The housing crisis

Obrers de la construcció que treballen en un edifici en obres destinat a habitatge públic al carrer de Viladomat, 142. © Ajuntament de Barcelona / Martí Petit

Krushenka Bayas Design (Storydata)

Being able to access decent housing is a basic right recognised in both the Spanish Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy. In Barcelona, the historic lack of public housing developments and the rise in prices as a result of speculation processes and the proliferation of tourist flats have brought about a phenomenon of gentrification that has driven many residents out of the city.

Applications for public housing have skyrocketed. The lack of affordable alternatives triggers the flight of young residents to other municipalities in the metropolitan area and beyond. The measures undertaken during the pandemic to prevent evictions have buffered a social crisis that will eventually emerge.

Recovery of rental and purchase prices

In 2014, renting an apartment in Barcelona costed an average of 688.20 euros per month. In 2021, the rental price had risen by more than 50% and stood, on average, at 964.80 euros per month. In the first months of the pandemic, price escalation slowed. Once the lockdown was over, the purchase and rental markets recovered differently. The purchase price grew during the third quarter of 2020 and the rental price remained the same. Both prices dropped in the fourth quarter, but the rental price fell more sharply and remained stable during 2021. Instead, the purchase price began to rise again as of January 2021.

Controlling prices has not shrunk supply

One of the main objections to the new rent control law was that it would shrink supply. Data from the Catalan Housing Agency indicate that the limitation has not led to a fall in the number of leases. The United Nations recommends that the cost of rent account for a maximum of 30% of household income, but both Barcelona (43.5%) and its metropolitan area (37.5%) exceed this percentage, according to the report “Housing Emergency, Energy Poverty and Health” (2019) issued by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB).

Higher rents, more expensive properties

The purchase price of a property can be up to seven times higher depending on the neighbourhood where it is located. The highest price per square metre is in the Sant Gervasi-Galvany neighbourhood, where it reaches 7,076 euros, followed by the Bonanova, Dreta de l’Eixample and Pedralbes neighbourhoods. The prices in Sant Andreu and El Congrés i els Indians are also quite high. Ciutat Meridiana, Trinitat Nova and Bon Pastor are the most affordable neighbourhoods. As for rent, the most expensive neighbourhood is Vila Olímpica (where a large number of leisure and restaurant establishments are concentrated), followed by the Tres Torres and Vallvidrera neighbourhoods. The lowest rent is in Canyelles, La Guineueta and Sant Genís dels Agudells.

The rental market and the price per m2

The Covid-19 crisis has marked a turning point in Spain’s rental market. According to the real estate portal, there has been a decrease in price compared to September 2020, especially in Barcelona (-7.3%) and Madrid (-7.7%). In Barcelona, the Rent Control Law approved by the Parliament of Catalonia in September 2020 also influenced the fall in prices. However, Barcelona is still the second most expensive provincial capital in terms of rent (€14.82 m2), exceeded only by San Sebastián.


The smallest flats in Nou Barris

The 2020 home lockdown put the relationship between size of living space and quality of life at the heart of the debate. It is not the same to live and cohabit in 68 square metres, the average living space in the Nou Barris neighbourhood, that in 135 square metres, as is the case in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi. In the latter district, one in ten homes measure more than 200 square metres. In Nou Barris, on the other hand, the largest flats do not account for even 1% of the total and almost 40% have an area of 50 square metres or less.

Impact of tourist rental listings

The districts of Ciutat Vella, the Eixample and Gràcia account for 70.1% of tourist flats. The ten districts have suffered a very similar drop in prices, marked by the emergence of Covid-19 and, previously, due to the control of tourist rental listings. With the application of the new regulations, the flats that operated without a licence have been closed and a hiatus has been imposed on posting new accommodation, which has reduced or maintained the number of tourist flats.

A city steeped in history

Barcelona holds the leading position in Spain in terms of the oldest rental and sale homes on the market, according to the real estate portal Idealista. The year of construction of the buildings is a key factor for buyers and is also key to setting the property price. According to cadastral data, the city’s oldest flats are located in the Gothic quarter and in the Raval, where the average age of the properties is around 122 years. At the other extreme, Diagonal Mar and the Vila Olímpica in Poblenou are the areas with the youngest flats. The building age map also shows that older buildings are concentrated in the nuclei corresponding to the towns that were annexed to Barcelona, such as Gràcia, Sant Andreu, Sants, Poblenou and Sarrià.


Eighty-four per cent of homes, low level of efficiency

Much of Barcelona’s building stock is so old that its construction predates the mandatory regulatory framework governing thermal insulation requirements. There is a range for evaluating a property’s energy efficiency, where A is the maximum efficiency and G is the minimum. Less than half of homes (40.45%) have an energy certificate and, out of these homes, only 1.18% have obtained an energy rating of A or B. Most (84.4%) certified buildings obtain a primary energy rating (natural gas, fuel, coal, etc.) of level E, F or G, which are the least efficient.

Migrations within the city

In Barcelona, much of the city’s internal movements show the Eixample to be their final destination, where 10,000 inhabitants moved during 2020. It should be considered that it is one of the city’s most populated districts. Sant Martí was also the destination of a large share of the changes of address, followed by Ciutat Vella and Sants-Montjuïc.


Gentrification, expulsion from the neighbourhood

Gentrification is the process of expelling the lowest-income families from a neighbourhood when it undergoes a transformation on account of investments of different kinds that revalue the land and cause sharp rises in property prices. Researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) have created a city gentrification index based on income, population age, unemployment, migration and rising house prices. The district of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina and La Ribera has experienced the most gentrification processes, followed by the Raval and Barceloneta neighbourhoods.

Exile in less populated municipalities

The 2021 census shows a preference among Barcelona’s inhabitants to emigrate to municipalities of less than 5,000 inhabitants. The report “Migratory Movement in Times of Covid-19” by the Municipal Data Office (OMD) reveals that, in recent months, anomalies have been observed in the net migration of municipalities in Vallès Oriental and Vallès Occidental, Penedès and towns on the coast to high mountain areas such as the Val d’Aran, Cerdanya, Llívia and Camprodon.


Migrations in Girona and the Alt Penedès

As for the metropolitan region, where about 3.3 million people live – almost half of Catalonia’s population –, there is a clear trend among this area’s population to emigrate to the counties of Girona and Alt Penedès. These two regions received, in 2020 alone, almost 20,000 inhabitants from the metropolis.


A downward trend

According to the 2021 municipal census, 6,200 fewer people live in Barcelona (0.4%) than a year ago. According to the Municipal Data Office, the population’s decline mainly stems from the rise in mortality due to the pandemic, the fall in the birth rate and the near neutrality of net migration, after a six-year period in which this migration balance has acted as a driver of population growth.

Origin, the reason behind marginalisation

Discrimination in access to housing according to place of birth and name of origin is a real fact. Barcelona City Council carried out an experiment by sending fictitious requests to visit flats for rent using names of Catalan/Spanish or Arabic origin for the applicant. Among the applicants with names of a Catalan/Spanish origin, 56.6% received a positive response, while only 37.8% of those with names of Arabic origin received a response, i.e. 18.8% less than applicants with names of Catalan or Spanish origin.


Public housing, a pending task

The public housing stock in Spain (1.5% of the total) is one of the lowest in all of Europe. In the city there are approximately 19,000 valid state-subsidised housing properties [VPO being its Spanish acronym], but it is estimated that in 30 years 88% will no longer be valid, according to data from the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB). Applications for state-subsidised housing have only increased, but the number of registrations remains low. In 2020, 39,260 applications were registered in Barcelona and only 4,710 were accepted. Despite the widespread decline in the construction sector, in Barcelona the number of properties started has remained, thanks especially to the impetus of state-subsidised housing, which grew by 108% compared to 2019, and accounted for 31% of the total (592 VPO, 1,892 in total), according to the Barcelona Metropolitan Housing Observatory.

Big property owners

Most properties in Barcelona are owned by a private individual (658,006) and the rest (122,769) by another type of owner, according to data from the Metropolitan Housing Observatory. Thirteen point nine per cent of the housing stock belongs to big property owners – those with more than 15 properties – of which 50% are private individuals and 45% are legal entities.


10,000 vacant homes

In Barcelona there are 10,052 empty homes, 1.2% of the total, according to the last municipal census of 2019. In most cases, the homes were uninhabited for less than two years. Ciutat Vella is the location of the most empty flats: 981 unoccupied, out of a total of 7,860 (1.7%), concentrated mainly in the Gothic quarter. The districts with fewer empty flats are Vallvidrera, Tibidabo and Les Planes and the Vila Olímpica in Poblenou.


Problems paying the rent

Most evictions in Barcelona are imposed on families who cannot pay the rent. In the second quarter of 2020, eviction notices were very much brought to a standstill during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Each year a decrease was recorded in the number of evictions in the third quarter, coinciding with the summer holiday period. Foreclosures are much lower in number than those ordered under the Urban Lease Act, that is, for not paying the rent.


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