People's dignity and quality of life are at the focus of the Housing Conference

25/10/2016 - 21:51

Housing. Speakers and participants of the Conference on Housing send a common message on the importance of housing for society.


Members of the administration, representatives of associations and cooperatives and housing professionals concluded the Housing Conference today with a joint message: the need for adopting a multidisciplinary approach to housing policies and for involving the authorities and the general public in order to ensure this right.

We need new tools for regulating and redistributing resources, from the tourist or urban-planning sectors, so that Barcelona’s residents can stay in their city”, announced Laia Ortiz, the Councillor for Social Rights, who pointed out that housing was at the centre of social-exclusion problems.

Janet Sanz, the Councillor for Urban Planning, described housing as a central policy at Barcelona City Council. In her opinion, the aim was to ensure that every citizen had access to housing, and above all, to guarantee them a decent life.


Redevelopment: much more that building renovations

At the conference’s first round table, several local-authority and housing-organisation representatives highlighted the need for redevelopment to go beyond mere renovation, to reap real benefits for the community and have an effect on the area’s social fabric.


Jordi Amela, the Director of Redevelopment at the Barcelona Housing Consortium, explained how redevelopment and regeneration policies revolved around three basic themes: reducing inequalities to ensure habitability and access to basic services, fostering energy transition to promote efficiency and savings and, finally, restructuring a sector in crisis to create employment and boost the local economy.

Juan Rubio del Val, the Head of the Area of Urban Redevelopment and Residential Innovation Projects at the municipal company Zaragoza Vivienda (SLU), maintained that “merely intervening in buildings is not sufficient” and defended the idea that redevelopment work had to involve the community in order to revitalise neighbourhoods, along with promoting commerce and local tourism as regeneration elements.

Del Val acknowledged that one of the main barriers to redevelopment in Zaragoza was the low demand from owners: in most cases, owners don’t ask for redevelopment subsidies for their buildings if the work has no direct effect on their particular homes.

“We are learning from our mistakes”, he remarked, explaining that he considered self-criticism essential for making headway in future housing-policy phases.


New forms of architecture in response to a new reality

Barcelona is currently experiencing a housing emergency, due in part to a need for rehousing families or households who have been evicted from their homes, but also in response to the general public’s wish to welcome refugees arriving in Europe.  Josep Maria Montaner, the Councillor for Housing, acknowledged that the available housing stock was insufficient in this regard, which is why the municipal government is committed to new forms of building that were faster to produce, more efficient and sustainable.

“From back to front”, is how Sandra Bestraten, a lecturer at the Barcelona Higher Technical School of Architecture (ETSAB-UPC), described redevelopment policies. She was referring to the embellishment of the secondary facades of buildings and also to the regeneration of a city’s most deprived areas, in order to empower the communities that live there.

Bestraten, who has been building social and educational amenities with low-cost technologies for 15 years, emphasised the importance of public participation and the fact that we can all feel we are an “important and essential” part of redevelopment, describing it as “a management process involving the participation of many people”.


A global vision on cohousing

The Conference’s final debate involved several cooperative members presenting cooperative housing models used in Austria, Denmark and Uruguay, three countries where there is an extensive and very varied cooperative tradition.

Cooperative housing in Denmark represents 7% of its national housing stock, though the percentage goes up to 30% in cities, such as Copenhagen. However, Henrik Gutzon Larsen, a housing-cooperative member and lecturer in critical geography, has warned of the dangers of liberalising cooperatives and the fact that prices are following the market’s rising trends, something that is starting to happen in the Danish capital.

Franciska Ullman, a lecturer at the University of Stuttgart and Vienna, offered a sociological and urban analysis of the Viennese cooperative model, which arose after the collapse of the Austrian empire and the establishment of socialism in the country. Its institutions have been implementing policies to protect the right to housing for decades.

As an example of how important housing is, Ullman explained the (1990-1995) Frauen-Werk-Stadt project, a community of homes designed from the perspective of women and their role in the family unit and the community. This structure combines the functions of different areas, social structures, tenants of various ages and includes common areas for promoting community life.


The future of cooperatives is in everyone’s hands

Housing cooperatives have been included in Chile’s constitution since 1968; they currently represent 5% of the country’s housing stock, though almost 50% of the state’s funds are allocated to housing.

Self-management is a basic element in the Uruguayan cooperative system: a cooperative’s members have to manage the entire process. “Without participation and self-management there would be no housing cooperatives in Uruguay”, insisted Raúl Vallés, a lecturer in architecture and member of Cooperativas de Montevideo.

He emphasised the collective matrix of community-housing initiatives in Uruguay, which are not considered a model but rather a system in which a variety of society’s players take part.

The Housing Conference ended today, following two days of discussions and debates, along with a dozen seminars and round tables, in which thirty experts and professionals from the world of housing offered their experience and exchanged ideas for the future.

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