The role of the administrations in the crisis of urban housing access was the central issue of the second session of the Barcelona Housing and Renovation Forum (FHAR), taking place from March 19 to 21 in the MACBA auditorium and organised by the Municipal Institute of Housing and Renovation of the Barcelona City Council.
The session was attended by Javier Martín Ramiro, general director of Architecture, Housing and Land of the Ministry of Development; Judith Gifreu, director of the Housing Agency of Catalonia; and Javier Burón, manager of Housing and Renovation of the Barcelona City Council.
During the presentations, the speakers put special emphasis on four issues: the problem of increasing rent prices, and especially in the city of Barcelona at a time when the greatest number of evictions is due to families being unable to pay the rent; how to increase affordable housing, and guarantee its continuity; how to guarantee housing for people who have been evicted; and what measures must be applied to prevent household over-indebtedness.
The representatives of the three administrations are committed to promoting public-private collaboration to try and respond to citizens’ housing needs.
What to do about the increase in rent prices
The representative of the Ministry of Development, Javier Martín Ramiro, stressed that we must address the issue of rent, very present in large cities, with actions to contain prices, such as the decree law of urgent measures to improve access to housing, while underlining the need for long-term actions to avoid further increases in rent prices. “What should really contain prices is an increase in the supply. Longer terms for rental contracts would also help, since this is an anti-inflationist measure, while it is also necessary to create reference indices, especially since this is a very opaque market, where there is no valid information,” said the speaker. The director of the Housing Agency of Catalonia, Judith Gifreu, also stressed the importance of having a reference index for rent prices. “Catalonia is a pioneer in the establishment of this index to bring transparency to the market,” she said. Next, she explained the functioning of this index that, unlike other European cities like Paris or Berlin, is drawn from Incasòl’s financial register and other real data such as a building’s energy efficiency, accessibility, parking… “This allows us to work with totally objective data rather than statistical estimates”, said the expert. She also noted that with the index “the aim is not to limit prices, but to modulate the market price by setting a maximum and minimum limit, and provide this information to both the owner and the tenant.” She also explained the benefits and aid that owners who offers rentals below the reference index will have. Affordable housing, how to rise above 1.8% The issue of affordable housing was the second topic addressed by the speakers, as a problem that must be faced in order to solve the social emergency. To start his speech, Javier Burón made it clear that “municipalities do not have jurisdiction in housing issues, we are the administration closest to the citizen; however, we have no competence in this area … there seems to be a certain distrust of the municipalities… “, and then he explained the reality of the city:” We have 1.8% public housing, and we should get up to 15%, although in other countries around us the figure reaches 30%, which means that we cannot apply the same methods as other European countries.” The municipal representative also pointed out other problems such as financing and time: “We have problems now, and we need urgent solutions.” The moderator, journalist Irene Peiró, put on the table the measure that requires 30% of new flats in Barcelona to be allocated to affordable housing, a pioneering measure across the State to increase affordable flats in the city and ensure the right to housing access. “This is an option that has come to stay, because we have a deficit that must be covered,” said Burón. Judith Gifreu made known the solutions offered by the Government of Catalonia, as well as the agreements signed with the Catalan Institute of Finance to, in the most agile way possible, increase housing both by the administration and in collaboration with the private sector. This collaboration with the private sector was also addressed by Martín Ramiro: “The State must deepen formulas that allow private operators, the third sector, cooperatives, etc., to produce protected housing, while the budget allocated to protected flats should grow; today the production of housing is going up, but that of social housing is not.” Guaranteeing housing to those who have been evicted In 2018, in Catalonia there were 2366 evictions, making it the community with the highest number, followed by Madrid, with 1300. While the number of evictions due to mortgage defaults has been reduced, those caused by inability to pay the rent have increased. “Today, as we do not have a public housing market, the only immediate solution that can be given is budgetary,” said Martín Ramiro, who also stressed the need to be prepared for evictions and that “between all administrations we must find a housing solution before the eviction day. ” Gifreu explained the importance of the emergency aid given by the Housing Agency, with a maximum limit of 3000 euros, in situations when the rent cannot be paid. “The administrations need to get more affordable housing, and incentivise flat owners by defining what compensation we can offer them.” Burón made known how the reality of evictions is lived in the city. “Social Services does not have the means to solve the problem, we do not have homes to relocate these people to and we are overwhelmed, but with the means available we will try to be as efficient and structured as possible“. Over-indebtedness of families The representatives of the three administrations stressed the need to address the problem of household over-indebtedness. According to data from Fotocasa, Catalan families must allocate 46% of their gross monthly salary to paying the rent, when experts recommend that this amount should be between 20% and 30% at maximum. The members of row 0, made up of Jaume Artigas, of the Federation of Neighbourhood Associations of Barcelona; Irene Escorihuela, of the DESC Observatory; Elena Massot, of the Promoters Association of Catalonia; and Pablo Pérez, of Barcelona Global; reinforced that there is a lack of a coherent housing policy to allow reaching the social housing figures of other European countries. They also pointed out the importance of private sector collaboration, promoting transparency and information to avoid a new housing bubble, and putting a reality on the table: the problem of families who, despite having a job, cannot afford housing.
With the aim of promoting transparency and obtaining more data from the sector, over the last two years the Metropolitan Housing Observatory has worked to expand and deepen housing-related data in the Barcelona metropolitan area.
“One of the objectives of the Observatory is to improve existing data and fill the gaps that we have,” said Carme Trilla, president of the Barcelona Metropolitan Housing Observatory, during her speech within the context of the Measure to Plan segment. The generation of indicators and presentation of the state of affairs was moderated by Beatriz Toribio, director of studies at Fotocasa.
Since its foundation, the Housing Observatory has carried out diverse fieldwork to get to know the population of Barcelona and find out where and how it lives, establishing a relationship between people and housing. “There is a stabilisation of the population in the city of 1,620,000 inhabitants, but with a tendency towards growth among the foreign population, which was 16% between 2010 and 2016, and today represents 24%.”
In addition, based on data from the property register, the Observatory has estimated the city’s housing market, which is set at 774,190 flats, and the number of empty ones. “Through different methodologies we have been able to estimate the number of empty flats in the city. It was believed that they accounted for 11% of the market, and the study we carried out shows that there are 3600 flats, which is 1.52%,” explained Trilla.
How the locals live – 35% paying rent; who are the flat owners – 68.9% of flats are in the hands of private owners; and who buys homes in the city – 66.6% of transactions are made by buyers here – are some of the other statistics provided by the Observatory.
Carme Trilla also explained how rental contracts have changed in all districts and revealed their average price, which is 929.6 euros per month, although the highest demand for rentals is between 600 and 800 euros per month.
Next, Mario José Yoldi Domínguez, director of Planning and Operational Processes in Housing of the Basque Government, explained how data can be used to make housing policies. “The data allows us to know what we are doing well, and where we are making mistakes, in order to improve our decisions.” Yoldi emphasised the need to handle information carefully and make long-term policies, rather than shock plans.
At the same time, the speaker indicated the need for direct contact with citizens, to encourage their participation, to cross data in order to get more information, and to control the information available so it is not misused. “Having data is essential to planning, but my current concern is the misuse of data,” said the expert.