The Barcelona City Council aims to mobilise 10,052 vacant homes in the city and allocate them for affordable rent
The development and implementation of the Barcelona Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025 (PDHB) was the central theme of the plenary session of the Social Housing Council of Barcelona (CHSB) that took place on Thursday, March 28, at the Cent Room of the City Council.
As mentioned during the presentation of the session by Councillor of Housing for the Barcelona City Counsil, Josep Maria Montaner, “a paradigm shift is taking place and now we have to explain what’s been done, and it is with data and information that we can debate and discuss whether the new paradigm is well positioned.”
Among the data referred to by Montaner – who said goodbye to the attendees, since he left politics at the end of his mandate to return to the university and activism – he highlighted the census of empty homes created by the City Council, which has shown that in Barcelona only 1.22% of all flats in the city are unoccupied.
Actions and data for 2018
Head of the Councillor’s Office for Housing, Vanesa Valiño, shared the various actions taken to guarantee the right to housing and the results of each one.
In regard to the census of empty homes, it has revealed that the 73 neighbourhoods of the city have 10,052 vacant flats, “and what we now want is to mobilise them for affordable rent.” At the same time, the census has detected other anomalies, such as 881 unlicensed tourist flats, which will be sanctioned.
During 2018, within the framework of the PDHB and especially to guarantee the right to housing, the Housing Discipline Unit has carried out different actions in accordance with the provisions of the Law for the Right to Housing of 2007 – where it refers to sanctioning anomalous uses of housing – to detect permanently unoccupied homes.
Currently, there are 22 cases being processed (and 524 cases initiated) on large holders of empty flats. Valiño cited the sanction of more than two million euros for an entire building that is vacant in the Eixample.
In the case of real estate harassment, there are 12 cases being processed – where it has been decided to resort to the administrative sanction procedure and not the judicial one – in addition to other actions related to expropriation for permanent unemployment of Law 4/2016; penalties to financial institutions for failure to inscribe in the register of empty homes and occupied homes without a qualifying certificate; and for breach of conservation orders of Decree-Law 1/2015.
Also during 2018, an inspection plan for the city’s protected housing was created. Of the 16,000 protected flats in Barcelona, 2,091 have been inspected, representing 13% of existing protected housing. 217 anomalous situations have been detected, half of which are for renting flats above the set price and not communicating this to the Government of Catalonia.
Regarding the actions against gentrification, in 2018 there was an analysis of the 324 resettlement plans presented to guarantee that the rights of the users are being respected. In addition, an agreement was signed with the Bar Association of Barcelona (ICAB) to advise people and organisations on harassment and abusive increases in rental prices.
Growth of affordable housing
During her speech, Valiño gave the public housing figures gathered by the IMHAB at the end of 2018: 8,362 flats (over 3,000 more than in 2015). The average rental price is 211 euros / month.
As affordable housing is expanding, this was another topic discussed during the session. In total, the IMHAB has promoted 40 new construction developments on public land in the last year, for a total of 2,913 flats. The City Council has promoted 72 developments – plus two more from the Government of Catalonia – for a total of 4,600 new municipal flats; 80% of these will be for public housing, and the remaining 20% will be in cooperatives or cession of use, among other modalities requested by the public.
The promotion of new construction is being complemented by the acquisition of private housing for affordable rent. In 2018, 165 homes were added to the Affordable Rental Pool. The average rent for tenants is 145 euros / month, while the average compensation for owners is 570 euros / month.
As for the acquisition of housing, 68 flats were acquired last year: 42 by direct purchase or by pre-emption and retraction, and 26 by cession of usufruct, signed with the Sareb. Since 2016, 697 homes have been acquired (by direct purchase and usufruct).
Innovation in the creation of housing
Another issue that Valiño raised was innovation in the creation of affordable housing. Among the tools to achieve this, there is the approval of the Amendment of the General Metropolitan Plan of Barcelona (MPGM), which allocates 30% of new residential builds in the city to public housing; the joint tender of project and work that makes it possible to shorten deadlines; and the amendment of the MPGM to update parking regulations for public housing developments because, as Valiño explained, “it is a contradiction to create housing with the highest energy qualification, and then build parking that promotes unsustainable mobility and, at the same time, is very expensive to build.”
The municipal representative also emphasised the aid programme for the payment of rent. Specifically, in 2018 it helped 9,500 families, with a total budget of 23.9 million euros, to make their rent payments with a monthly average aid of 207 euros / month.
Aid for renovation also played an important role in the PDHB framework, with special emphasis on highly complex buildings. In total, aid was granted to 14,217 homes, for a total of 32.3 million euros.
To prevent and address the housing emergency and residential exclusion, in 2018 the Unit against Residential Exclusion assisted 2,270 households, 92% of which were given a definitive solution. 12% of the households were able to remain in the same home.
The Emergency Committee of the Consortium received 614 new applications last year, 442 of which were positively assessed, but only 197 homes were awarded, “which means that we must have more flats for the Emergency Committee.”
The last aspect highlighted by Valiño was the efficient operation of the Centres for Energy Assessment, which advises residents on what they pay for each service. Specifically, in 2018 13,301 people visited and 362 cuts were managed. In addition, 25 sanctions were applied to energy companies for cutting the energy supplies of vulnerable people.
The contributions of the Government of Catalonia
The director of the Housing Agency of Catalonia, Judith Gifreu, began her speech by highlighting the value of a space for dialogue, such as the Social Housing Council of Barcelona. She then explained the main actions of the Catalan Government in Barcelona during 2018, “to try to give the most coherent solution to the problems of housing access, so that families can stay in their homes,” and the key aspects of Decree Law 5 / 2019 of urgent measures to improve access to housing.
Gifreu announced that the Government of Catalonia has invested 136.9 million euros in aid for the payment of rent and to prevent the loss of housing in Catalonia, preventing 3,519 evictions in 2018.
In the specific case of the city of Barcelona, the director of the Housing Agency of Catalonia indicated that the Catalan Government allocated last year 37 million euros to housing policies in Barcelona. Specifically, 15.3 million went to ordinary aid for the payment of rent; 8.8 million to the acquisition of homes by pre-emption and retraction; 7.8 million to contribute to the budget of the CHB; 3 million in renovation actions; 0.8 million for urgent benefits; and 0.7 million for aid for rent payment for public housing residents; among others.
In addition, the Government representative explained in ten points the Decree Law 5/2019 on urgent measures to improve access to housing, which highlights that the procedure of compulsory expropriation of vacant housing is regulated, and the permanent qualification of new housing is established, with officially protected housing integrated into public property, among other aspects.
During the open floor session, representatives of different organisations contributed their points of view. The representative of the Habitat 3 Foundation, Xavier Mauri, highlighted the right of pre-emption and retraction as being very positive: “a complicated tool, but one that we value very highly.” He then proposed that the entire municipality of Barcelona should be “an area of pre-emption and retraction, which would facilitate the Administration and social organisation having more social housing.”
Next, Filiberto Bravo, president of the Neighbourhood Association of Ciutat Meridiana, asked when the new housing office planned in the area would open, as it is “an area with strong needs, with four evictions per week.”
The director of the Observatory of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (DESC), Irene Escorihuela, took the floor to highlight the work done in relation to real estate harassment. “A lot of work has been done, it has been difficult, but at the same time it has been beneficial,” she remarked. She also asked if there was a plan to disseminate existing tools for combatting real estate harassment in the city.
During his statement, the representative of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH), Santi Mas, asked if there were any plans to respond to the housing emergency in the city, among other issues.
The representative of the Federation of Neighbourhood Associations of Barcelona (FAVB), Eva Martínez, explained that her organisation has presented a document on the housing situation, and expressed her concern for a point of the new Decree Law of the Government of Catalonia, which could lead to the city’s affordable housing being more expensive depending on the location, a concern that was also expressed by others at the meeting.
The open floor also heard from Rubén Domínguez of the ECOM Federation, who asked for joint work with entities, and Rodrigo Araneda, vice-president of the Municipal Immigration Council of Barcelona, who highlighted the discrimination in housing access that migrants suffer, and the housing problems that refugees face in the city.
A consultative and participatory body
The Social Housing Council of Barcelona is a consultative and participatory body created in 2007 by the Housing Consortium of Barcelona. It periodically gathers representatives of the municipal government and the Government of Catalonia with municipal political groups, social organisations, professional associations, neighbourhood movements, and universities, among others.
In this new session, the incorporation of three more organisations was approved: the Tenants’ Union, La Dinamo (an organisation that promotes cooperative housing) and GHS (Social Housing Managers of Catalonia).
Changes to the Regulation
In addition to the incorporation of new members, during the session the changes made to the Regulation were also approved, among which, the second vice-presidency will become a housing representative of the Government of Catalonia; the member organisations are grouped into eight different types; there is greater transparency in the deliberations of the Council; and the renewal of the representatives will take place every four years, among others.
During the session, the working groups of the Council – of Regulation and MPGM; the Cooperative Housing Committee; Energy Poverty; Expulsion of Residents; and Council of Ciutat Vella – were able to explain how they have advanced in each of their areas over the past year.
Call from the City Council
Within the framework of the plenary session of the Social Housing Council of Barcelona, two members of the City Council, Joan Vidal and Beatriz Blanco (who is also the president of the Youth Council of Barcelona), explained the functions of the maximum advisory body and of citizen participation in the city. They also made a call to action for attendees to participate, as it is renewed each time there is a new consistory.