The plenary session of the Barcelona Social Housing Council (CHSB) held yesterday in the Hall of One Hundred of the Barcelona City Hall was the first presential plenary session held after the pandemic. It focussed on the presentation and balance of the activities carried out during the first five years of the Right to Housing Plan.
The CHSB was founded in 2007 within the framework of the Barcelona Housing Consortium, formed by the Barcelona City Council and the Government of Catalonia. It is a participatory consultative organ on the city’s housing policy, consisting of political representatives, companies, entities and experts on housing.
Balance of the first five years of the Right to Housing Plan
The principal topic of this plenary session was the balance of the first five years of the Right to Housing Plan, which has a life of ten years. “Now that we are halfway through this plan, it is a good time to see where we are and review our priorities taking into account the new context”, said the Councillor for Housing and Rehabilitation of the Barcelona City Council, Lucia Martín. The representative of the DESC Observatory, Guillem Domingo, expressed its gratitude for this work which is not always done, because “Often the plans are not passed or they’re kept in a drawer without being reviewed.” The session also recalled the contributions of the three participatory sessions held during the summer, with the participation of 40 entities.
Lucía Martín presented to the Council the evaluation report on the Right to Housing Plan. One of its main objectives is to enlarge the affordable housing stock, not only on the basis of the promotion of new homes but also with other strategies like acquisition of homes, capture of private housing or rent assistance to prevent the loss of homes. At the end of 2020, the public administrations offered support for access to or maintenance of homes to 32,000 cohabitation units. In regard to the actions foreseen in the Right to Housing Plan, some have fulfilled or exceeded the forecasts, such as the promotion of affordable housing, with the construction of almost 7,000 homes in comparison with the 5,696 planned, or the acquisition of homes. Actions which have fallen below the forecast have been the capture of private housing and rent assistance. One of the important initiatives has been the promotion of public-community homes via the ESAL agreement. The representative of Sostre Cívic, David Guàrdia, wanted to highlight the City Council’s promotion of cooperative housing on a use right basis, a model which signifies a strong commitment to sustainability, the proximity economy and community dynamisation.
Another prominent point of the Plan is information and transparency. “We need to have data and studies on housing policies. The shortage of public policies often derives from a shortage of information”, Martín explained. In this respect, she emphasised the creation of entities like the Metropolitan Housing Observatory or the Barcelona Chair of Housing Studies, and also of the census of empty homes, a historical demand of the movement for the right to housing. We now know that in Barcelona there are 10,052 empty apartments, representing 1.22% of the total. This figure is far below the 3% which was believed to be true. Martín also pointed to the creation in 2017 of the Reference Index of Rental Prices, which has served as a basis, among others, for the Rent Regulation Act.
Another important theme of the Right to Housing Plan is the housing emergency and the measures of anti-harassment and housing discipline. In regard to the Emergency Panel, Martín said it is “an unresolved issue”. During these five years, 1,108 homes have been adjudicated but there are still 567 on the waiting list. She also pointed out that during these years attention has been given to new collectives which, despite being among the most disfavoured, remained outside the remit of the Emergency Panel. The Plan has eliminated the requirement of having a minimum income and introduced collectives like families with no justifying contract or in situations of male gender violence, among other requirements. In this respect, the representative of the permanent committee of the CHSB, Lourdes García, explained the importance of not speaking about ‘emergency’ but ‘prevention’ when we talk about the loss of homes. She proclaimed that we cannot speak of an Emergency Panel if there is waiting list of two years, and recalled that “For years we’ve been talking about 600 families waiting for an apartment”. García referred to the proposals of the participatory session which called for increased collaboration between administrations to tackle the housing emergency and an increase of the resources to do so.
The Anti-Harassment Unit has also performed a very important task of surveillance of the deployment of the Catalan Rent Regulation Act, of harassment and of the abuse of protected housing. Among other actions, an analysis was carried out on the protected private housing stock, an initiative which had not been performed before now. Although it is not included in the report because it is very recent, Martín also announced that the City Council has recently imposed the first penalty on a proprietor for breaching the Rent Price Regulations. The Tenants’ Union recalled that every week they receive contracts which breach the Rent Price Regulations Act. “It is an exemplary Act on paper but it has to be put into practice”, said the Union’s spokeswoman, Carme Arcarazo.
Another key element of the Right to Housing Plan is rehabilitation. In this regard, the Councillor highlighted the determination to implement aids for rehabilitation in the sectors that were excluded due to social or economic difficulties. To do this, the endowment has been increased of the aids for rehabilitation of high-complexity properties, for rehabilitation of interiors and for persons in situations of vulnerability. Work has also been done on linking these aids to neighbourhoods and not only buildings, to stimulate urban regeneration and the public space. In this respect, the spokeswoman of the Tenants’ Union, Carme Arcarazo, spoke about the need to ensure that rehabilitation of high-complexity zones does not create adverse effects and ends up raising rent prices in the area and consequently expelling its residents. Martín explained that the aids granted by the City Council are conditional on guaranteeing price stability, and the Second Vice-President of the CHSB and Secretary of Housing and Social Inclusion, Carles Sala, commented that many of these aids are linked to energy efficiency and therefore result in savings for the people living in these homes.
New emergencies and the Sectorial Territorial Housing Plan
The plenary session also served to discuss the concerns of the participants in regard to the right to housing. One of the important points raised by Carles Sala was the future passing of the Sectorial Territorial Housing Plan. This Plan foresees creating 900,000 affordable homes in the coming years with the collaboration of the Generalitat, the State and the Municipal Councils. In this respect, the representative of the DESC Observatory, Guillem Domingo, said that its reactivation is good news, and he called for a future session to examine how this plan fits with the policies promoted from Barcelona and to meet with all the administrations involved to see how far these goals are being achieved.
Another concern focussed on the new housing emergencies. In this respect, both the representative of the PAH, Lucía Delgado, and the representative of the Third Sector Panel, Sonia Lacalle, spoke about the subletting of rooms, a solution that has been sought by the most vulnerable sectors who have often not been able to access the Emergency Panel. In this regard, Lucía Martín said that this is a reality that manifested itself in the early months of the pandemic, and the City Council has worked to tackle it by paying for food and room rents. The prohibition of renting rooms for less than 31 days which it is intended to promote is to prevent tourist use, not to act against subletting rooms for vulnerable persons. However, she insisted that the key is to prevent and avoid non-payments and evictions.
This plenary session also served to welcome some new incorporations. On the one hand, the election of the Director of the Family and Social Welfare Foundation, Josep Maria Puig, who has devoted his efforts to the problems of social housing from the beginning, as first vice-president of the council. Other new members are the Alliance Against Energy Poverty and COHABITAC, the coordinating body of promoter foundations and managers of rented social housing in Catalunya. Also presented was the constructor of protected housing CEVASA, which was incorporated in the last non-presential plenary session. Newly incorporated experts are the legal adviser and expert on urban leases law, Elga Molina, and the professor of economy of the University of Barcelona, Montse Pareja.