The role of non-profit social and cooperative housing organisations in the enlargement of the affordable housing stock was the central theme of the last block of the Barcelona Housing and Renovation Forum. On the one hand, the Cabinet Head of the Department of Housing and Renovation of the Barcelona City Council, Vanesa Valiño, presented the alliance which the Council has set in motion with the most representative cooperative housing bodies. This is the ESAL agreement, signed in November 2020, the objective of which is to create a thousand apartments in the coming years, of which 60% will be for rental and 40% with use assignment for 99 years. In addition, this agreement allows for senior cohousing initiatives and cohousing for persons with functional diversity. Valiño said that this agreement represents a step forward, since it responds to a need to have more protected and affordable housing, a priority of the municipal government and a service of general interest. “It is a strategy that has long been contemplated and it would not have been possible without a social fabric of cooperative and social promoters with great experience and great strength,” she said. In this respect, Valiño recalled that this agreement began to be constituted in 2015 by way of the Cooperative Housing Board and has passed three important landmarks to see the light of day: the Right to Housing Plan, the tenders for 246 homes in cohousing regime (2016 and 2018), the tender for 105 rental homes for social entities (2017), and the tender for the sale of the surface right to build 2018 homes (2019).
Valiño commented on the merits of the ESAL agreement, pointing out that it overcomes limitations and shortages of other actions: it accelerates the construction process, is a more affordable model, stimulates the social economy and new models of coexistence and promotes transparency and the creation of synergies between the various agents involved. In fact, the creation of synergies is a point she has valued very positively. The agreement streamlines the process because it provides for six months to apply for planning permission and two years to execute the work; it proposes new lines of funding through credits with the ICF and the ICO, the municipal guarantee of non-payment of more than five instalments, the 7% municipal subsidy refundable once the loan is repaid, the 16% subsidy of the State Housing Plan, the elimination of the fee during the repayment of the mortgage, the 95% Property Tax rebate and the option for the foundations to offer 25% of the apartments in surface right; and because if favours the fight against the climate emergency through the exemption from the obligation to construct parking areas, the application of industrialisation techniques, the reduction of the ecological footprint and the energy certification ‘A’ (CO2 emissions) and ‘B’ (consumption of non-renewable energy). “The creation of synergies is very important. It has to be a collective process, defended by the users themselves, who have to claim it as something of their own. Transparency, publicity and synergy are very important,” Valiño said. “This has to make us rethink the conception of housing as a non-speculative use asset that helps us to live in a different way,” she added.
Public-community collaboration, a scalable model with a very powerful return to society
The debate also included representatives of the city’s non-profit organisations and the leading social bodies in the management of social and cooperative housing, who explained how they guarantee access to housing for young people through their projects, and also promote coexistence and cohousing for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. In addition to Vanesa Valiño, the round table included a member of La Hidra Cooperativa, Laia Forné Aguirre; the President of the Salas Foundation and representative of Cohabitat, Manel Rodríguez; and the coordinator of the El Dinamo Foundation, Gloria Rubio. The discussion was moderated by the journalist of El Periódico Gemma Tramullas.
Laia Forné Aguirre of La Hidra Cooperativa began by speaking about public-community collaboration with the example of one of its referents, the assignment agreement in favour of the Can Batlló space, and she detailed three important challenges for this type of model. In the first place, the need to require a vision of what is public and a change of role of the actors, both the administrations and the social and community actors. “We have to know how we ensure transparency in the processes with mechanisms of internal democracy and participation,” she said. In the second place, the need to have new metrics for responding to new values. “The change of role will be accompanied by a new view of the public services that will incorporate new metrics and value into the social impact of the projects and into the return generated to the city,” she commented. In this respect, Forné spoke again about the example of Can Batlló to demonstrate the impact and the return it has had, not only in regard to the community itself but also to the whole city. In the third place, scalability, to make this model reach a universal policy. She referred to the examples of Denmark and Uruguay and commented that “We need a clear commitment of public funding that makes it possible to consolidate this model and makes it scalable and universal. The ESAL agreement is a first step.” Finally, she also emphasised the challenge of increasing the affordable housing stock at a public-community level, also on private land, as is the case of Berlin. “We have to have a broader vision that signifies a change in social and economic organisation that will help us to place limits on speculation. Now is a good time,” she concluded.
The coordinator of the El Dinamo Foundation, Glòria Rubio, shared its experience of La Borda and the desire to replicate it throughout the territory. “This is a real alternative to the conventional models of access to housing,” she said. “It transforms individual ownership and has its roots in collective ownership,” she added. Rubio spoke of the advantages of this model and remarked that it is important for it to be included in all the public administrations’ strategic plans in housing matters. This model defends housing as a universal and dignified right and establishes mechanisms that prevent speculation, supports the social and solidarity economy, overturning the traditional models and placing people at the centre of all the decisions, working jointly to create new synergies and stimulate alliances, and it has a social impact within the project itself but also in its entire surroundings. Rubio also pointed out that in order for this model to move forward and to be replicated, collaboration is indispensable. In this respect, she said that it needs its own legal framework that will mark out what the model is and prevent the entry of property developers and constructors from the capitalist market. She said that there are currently 35 projects under way in Catalonia, of which 17 are in Barcelona and only 2 are located on private land.
The participations concluded with the presentation by the President of the Salas Foundation and representative of Cohabitat, Manel Rodríguez, who explained the function being performed by Cohabitat, which represents 12 foundations with over 3,000 rental homes in the province of Barcelona but also all around the territory. “We need the issue of housing to be dealt with jointly and the models to be disseminated speedily. It’s a matter of housing emergency,” he said. He also explained that promoting affordable housing requires four elements. Firstly, land: we must have the capacity to create housing without consuming territory, and at low cost. Secondly, funding is necessary. Thirdly, financial assistance must be available through subsidies or other models of returnable subsidy, for example. And finally, the process also requires very complex professionalised management.
To close the session, Vanesa Valiño declared that the meetings between all the actors involved are necessary to achieve powerful synergies and the transformation and universalisation of the model. “It’s a brutal challenge but we can’t each concentrate solely on our own patch,” she concluded.