure, the demand for new homes can be covered by the supply of the existing stock. In other words, it would not be necessary to build new homes because the homes that remain empty due to the mortality process of the elderly could cover the needs for new homes required by the young people who are becoming emancipated.

If the objective is to progressively move towards the management of the existing stock, all the speakers agree that the new building policies should also promote refurbishment over new construction. However, Lluís Marsà, president of the Asociació de Promotors de Catalunya, points out that the refurbishment sector has always played a minority role in construction because comprehensive refurbishment processes have an additional cost of 20%. This fact, according to Assumpció Puig, dean of the Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya, acts as a disincentive for citizens, causing the sector to be quite paralysed. In this sense, Miguel Baiget, deputy director general of Land, Information and Evaluation of the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, explains that the renovation rate of the Spanish housing stock is 30,000 homes per year, which is between eight and ten times lower than in countries such as France, Italy and Germany.

We should not have to allow this situation, given the characteristics of the Catalan and Spanish housing stock, which stands out for its age and for accumulating structural and energy deficiencies. For this reason, Puig and Marsà insist on investing more public and private resources to tackle urban regeneration and rehabilitation processes. Specifically, Puig calculates that in order to adapt to European criteria in terms of energy efficiency, accessibility and other structural improvements, an average of 16,000€ would have to be invested per dwelling in Catalonia. In the short term, the European Funds could be an important solution, as they foresee an investment of 3.42 billion € in renovation programmes over the next five years. Therefore, they would allow them to cover between 40%-80% of the cost of housing rehabilitation, while the rest would have to be provided by the property owner.

This is the great challenge, according to Puig, to make people see that renovation is not only a benefit for the property owner, but also for society as a whole and for the environment. First of all, the processes of conservation and refurbishment are aimed at improving energy efficiency and the habitability conditions of housing. This reduces GHG emissions and the use of natural resources - water and energy - and thus the costs associated with these services. Overall, this can contribute to reducing the energy poverty that affects so many households in Catalonia [1]. In addition, renewable energies can be implemented and a more reasonable use of land can be introduced, accompanied by more sustainable building techniques.

Secondly, the refurbishment of dwellings helps to improve the comfort inside the home and the health of those who live there, by reducing noise and pollution, and improving temperature and humidity conditions. In turn, this can reduce public health expenditure.

Thirdly, the processes of conservation and rehabilitation contribute to dignifying and increasing the self-esteem of people, dwellings and neighbourhoods. Lluïsa Moret, mayoress of Sant Boi de Llobregat, and Nuria Parlón, mayoress of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, explain that if these processes are community-based, they can generate an ownership and agency that revitalises and improves the life of neighbourhoods. An example of good practice is the "Renovamos los barrios" project itself, promoted by the Santa Coloma de Gramenet Town Council. In this case, the City Council determines the public interest of the rehabilitation process by declaring the most deficient buildings to be Conservation and Rehabilitation Areas. The City Council intervenes in a comprehensive manner, acting as mediator with the community of owners to achieve consensus and the participation of the neighbours; awarding the technical projects and the works; offering payment facilities, and monitoring the works.

Fourthly, rehabilitation can become a strategic sector for economic reactivation. It can help to come out of the crisis, generating more jobs and activity at a time when, according to Marsà, there is a lack of professional training, qualified personnel and more companies involved in construction activities.

Although measures are already being taken to incentivise rehabilitation - such as housing exchanges - they need to be promoted on a large scale. This is precisely the aim of the five aid programmes that the Spanish government will launch this year, within the framework of the European Funds [2]. Baiget explains that among the objectives is to increase the number of rehabilitated homes to 300,000 by 2026, taking advantage of all instruments and acting on all scales: neighbourhood, building and housing. To achieve these objectives, the rehabilitation offices of the Autonomous Communities and city councils will be strengthened, as well as other existing mechanisms such as the "Libro del Edificio" for existing buildings, which provides a diagnosis of the state of the building and an action plan to stimulate the decision to rehabilitate. In parallel to these subsidy programmes, measures will also be developed to improve the fiscal and regulatory framework, a line of guarantees to obtain more financing, and other resources specifically aimed at rural environments.

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

To see other related entries click here:

[1] Observatori Social la Caixa. (2016). Radiografia de la pobresa energètica. Available here

[2] Ministerio de Transportes, Movilidad y Agenda Urbana. Actualización 2020. De la estrategia a largo plazo para la rehabilitación energética en el sector de la edificación en España.  (2020), pp. 81-82. Available here.

Cities  Housing