The second edition of the Barcelona Housing and Rehabilitation Forum (FHAR) took place with a message of optimism regarding the future of housing. During two days, more than thirty national and international experts participated in this symposium to debate, explore and highlight the future of the right to housing in the city. All the presentations focussed on the present-day context, marked by the economic, political and social consequences caused by the Covid pandemic. The Councillor for Housing and Rehabilitation of the Barcelona City Council, Lucía Martín, explained that this FHAR aimed to focus on the need to enlarge the city’s affordable housing stock and on the role that has to be played by all the actors involved: public, private, community and citizens. To this end, the intention was to give voice to national and international experts and speakers to respond to the challenge we face, which is not only to tackle the housing emergency but to guarantee access to affordable housing for everyone.
Formulas for enlarging the public housing stock
The FHAR 2021 began with a conference with international experts sharing the best initiatives led by referent cities in Europe like Berlin, Paris, London and Barcelona. “This edition has demonstrated that cities are places of practically obligatory innovation and experimentation, because, despite often not having legislative or administrative instruments, the problems experienced by the residents are our own,” Martín said. These problems were the central theme of the round table ‘Pandemic challenges for urban planning and housing,’ which had the participation of the Director of LSE Cities, Ricky Burdett; the councillor for urban development of the Berlin City Council, Florian Schmidt; the Deputy Mayor of Paris, Ian Brossat, the Councillor for Housing and Rehabilitation of the Barcelona City Council, Lucía Martín; and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Union of Tenants (IUT), Barbara Steenbergen. The session studied the problems of London, a city in constant growth, and the Council’s programme to create some 80,000 affordable homes in the next 8 or 9 years in regeneration areas and to ensure quality public transport to help to connect all the areas of the British capital. Ricky Burdett also pointed out that London has taken inspiration from the model of Barcelona ’92 in regard to housing and the way the city was reunited with the sea and endowed with a fabric of continuity. Florian Schmidt, Ian Brossat and Lucía Martín spoke about experiences carried out in each of their cities. In Berlin, the byelaw against incorrect use of housing, the neighbourhood protection areas and the ‘200 Häuser’ action against evictions, inspired by Barcelona’s Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH), are some examples. In the case of Paris, Ian Brossat referred to the shortage of available land in the city and the alternatives applied to find new uses and endow the city with social housing. “This crisis we have experienced has to lead us to develop public policies to make housing more affordable and to enable those people who make the city function to live there without having to live one or two hours away,” he said. For her part, the Councillor Lucía Martín described the innovative actions which the Barcelona City Council has been carrying out since 2015, such as the acquisition of housing blocks at market prices in central zones, the programmes of capture of private homes, industrialised housing and public-private collaboration. “These actions have taught us that apart from public promotion we also needed to build alliances and expand all the sectors capable of producing and managing housing,” she said. Barbara Steenbergen emphasised the importance of establishing synergies between cities and creating innovative actions, as is the case of public-private collaboration.
In the second seminar the experts discussed the importance of transparency and access to public data to design housing policies. The speakers were the Director of the Barcelona Metropolitan Housing Observatory (OBH) and the Head of the Housing Service of the Government of Catalonia, Jordi Bosch; the Head of Innovation of the Basque Housing Observatory, Elena Sánchez, and the Head of Research of the Dublin Housing Observatory, Dáithi Downey. They all agreed on the ever higher levels of information available and marked out two challenges: guaranteeing citizens’ privacy and security. Jordi Bosch spoke about how to take advantage of the potential of all the information being generated. Housing policies are often slow-moving and costly, and systematising all this information can make them more effective and efficient and help to value their externalities. As Bosch said, “we have to foresee the future through information and knowledge.” The speakers also shared examples of data-driven housing policies. In Catalonia, with the Sectorial Territorial Plan and the local plans that are being systematised; in the Basque Country with the Subjective Right to Housing and the Technical Inspection of Buildings; and in Ireland with the pioneering Geohive project. The meeting also presented the Barcelona Chair of Housing Studies, a new innovation in the field of public housing and rehabilitation policies promoted by the Barcelona City Council, the Government of Catalonia, the Spanish government and the four public universities of Barcelona. This session had the participation of the Doctor in Architecture and Professor of the Barcelona Architecture School, Josep María Montaner, and the Doctor in Law and Titular Professor of Administrative Law of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Judith Gifreu.
The afternoon session centred on innovation in the promotion of public housing as an instrument for enlarging the public housing stock. It began with the presentation of examples of good practices, both national and international. The General Manager of the Barcelona Municipal Housing and Rehabilitation Institute, Gerard Capó, presented two projects. On the one hand, the Can Fabra operation, which is notable for its architectural innovation in the combination of housing construction and conservation of the heritage and in the materials used, and also for the creation of more communal space to facilitate interaction. The other highlighted project was APROP, a fast-construction project of sustainable provisional accommodations to tackle the housing emergency. The Managing Director of EMVISESA in Seville, Felipe Castro, described the three strategies they have used to increase the city’s affordable housing stock by 22,000 apartments: collaborative accommodations for collectives with special needs, rehabilitation projects and exchanges with reaccommodation. The General Manager of the Balearic Islands Housing Institute, Cristina Ballester, spoke about the importance of the promotion of public housing being sustainable and pointed out that constructing with kilometre-zero ecological materials, thinking of the circular economy and energy efficiency, improves the health of the people who live there and reactivates the local economy. The last example took us to Vienna, a city of reference in regard to affordable housing, where 62% of its residents live in rented public and social homes. The CEO of Vassilakou Urban Consulting-Vienna Solutions, Maria Vassilakou, went beyond the homes in themselves and spoke of the importance of building neighbourhoods with quality public space and the residents’ participation in these processes.
A key innovation in the promotion of affordable housing is industrialisation, a process which makes construction faster and more sustainable. The Director of the IMHAB’s Technical Services, Joan Carles Melero, spoke about the new system of collaborative tendering between project and work promoted by the IMHAB. This new system seeks closer collaboration between all the actors involved while at the same time introducing evaluation criteria which extend beyond the architectural proposal, namely the reduction of the environmental impact, the reduction of the execution period of the development, the economic bid and improvements in the after-sales guarantees. After the presentation, the Head of Innovation of Cúlmia, Anna Guanter; the founding partner of 011h Jose Manuel Villanueva; the Managing Partner-Director of Edetco, Francesc Monells, the partner of Pich Architects Teresa Batlle; and the architect of Clotet, Paricio & Assoc, SL, Ignacio Paricio, analysed the impact of industrialised promotion. They all agreed that industrialisation is not an end in itself but a means for attaining the goals of collaborative work, digitisation, increased sustainability, promotion of the circular economy and reduction of periods.
Collaboration strategies for creating affordable housing
Lucía Martín said that during the FHAR it had become clear that facing the challenge of enlarging the affordable housing stock requires a diversity of strategies. The public administrations have to have strong leadership, which they have not had to date, but also alliances must be sought with other sectors, alliances which are customary in Europe but not yet in the Spanish State. The second day of the Forum centred in fact on collaboration to enlarge affordable housing, and the first two presentations did so with the focus placed on Europe. Firstly, with the Honorary Associate Professor in Housing Studies and of the Urban Research Centre of the RMIT University of Australia, Julie Lawson, who described the ‘Housing 2030’ initiative set in motion in October with the aim of having a more effective housing system with a positive impact on the planet. “We have to have an attitude of confidence. Rather than thinking of a concept of crisis, we have to think of a possible change of the system. Housing is a human need, and therefore it is fundamental for human life and sustainable communities,” she said. The initiative, which affects 26 countries, rests on four pillars: governance axes, finances and funding, land policy, and neutral climate impacts of housing. The second participation was by the Manager of London CLT, Hannah Emery-Wright, the Deputy Mayor of the Bologna City Council, Emily Marion Clancy, and the CEO of Aedes in the Netherlands, Robin Van Leiken, who all presented their initiatives in collaboration. Emery-Wright spoke about how London CLT works and described examples like that of Saint Clement’s and a new construction of 11 homes which has been made possible with the help of funding by Sustainable Housing for Inclusive and Cohesive Cities. Clancy then described the experience of Bologna, praising Barcelona’s housing policies and referring to the start-up of collaborative models to promote assistance for people under 35. She said this collective represents only 6% of the total number of homeowners in the city. Finally, Van Leijen said that the Netherlands is one of Europe’s countries with the highest rate of social housing, at 27%. Through Aedes, and with funding from private organisations, 2.3 million homes are managed, representing 32% of the country’s housing stock.
Precisely the private sector also participated in the second edition of the FHAR. The Barcelona City Council’s Housing Director, Javier Burón, placed in context the Barcelona Housing Metropolis (HMB) project, a pioneering formula of public-private collaboration which aims to build a stock of 4,500 homes in ten years by means of a private partner. His presentation was followed by those of the CEO of Savills Aguirre Newman, Anna Gener, the Managing Director of Neinor Homes, Borja García-Egotxeaga, and a member of La Hidra Cooperativa, Laia Forné, setting out the challenges and opportunities of this type of collaboration to promote affordable housing. They all agreed that the problem of access to housing affects not only disfavoured families but also the middle classes and especially young people. Anna Gener emphasised that there is a shortage of affordable housing below market prices and that this housing has to be on a rental basis. Borja García-Egotxeaga explained why his company, one of the private partners of the HMB, has joined this project. “We have to move towards being a collaborative company well integrated into society. This gives us future and so we’re interested in developing the social part of these projects,” he said. Laia Forné, in turn, called for a reformulation of this type of collaboration, with a new, more transparent, fiscalised management model with the participation of the citizenry, focussing on social indicators and benefiting the local economic fabric.
The FHAR concluded with a final round table discussing another referent model in Barcelona: public-community collaboration to guarantee access for young people and promote coexistence and cohousing for senior citizens and people with functional diversity. The session began with a presentation by the Cabinet Head of the Barcelona City Council’s Department of Housing and Rehabilitation, Vanesa Valiño, who described the alliance the Council has set in motion with the most representative cooperative housing bodies. This is the ESAL agreement, 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. Valiño said that this agreement represents a step forward since it responds to a need to have more protected and affordable housing, which is a priority of the municipal government and a service of general interest. The session continued with a discussion including the 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. Forné spoke about the experience of La Hidra Cooperativa on the basis of one of its referents, the Can Batlló project, and she pointed to three challenges: the need to require a vision of what is public and a change of role of the actors, the need to have new metrics and make evident both the impact and the return, not only for the community itself but also for the entire city. Glòria Rubio, of the El Dinamo Foundation, shared its experience of La Borda and its aim to replicate it throughout the territory. “It transforms individual ownership and has its roots in collective ownership,” she said. Finally, Manel Rodríguez explained the function being performed by Cohabitat, which represents 12 foundations with over 3,000 rental homes in the province of Barcelona. In order for this model to succeed, Rodríguez referred to four needs: availability of land, funding, subsidies and professionalised management. Valiño closed the last round table of the FHAR emphasising the importance of meetings between all the actors involved to achieve synergies, transformation and universalisation of the model. “It’s a brutal challenge but we can’t each concentrate solely on our own patch,” she concluded.
The FHAR is organised by the Barcelona Municipal Housing and Rehabilitation Institute and takes place within the series of seminars and conferences held since 2016 to reflect on the future challenges of the sector. You can recover the details of each one of the sessions, along with the speakers’ presentations and interviews with them, at this link.