The latest studies show that rental prices in Barcelona have continued to rise, surpassing the record prices recorded during the property boom. Barcelona’s economic recovery and success as a tourist destination have caused a rise in prices; at the same time, greater inequality and the effects of the crisis remain a reality for many people. As a result, access to housing is becoming increasingly difficult.
To tackle this situation, the municipal government is stressing the need to control rented housing prices for some of the city’s houses, with the aim of guaranteeing the right to housing. For Javier Burón, the Manager for Housing at Barcelona City Council, the authority would need to control a third of houses to be able to moderate market prices.
“There has to be a limit to housing prices, to protect consumers and the market itself”, he explains in an interview with ElDiario.es, also pointing out that housing prices in other European capitals such as Berlin and Paris are controlled by legislation and cannot freely fluctuate.
The need for a large public housing stock
A jurist, consultant and former Deputy Minister for Housing in the Basque regional government, Burón has extensive experience in housing and recognises that the stock of public housing is limited: Barcelona currently has 10,000 flats with rental prices below market rates, not enough to satisfy the needs of the 280,000 households living in the city.
Given the situation, the municipal government has the intention of boosting the Municipal Housing Trust’s production capacity, from the current figure of 250-300 to as many as a thousand annually produced flats by 2018. According to Burón: “The challenge is to have a public housing service, third-sector associations and even a few professional and commercial ones as well, so we can coordinate a pool of 100,000 rented flats at prices below market rates”.
Looking ahead to the coming year, Barcelona City Council intends to create a benchmark index for rented-housing prices according to the home’s location, surface area, energy classification etc. This index would have no legal weight in determining housing prices, as that falls under the jurisdiction of the state, but it could be used to guide the market and prevent inflationary and speculative trends.
“[This index] alone is already moderating prices in many cities, as long as you’re able to put together a prestigious index that everyone knows”, insists Burón. The Manager for Housing adds that the next step would entail limiting rented housing prices depending on each neighbourhood’s social and economic conditions and features and the economic context of the time, both for new and renewed leases alike.
Action and prevention measures
Burón also highlights the initiative from the Unit Against Residential Exclusion (UCER), a team of professionals set up by City Council to detect eviction cases, put them on hold, negotiate with owners and reach a temporary or final re-housing solution, thus preventing anyone from being left homeless.
Other preventive measures include the ones currently being used for alleviating the effects of the housing crisis, such as financial aid for paying rent and mortgage instalments, which are aimed at preventing people from losing their homes. Burón admits that there are now more evictions than in the past, given the cumulative effects of the crisis, but that there would be many more without such aid.
The Manager for Housing explains that rental aid does not have to be limited exclusively to people at risk of social exclusion. “If we gradually get sufficient funds to turn such aid into a widespread policy, then we would be falling in line with the European Union, because its other member states have a large stock of non-profit public and private housing, though they also have stronger policies for direct rental aid”, he concludes.