The Councillor for Housing and Rehabilitation, Lucía Martín, took part in the conference ‘Housing and Homelessness in Barcelona: Analysis and Challenges’, organized by ECAS (Social Action Organisations of Catalonia), at which a hundred professionals debated the importance of housing in the fight against homelessness. In his closing statement, the president of ECAS, Xavier Puig, explained how the right to housing is, specifically, a prerequisite to the right to a dignified life and called for further public policies.
In this regard, Martín focused her speech on explaining the policies implemented by Barcelona City Council, which, despite being limited in terms of the extent of the Council’s powers, can “make a difference” in the area of housing. She explained that Barcelona City Council has three strategic lines. The first is focused on the expansion of the affordable housing stock, which is currently insufficient – in 2015 it was only 1% – and bringing that stock up to a decent standard. In this area, not only has the council built public housing, but has also committed itself to housing for rent and the indefinite designation of this type of housing so that it cannot return to the private market and be lost as the years pass. She also talked about the importance of delegated development involving private actors who manage the housing, not only foundations and cooperatives, but also private companies that wish to make a profit but not to profiteer.
The second line of action is the bringing up to standard and rehabilitation of the existing stock. In this regard, the anti-harassment unit carries out inspections and imposes sanctions to make sure the right to decent housing is guaranteed and ensures that housing is put to good use. For example, that there are no empty flats, that the large landlords offer social rents when the law obliges them to do so, or that protected housing is not rented out for above the designated price.
The third line has to do with the political impact and in getting new laws approved. In this regard she highlighted the regulation of rents. “No matter what, prices must be regulated or there will be no solution. This is not the only tool, but it is essential,” said Lucía Martín. She also demanded an increase in the budget from central government, which has fallen by 70% over the last ten years, and changes in taxation.
Imaginative solutions to deal with the housing emergency
Lucía Martín said that public housing policies are often much slower than we would wish and cannot cope with the housing emergency we are currently going through. “The emergency board has collapsed, and we are offering accommodation in guesthouses and hostels. This, besides being an undignified solution, is also expensive,” explained the Councillor. In this regard, she talked about the need to search for “imaginative solutions” such as the APROP project housing.
APROP is a project to build temporary flats in order to rapidly meet the urgent need for social housing. These dwellings are built from a structure formed by sixteen modules of old, recycled and re-conditioned maritime shipping containers that have been fitted together. In this way, four two-bedroom homes, with a surface area of 60 square metres, and eight one-bedroom homes, with a surface area of 30 square metres, have been obtained. The construction of the first, in the Gothic quarter, was completed in four months, “For public housing, this is at the speed of light,” Martín said.
Housing, an underlying problem
In her presentation, the Councillor for Housing and Rehabilitation also wanted to stress that the situation of emergency housing we are currently experiencing is not new, but comes through decades of “disastrous policies aimed not at treating housing as a basic right, but rather as a market good.” She added that improvements are being made in this regard, but to resolve the problem will take a matter of years. Martín also explained that this is a global problem. “The difference is that in other countries they have the advantage of years over us in terms of public policies.”
She called for the creation of public policies that treat housing as a right and not as a commodity, and to do so in a coordinated way with other institutions. She has also urged people to make use of the Catalan laws, which are some the most advanced in Spain. She referred, for example, to the Energy Poverty Law, the Catalan Law on the Right to Housing, or the Decree Law 17/2019. She added, however, that “we need to take advantage of them.”