"Renovation is the only way to ensure that homes are in conditions to live with health and comfort"

25/07/2019 11:32 h

Ajuntament de Barcelona

Keeping the housing market in optimal conditions to promote people’s quality of life, prevent the degradation of neighbourhoods and, at the same time, contribute to energy savings. These are some of the main advantages of carrying out renovation work.

“Renovating a home is a benefit and a long-term investment, which returns improvement in the quality of life. It’s like passing the ITV to be able to drive safely and in good conditions,” explains Anna Rigalt, Head of the Department of Renovation Promotion at the Municipal Institute of Housing and Renovation of Barcelona.

Plenty of scientific studies and research prove the lack of access to decent housing and its effects on mental and physical health. People who live in flats in poor conditions or without accessibility are more likely to suffer from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases, as well as states of anxiety or depression.

The renovation of flats helps prevent these situations and improve citizens’ quality of life. As Núria Pedrals, coordinator of the Barcelona Observatory for Architectural Renovation (OBRA) explains, “Renovation is the only way to ensure that homes are in the ideal conditions for living with health, comfort and habitability.”

In addition, it also has a positive impact on job creation and economic savings in the healthcare system.

Removing architectural barriers One of the key benefits of housing renovation work, besides resolving structural pathologies and ensuring the good condition of buildings, is that it makes it possible to remove architectural barriers. In recent years, Barcelona has stood out from other capitals in its actions to adapt public space to people with reduced mobility. Housing renovation allows these measures to be carried out in the private and housing spheres. The execution of this type of improvement not only means an improvement to the building, but also – and most importantly – has an impact on people’s health and well-being.

As explained by Ivan Fernández, technician at the Municipal Institute of Housing and Renovation of Barcelona (IMHAB), there is a case “of elderly people and people with reduced mobility who have been locked up at home for years because they cannot go down the stairs, and this greatly reduces their cognitive abilities.” When the building has an elevator, access ramps and wider doors, it automatically improves the quality of life for these people and also prevents people who have lived their lives in the neighbourhood from leaving because their homes are not adapted. Fighting against energy poverty Another positive effect of promoting renovation policies is that it contributes to fighting energy poverty. Often, this phenomenon is associated with the poor state of housing, the presence of humidity, or poor insulation, which leads to increased energy expenditure due to difficulties in heating the homes. Housing improvement works favour maintenance, reduce energy expenditure, and improve the overall health of the residents. In this sense, Pedrals feels that “aid to assist people in situations of energy poverty is a timely solution, but the final solution involves renovation.” During 2018, a total of 350 cases were opened for energy renovation in homes, a number that increases every year and shows that the population is gaining awareness about this type of renovation. Regarding the issue of energy efficiency, another advantage of renovation is that it responds to European political commitments and environmental regulations, especially those that refer to the reduction of CO2 emissions.

Boosting the local economy In addition, promoting renovation not only has a positive impact on constructed housing and the people who live there, but also contributes to boosting the economy of the territory. “This type of work creates many jobs,” he says, which indicates that these types of projects are entrusted to companies in the area. “This is very interesting because the local economy is also revitalized,” he adds. In this regard, the Construction Workers Guild provides a list of specialised companies “that offer a number of interesting conditions for building owners, such as endorsement, so that the City Council will advance the money for the works,” explains the Head of the Department of Renovation Development of Barcelona. For every euro that is invested in renovation aid, three euros are being generated in economic activity. Or in other words, with grants to renovate housing, economic activity is multiplied by threeRenovation grants “Sometimes it’s really difficult to convince people of the benefits of renovation, and property owners have a hard time identifying what elements should be addressed or will imply a significant expense, but this is where we enter with renovation grants,” explains Anna Rigalt. Renovation is one of the four strategic axes of action that are reflected in the Right to Housing Plan 2016-2015. In response to this priority, a call for renovation grants is opened every year. Specifically, the Barcelona Housing Consortium offers grants to renovate home interiors and common elements of buildings, as well as to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. In addition, grants are offered within the programme for high complexity buildings of the Neighbourhood Plan. In 2018, around 40,000 people and 16,000 homes benefitted from housing renovation grants. The call for interior renovation grants is currently open.

Home interiors  Housing renovation doesn’t just refer to works on facades and other common elements, such as elevators. It is equally important to care for conditions inside of homes, as these factors contribute to dignifying housing and have an impact on the quality of life of people living there. Within the renovation grants, the City Council offers a special line for interiors. In the current call for the year 2019, grants are offered to carry out renovations in homes that are then incorporated into the rental pool. More specifically, these grants are intended for works to adapt the water, gas and electricity networks to current regulations, and for improvements to energy and habitability. The grants can be for up to 100% of the cost of renovation, and up to a maximum of 20,000 euros per home. Applications can be submitted until November 29.

Common elements of buildings The renovation grants for the common elements of buildings help to manage the repair of structural pathologies in buildings, as well as works to improve common spaces such as facades, patios, courtyards, stairs, dividing walls and hallways. In addition, they also subsidise work for the installation of elevators, the removal of architectural barriers and obsolete elements; the installation of shared facilities; works for energy saving, solar energy and green roofs; and installation of direct water facilities. The grants can also be used to rearrange spaces and make buildings more sustainable and energy efficient. Technician Ivan Fernández illustrates this with an example: “an interior patio carries out the function of a chimney, but if we cover it with a skylight, this function is lost. If we do some works to remove the skylight or adapt it, we regain the cross-ventilation system and achieve a better general air conditioning for the building. Finally, the grants are also directed towards the social cohesion programme; and programmes for urban complexes of special interest, including Turó de la Peira, Barón de Viver, the southwest of Besòs, the San Ramón conservation area, and other places where the superblock programme is being implemented.

High complexity buildings In 2018, the Neighbourhood Plan launched a programme to renovate buildings that, due to their socioeconomic complexity, were not benefitting from the grants offered through ordinary calls. In this call, the budgetary contributions made the previous year are extended and an additional 2.2 million euros will be contributed. So far, 444 cases have been opened and 95 work contracts have been signed, of which 44 buildings already have a license or have just begun renovation work.