Promoting affordable renting through the private sector and cooperatives

In Spain, housing has always been understood as a private matter and not as a public good. David Guardia, coordinator of Sostre Cívic, argues that citizens' preference for buying a home as their habitual residence is not only a cultural issue, but is also attributable to the economic insecurity and temporary instability of renting, as a financial asset subject to speculation. In fact, Jordi Bosch, technical director of the Observatori Metropolità de l'Habitatge, assures that the segment of the population living in rented accommodation is the most affected in terms of access and maintenance prices, causing the population living there to experience greater difficulties in making ends meet. Specifically, the overburdening 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%[1].

According to Jaime Palomera, spokesperson for the Sindicat de Llogateres, a first step to change the reality of renting by making it a more accessible, secure and stable option is Law 11/2020 on rent containment, which must be accompanied by an expansion of the public stock of social and affordable rentals. A measure that has already been done, but which has been lost because it has returned to the market.

In the process of achieving this social and affordable housing stock, Antoni Sorolla, director of Institutional Relations at Sogeviso, explains that it is essential to count on all the actors that are already working and others that need to be incorporated. The Public Administration has a fundamental role to play here, in terms of land ownership and price control, while the private sector and civil society, through cooperatives or foundations, can provide the resources and capital necessary to move forward in terms of management and operation. In this sense, the private sector needs to make a commitment to moderate profits in exchange for long-term stability and a high social return.

Furthermore, according to Guardia, housing policies must look beyond renting and buying, combining different models of tenure and management, as is already the case in other European countries such as Austria. Different models could be cooperatives and the transfer of use - there are currently 600 homes of this type in Catalonia -, temporary ownership, surface rights, among others. On the other hand, the success stories show that it is necessary to favour community management that is as participatory as possible.

Some examples of good practice in social housing in collaboration with the private sector are the Programa de Mediació del Lloguer in El Prat de Llobregat, a municipal mediation service between owners and tenants to increase the supply of affordable rental housing; and the joint venture Habitatge Metrópolis Barcelona, half owned by the AMB and Barcelona City Council and half by the company Cevasa-Neinor, which aims to contribute to expanding the stock of affordable rental housing in the metropolitan area. While some examples of collaboration with civil society are the Fundació Habitat3, dedicated to the expansion and management of the social rental housing stock for groups in a situation of residential exclusion; the Cooperativa Obrera de Viviendas, also in El Prat de Llobregat, which since 1962 has been dedicated to the construction and management of affordable housing, social services for the elderly, and commercial premises for the promotion of a solidarity economy; and the cooperative Sostre Cívic, which is dedicated to disseminating, promoting and fostering cooperative housing on transfer of use throughout the territory. In this case, ownership is collective, favouring more democratic management and avoiding individual profit.

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:

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

Cities  Housing