Today, at the Smart City Expo World Congress, Josep Maria Montaner, the Councillor for Housing in Barcelona, outlined the measures being taken in the city to defend the rights of tenants. He was taking part in the “Stabilising measures for rental accommodation in the city” conference at the Eurocities network meeting, which representatives from other European cities also took part in.
Montaner explained that the hike in rental prices (currently at a record high, with an average cost of almost €13 per square metre) is driving local residents away from their neighbourhoods.
What are the main causes of this situation? The city councillor mentioned various factors, including the pressure from tourism and the lack of a stable public housing policy, which has led to a very small number of affordable flats.
He also criticised housing policies carried out at a national level: “The laws are designed to favour investors” he said, giving the example of legislative changes that have limited the duration of rental contracts, a decision that is detrimental to tenants.
In order to tackle this situation, Barcelona City Council has undertaken a series of measures that facilitate the general public’s access to housing and defends the rights of tenants.
The 2016-2025 Right to Housing in Barcelona Plan, driven by the City Council, establishes measures to prevent and respond to housing emergencies, ensure the proper use of available housing, expand the number of public flats and improve the existing stock of public housing.
Specifically, the municipal government is purchasing and acquiring empty flats in addition to building new ones. Furthermore, rent subsidies are being increased in order to prevent the more disadvantaged people from being evicted from their neighbourhoods, and it has also significantly increased subsidies for renovating buildings.
Regarding initiatives to mitigate the effects of tourism, it has undertaken measures to stop the construction of hotels and the proliferation of tourist flats.
The impact of tourism on Lisbon
Rui Neves Bochmann Franco, the Councillor for Housing in Lisbon, explained the rental accommodation market in his city, seriously affected by the pressure of tourism. He affirmed that 20 million people visit the Portuguese capital every year and that “they are causing unsustainable inflation” in rental prices.
In response to this situation, Lisbon City Council is increasing its efforts to renovate flats and it is exploring alternatives, in order to build flats in collaboration with the private sector.
Protection for tenants in Germany
Bernhard von Grünberg, representing Bonn City Council, explained a very different situation. He stated that in his city, tenant rights are much more protected, thanks to local authority control.
“Tenants’ rights are at the same level of those of property owners”, he affirmed, adding that “In Germany, it is normal for tenants to stay in the same flat for a long time, even for their entire lives”.
He also explained that in Bonn, there is a benchmark public price index that the City Council verifies by means of surveys on the city’s population.
London: a severe crisis
Rhona Brown, representing the Greater London Authority, explained the characteristics of the British capital’s “severe housing crisis”. “We have one of the largest and least-regulated rental markets in the world, and there hasn’t been any sustained, coherent policy”, she affirmed.
Brown admitted that prices have soared in her city, and that tenants “have very few rights”. She also said that the Mayor of London’s powers for tackling this situation are very limited, because the United Kingdom has a political system with very little decentralisation. She also affirmed that the Authority’s objective is to build 60,000 social housing flats.