“We need funding and regulations that enable us to guarantee the right to housing at a European level”, affirmed Laia Ortiz, the Deputy Mayor of Barcelona today, during a round table entitled “Changes in Housing Governance: Municipal Responses”. This event was part of the Eurocities conference of large European cities, which is being held in Barcelona as part of the Smart City Expo World Congress.
Representatives from various European cities called for community and national measures that would enable them to regulate the housing market. “Cities are the places suffering the problems and they are also the ones who are finding solutions. Why don’t we, the municipal governments, have sufficient tools and funding?“, asked Ortiz.
The Deputy Mayor, who is also chair of the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum, declared that, “the right to housing is one of the most basic, yet most threatened rights“. She therefore affirmed that the way we perceive this right must change, so we consider it to be “as important as health and education”: She also asked the European Union (EU) “to put housing at the centre of its agenda”.
Along these lines, Kees Dignum, Amsterdam City Council’s Coordinator of Housing Research and Development, called for the EU to “put pressure on member states to stop creating obstacles” in dealing with housing problems in big cities.
Ian Brossat, the Deputy Mayor of Paris, called for European legislative regulation of tourist-flat platforms, such as Airbnb, which are disrupting housing markets across the continent.
“All cities have similar problems, which is why we have to collaborate and find common solutions; then we will be more effective”, affirmed Brossat during the conference, where spokespersons from each city explained the measures being taken to regulate their respective housing markets.
Housing: one of the main challenges for Barcelona
Ortiz stated that defending the general public’s right to housing is “one of the main challenges” facing Barcelona City Council, and therefore it is also “one of the municipal government’s priorities”.
The factors that Ortiz listed as threats to this right in the city include emergency housing situations and evictions, gentrification, pressure from tourism, speculation, rising prices, the lack of public housing, and the existence of empty or underdeveloped homes.
In order to deal with these problems, the City Council has initiated a major strategy called The Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025.
Ortiz highlighted some of the measures being implemented, including rental subsidies and the deployment of negotiation units to avoid people being evicted from their homes, the mobilisation of empty flats for use in the public rental-housing pool, promoting the public housing pool and fostering alternatives to traditional housing, such as co-housing.
Javier Burón, Barcelona City Council’s Housing Manager, emphasised the importance of social housing. As he said, the municipal government is promoting “small and large-scale projects” to acquire more units. To this end, the City Council is collaborating with cooperatives, foundations and NGOs, and is also creating a public-private company to build public rental housing.
Greater control of tourist flats
Ian Brossat, representing Paris City Council, explained that his city is trying to control the effect of tourist-flat platforms. To this end, they have increased taxes on tourist flats, they are increasing controls on illegal flats and they also intend to allocate a registration number to every tourist flat, which must be shown in legal advertisements.
Susanne Bauer, representing Vienna City Council, said that the Austrian capital is implementing similar measures: they have carried out awareness-raising campaigns, restricted the right of public housing to use these platforms and promoted the registration of tourist flats.
Barcelona has also increased controls on tourist-flat platforms and has initiated measures to fine both the companies and the owners who do not comply with regulations.
Public housing to balance the market
Kees Dignum, representing Amsterdam City Council, explained that in his city the right to housing is protected, due to the extensive public-housing pool it possesses.
Nevertheless, he recognised that the Dutch capital is experiencing a major increase in prices. Dignum stated that his City Council is reaching agreements with housing associations, organisations that act as “partners who help to balance the market” by building social housing.
The Paris representative also explained that his city is providing economic aid to owners so that they can renovate their flats, in exchange for placing them in the public rental housing pool; a similar measure to the one being implemented by Barcelona City Council.