During the afternoon session, speakers at the “Housing that makes a city” conference discussed and debated rental-market regulation and new cooperative housing models.
The Manager for Housing at the Barcelona City Council, Javier Buron, has taken part in the Housing that makes a city conference , organised under the framework of the Construmat Fair, during which he presented various international experiences that reaffirm the need to regulate the rental housing market.
During the first afternoon session, entitled Challenges and difficulties in creating affordable rental housing, Buron referred to Berlin’s model, where legislation guarantees a housing balance with various forms of property ownership that helps to ensure a fair and affordable market: social rental housing, private rental housing with a cap on rental prices and private housing on the free market.
The Manager for Housing also spoke about the French model, where workers allocate a portion of their wages (up to 1%) to a fund that is used to create a stock of social housing for worker members.
Besides political ideologies and social repercussions, Buron argued that an increasing number of economists worldwide were recognising the positive effects of rental-market regulation on city economies.
The Dutch case: state regulation of rental prices
Jeroen Van der Veer, a representative of the Amsterdam Federation of Housing Associations, who manages 2.4 million rental homes. Van der Veer explained some of the measures that have been implemented to protect social rental housing and ensure a decent and affordable housing stock for the population.
The housing association tradition has enabled social housing in the Netherlands to represent 32% of total rental housing available (compared to 2% in Spain).
In Amsterdam alone there are 9 housing associations spread throughout the city’s districts and championing tenants’ interests. Housing associations are becoming housing promoters: they use the profits they generate to invest in the creation and renovation of more social housing.
The Dutch government is also regulating rental prices on a state level, while local authorities are establishing action agreements with housing associations and rental platforms. For example: Amsterdam has some 15,000 flats advertised on Airbnb, however, by law, they can only be rented out for a maximum of 60 days a year.
Tenants’ unions: promoting a fairer housing market
Barbara Steenbergen, a representative of the International Union of Tenants (IUT), championed the rental system as a housing model that brings security and stability, for tenants and owners alike.
Despite the fact that Spain gives priority to housing purchases, Steenberger pointed out that the countries with higher levels of housing stability are the ones where there is a larger percentage of rental housing, such as in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark.
“To make the rental market function, the prospective regulation of leases would have to include rights and duties for both parties: owners and tenants”, she affirmed.
In this manner, regulating housing rentals would have to include a criteria to determine prices (location, size, age, facilities and type of building), establish stricter restrictions in areas that are most affected by gentrification and include anti-profiteering clauses to prevent owners from evicting tenants even when flats change owners.
“Housing is not just an economic asset, it is a social one too: owning a home entails obligations and its use also needs to provide a public service”, Steenberg concluded, showing considerable satisfaction with the recent creation of a tenants’ union in Barcelona.
For her part, Patricia Val Hevia, a representative of the Basque government’s Bizigune programme, explained the advantages of this programme for acquiring empty housing to create a stock of affordable rental housing, which had so far generated 4,500 homes allocated to people with insufficient resources to access the free market.
Cohousing, a successful model
The fourth area of the conference served to present examples of successful cohousing in Spain as well as at an international level. The Housing Adviser at the Barcelona City Council, Vanesa Valiño, explained that the municipal government’s goal was to “learn from international examples, which go back a long way in other places, and to bring Barcelona the best of the best”.
The Seville-based architect Eva Morales, an expert in mobilising empty housing through collective projects, pointed out that a common feature found in the projects that had been analysed was that dialogues had been set up between the participants involved in the process so they could act together: the owners, citizens, the public authorities and market representatives.
From another perspective, Pete Kirkham, the Co-Chairman of the French Federation of Housing Cooperatives Habicoop, presented the experience of recruiting technical assistance in the processes for creating collective housing. “Pooling efforts with associations that promote cohousing makes it easier to create cooperatives”, he asserted.
Despite the fact that cohousing may be relatively unknown in Spain, projects and initiatives are starting to emerge which are boosting this new housing model. Other examples presented, besides cohousing projects launched on municipal land, included Trabensol: a cooperative housing project launched by a community of pensioners in Madrid.
Built in a rural environment, Trabensol constructed a housing development of 54 individual flats in which a total of 83 people currently live. Paloma Rodríguez and Victoria Lerroux were commissioned to present the project, an example of social cohousing and collaborative design with assistance from technical teams enabling them to be adapted to the needs of the people who are destined to live there.
The session ended with a presentation given by the Indian architect, Anupama Kundoo, an expert in low-budget housing designs. Kundoo made the case for an alternative perspective on housing construction and bemoaned the fact that more thought was given to “investing in rather than building a place to live”, in a world where there is an increasing number of people who migrate and salaries that are inadequate to cover the expenses that housing entails.