Gentrification, urban tourism, the decline of the economy and rising real estate prices have caused housing to become a market that has surpassed its use value.
It is a phenomenon that is growing in major international cities like Barcelona and New York, where citizens are forced to leave the neighbourhoods where they have lived all their lives because they can no longer afford the housing.
Faced with this situation, new models are emerging to promote affordable housing – such as co-housing, transfer of use cooperatives, and tenants’ unions, which provide alternatives to low- and middle-income households.
This was the central theme of an event and discussion at The New School of New York on February 28, which saw the participation of Josep Maria Montaner, Housing Councilor of the Barcelona City Council; and Eduard Cabré, member of the Barcelona City Council international housing management team and expert in housing policies.
About co-housing in the ‘Community Land Trusts’
In Barcelona, the offers of cooperative housing in cession of use, also known as co-housing, are one of the measures promoted by the municipal government to guarantee the fundamental right to decent housing and involve citizens in attaining it.
This form of housing access allows a community of people to live in a building without being the owners or landlords, for an extended period of time – usually 75 years – and at a price lower than the market. Co-housing also gives priority to shared spaces – multipurpose rooms, laundry, etc. – along with the private living space, in order to promote community life.
Currently in Barcelona, there are nine co-housing promotions under construction or planned. For instance, the City Council has recently signed the cession of use on four lots in cooperatives where co-housing projects will be built, out of a total of seven lots that were put to tender. In addition, there are two other projects already underway in the districts of Ciutat Vella (Calle Princesa, 49) and Sants-Montjuïc (La Borda).
These actions aim to promote a new model of community housing, free from real estate speculation, that allows public ownership of the land to be maintained.
In the case of New York, the lack of affordable housing has prompted the creation of ‘Community Land Trusts‘ (CLT), non-profit associations formed in equal parts by public administrations, neighbourhood organisations and residents to manage affordable housing, civic centres, and spaces destined for community use.
This type of organisation emerged in the United States as a response to the lack of housing available for the lowest incomes, especially among the African-American population, with the aim to offer tenure security. Apart from promoting affordable housing, CLTs also serve to guarantee the rights and participation of residents in the urban renewal processes of their neighbourhoods.
A plan to address the housing problem
The consequences of the economic crisis and property speculation hamper access to decent and affordable housing. In this context, the Plan for the Right to Housing of the Barcelona City Council aims to guarantee the right to housing and to address problems such as increasing rental prices, evictions, and the lack of public housing.
Today, the available public housing offer is too small to meet the demand of more than 30,000 applicant households. For this reason, the new Municipal Institute of Housing and Rehabilitation (IMHAB) is working to expand and promote the public housing offer available and facilitate citizens’ access to housing.
Given the lack of legislative capacity and sanctioning of local councils, the Councillor of the City of Barcelona also stressed the importance of having instruments to prevent property speculation, as the common index of rental prices must serve as a reference to tenants as they negotiate their contract.