Designing cross-cutting housing policies in the short, medium and long term.

Housing is a fundamental right enshrined in the Spanish Constitution as a guiding principle of social and economic policy. The reality, however, is very different, especially after the financial crisis of 2008 and more recently with the COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, Jordi Bosch, technical director of the Observatori Metropolità de l'Habitatge, states that the rate of overburdening of the rental population in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, i.e. the number of people who spend more than 40% of their income on housing costs - housing and supplies - stands at 42%. This rate of overburdening is the highest in the European Union, which has an EU-28 average of 24.9% [1]. On the other hand, Juan Antonio Módenes, researcher at the Centre d'Estudis Demogràfics, adds 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 [2].

Faced with this reality, Antonio Sorolla, Director of Institutional Relations at Sogeviso, stresses that housing policies cannot be conceived in isolation, but rather intertwined with other issues that have to do with the city, such as urban planning, economic policies, mobility policies, environmental policies and social policies. Moreover, Bosch adds that in order to design these policies, planning is needed that takes into account different responses according to the timeframe being worked on. That is to say, to define the short, medium and long-term objectives and the actions that will accompany them; to estimate the economic resources that will make this possible and to encourage the training of all the actors that will have to be involved in this process.

In the short term, it is clear that the housing emergency must be addressed, which is bound to increase when the tenant protection measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic come to an end. This objective can be addressed through rent control measures, such as Law 11/2020, and also with direct aid for the most vulnerable people. In the medium term, the phasing-in of affordable housing stock should be pursued, especially in highly congested cities. For example, through mediation between owners and tenants; the acquisition of public housing in the private market; the promotion of cooperative models; or changes in tax regulations, among others. For the long term, the literature argues that in order to increase affordable and social housing, it is necessary to transform the existing stock and the construction of new housing into public or semi-public rentals, with the Third Sector acting as if it were the Public Administration.

In order to effectively implement these proposals, all the speakers agreed that a stable legal framework needs to be adopted, which ensures a commitment to compliance by all the actors involved. As for the public sector, Lluïsa Moret, mayoress of Sant Boi de Llobregat, stated that cooperation between administrations must be facilitated, especially between Autonomous Communities and City Councils, and the latter must be given greater powers and resources. As for the private sector, Sorolla assures that incentives can be introduced to facilitate its involvement in both the construction of affordable housing and in rehabilitation processes.

Finally, Lucía Martín, councillor for Housing of Barcelona City Council, and Nuria Parlón, mayor of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, stressed the importance of the metropolitan scale. The issue of housing is deeply intertwined with the economic, demographic, social and cultural processes of the territory. There are municipalities that suffer the consequences of the policies and living conditions of neighbouring municipalities. This would be the case of many cities in the Barcelona metropolitan area. A reduction of bureaucratic constraints and a harmonisation of policies and actions on a metropolitan scale can generate greater impacts, for example, by preventing operators from having different regulatory and fiscal advantages depending on the municipality. At the same time, the metropolitan perspective can contribute significantly to reducing inequalities within the territory because it can allow those municipalities with fewer resources to implement measures with the help of those with greater capacities.

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

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

Cities  Housing