The Barcelona City Councillor for Housing, Josep Maria Montaner, attended the Housing that makes a city conference, organised under the framework of the Construmat Fair, during which he called for a change in legislation to allow control over rentals and to promote a decent and affordable housing model for all citizens.
“A paradigm shift [in housing] requires crucial legislative changes: there has to be control over rent, it is not right that there is no cap on rental prices”, he insisted.
The Councillor for Housing also recalled the four basic cornerstones upon which the City Council’s housing policies are structured:
- Initiatives to combat the housing crisis
- The creation of a housing discipline based on the Housing Act of 2007
- Encouraging new collective housing models such as cohousing
- Promoting renovation
Promoting renovations to boost the economy
During the first session, representatives of local organisations and authorities went over their experiences in renovation as an essential element of the housing policies.
“One of the challenges is to revive the renovation sector by creating jobs, to boost the local economy”, the Director of Redevelopment at the Barcelona Housing Consortium, Jordi Amela, pointed out. Renovation grants also need to be utilised to improve energy efficiency, using more sustainable materials and processes and incorporating the use of renewable energies.
The Strategic Projects Coordinator of the Vilafranca del Penedès City Council, Jordi Cuyàs, stressed the importance of the role of local authorities in housing renovations given the inactivity of the central government.
250 homes have been renovated over the last few years under Vilafranca del Penedès’s Social Goals Housing Redevelopment Programme and work is currently under way on another 90 flats. Homes under this programme will subsequently be incorporated into the municipality’s social housing pool, sharing the model of the Barcelona’s Rented Housing Pool.
The renovation work is being carried out under employment plans with people at risk of social exclusion. “It’s the best to invest in society”, acknowledged Cuyàs.
Renovation as a means of bringing dignity to neighbourhoods
The Barcelona City Council has put renovation at the heart of its housing policies, using this as an opportunity to improve the quality of homes and regenerate public and private spaces while getting the public involved.
The Mayor of Santa Coloma de Gramanet, Núria Parlón, discussed the renovation project for buildings within the municipality along Carrer Pirineus in the metropolitan area. In this particular success story, 1.8 million euros were invested in the renovation of 32 buildings and 360 homes.
Parlón explained that the aim throughout the process was to include social organisations, local residents’ associations and social players taking action in the more run-down neighbourhoods, which is where citizens with the least resources live. In this way, work was carried out together with local residents, to empower them and enable their participation in the project.
“Local residents have shared in the process and seen their neighbourhood improve. A process which they regard as a benchmark for other municipalities and even as a case study in universities. That makes them proud of their neighbourhood and keen to get involved to keep them in good condition”, she concluded.
For her part, the Director of the Empty Homes association, Emily Williams, also insisted on the need to promote renovation policies for empty housing to respond to the housing crisis, something that is also being observed in England.
The impact of migratory flows and social polarisation in cities
The second session of the conference focused on gentrification and the mechanisms that can help to tackle this phenomenon, whereby local residents in a city are being pushed out by new residents with a higher purchasing power.
A researcher at the Centre for Demographic Studies, Antonio López Gay, emphasised how the number of highly qualified people coming to the city is intensifying the gentrification process. These are people with a high level of education who wish to live in Barcelona’s more central neighbourhoods with the aim of establishing themselves there over the long term.
As a result, education is determining where people live which is causing social polarisation in cities: migratory flows of people with university education are congregating in the city centre, whereas residents with lower levels of education are being pushed to the outskirts.
López also warned how the free rental market (unregulated) was the “ideal playing field” for converting this migratory pressure into sharp price hikes.
For his part, the Director of the Research Group on Territorial Analysis and Tourism Studies (GRATET) at the URV, Antonio Paolo Russo, warned that gentrification was much more pronounced in Barcelona than in other European cities: for the Ciutat Vella district a ratio of 1,500 tourists per resident was calculated, while 1 out of every 7 flats in the Barri Gòtic was advertised on Airbnb.
He then criticised the activity of holiday rental platforms, which were profiting from the block on the opening of new hotels and were accumulating a large number of unregulated places offered on their sites. “This type of activity ends up becoming corrupt and turns into a risky industry. It has nothing to do with those who advocate for a collaborative economy”, he complained.
Regulation to prevent profiteering
Russo championed the need to regulate these activities, as a way of preventing migratory phenomena such as gentrification and mass tourism from harming local communities even further.
For example, zoning hotel licences according to each neighbourhood and its attributes, which is already being carried out under the Special Urban Development Plan for Tourist Accommodation (PEUAT). There would also be a need to introduce taxation policies to control tourist rentals and reach agreements with these platforms to register hosts and supervise their activities.
The urban-planning sociologist, housing activist and former Secretary of State of the city of Berlin, Andrej Holm, presented some of the anti-gentrification policies adopted in the German capital to protect the communities with lower incomes and guarantee the right to housing.
The Berlin Department for Social Protection placed restrictions on building and converting houses into apartments for short-term rentals. These measures apply to 28 neighbourhoods and affect 245,000 family units.
“As always, it depends on the money available and the political decisions that are made, the population’s mentality also needs to change, to ensure tenants themselves are organised and act together, to protest and apply pressure on governments”, Holm asserted.
The three experts were keen to point out that in the case of gentrification this was not about blaming tourism but rather about launching a type of model to redistribute the wealth generated, instead of putting tenants at a disadvantage.