What the City Council of Barcelona is doing against the housing shortage and why it is important to invest in public housing, explains Lucia Martín González, Barcelona’s City Councilor for Housing and Renovation.

What is the current housing situation in the housing market in Barcelona?
The situation is alarming, after decades of bad housing policies. We are very different from countries of Northern Europe, where some have had housing policies for more than a hundred years. In Spain, policies were not based on the fact that housing was a basic right that had to be protected. It was defined as a commodity. Specifically, in the city, we have less than 2% of public rental housing. We also have the problem of holiday rentals shortening the housing stock for locals. Unfortunately, we are leaders in evictions (in 2009 there were 54,000 throughout Catalonia). After the 2008 crisis, there were a number of regulatory changes that shifted speculation about mortgages to rents. Contracts have been shortened, precarious, the arrival of international investment to operate in the rental market has been facilitated and it has led us to a situation of skyrocketing prices. As a result, an increasing part of the population can’t pay the high rents, which is combined with the lack of public housing and housing emergency.

And which population groups are particularly affected by the lack of affordable housing in the city?
Obviously homeless people, young people, immigrants, women in a precarious situation or single-parent families.

What about housing statistics?
Until a few years ago, housing data was only provided by real estate portals and brokers. From 2015, together with the “Generalitat” and the metropolitan area, they set up the Barcelona Metropolitan Housing Observatory. Now we have contrasting data and studies being generated by the administration. We know for instance that 40% of the tenants are spending 40% of their income on paying their rent. That means that purchasing power is decreasing.

What needs to be done at local, national and EU level to increase investments in affordable and social housing?
At the local level, in 2015, when we came to government, it was decided that housing policies would become a central axis of local government policies. We have a municipal budget that has never been seen in the city. We are talking about an investment of more than 500 million euros, which has been made possible thanks to the municipal commitment and also to the fact that we have applied for European credit, as there is very little financing from private banks. This has allowed us to make a policy of promotion, construction and management of public housing, where 80% of this public housing will be for rent. We are currently promoting the construction of a total of almost 8,000 public housing units. 80% will be for rent and will be completed in the coming years. We need a strong, large public housing stock! We are also collaborating a lot with very different private individuals (commercial private individuals, private companies) to whom we cede the land and they make housing at affordable prices, but also community public experiences. We’re also pushing a lot of rental housing into cooperatives in session use, which is growing more and more. We already have 200 homes in operation in this modality.

What measures is the city administration taking against evictions?
Another thing we are doing is fighting the housing emergency. When we arrived, we had about 3,000 evictions in the city a year and now we are around 2,000. We have addressed this by creating a specific unit, the Barcelona Anti-Eviction Unit, which is a group of 14 professionals who try to prevent eviction situations and look for solutions.

How can investment in decent and affordable housing be increased?
We have been continuously increasing our budgets for housing the previous years. We are using more than 500 million only for flats. By comparison, last year’s statewide (Ministry of Public Works) budget was $ 450 million. Today, we have gone from 500 million to more than 2 billion. This is a brutal change that has never been seen before.

Did you receive money from the European Investment Bank for housing?
Access to European funding was requested at the end of the previous term. When you want to make a public rental housing policy, you need very powerful financing. There had never been much public housing in the city, and little had been bought or sold. It was a public promotion that was sold and lost, as they ended up being sold. These are homes that were built to sell at affordable prices and that can be resold at speculative prices when sold. A madness, not only in Barcelona but in the whole country.

European credit was being worked on for a year. One part is from the European Investment Bank and another from the Council of Europe. In fact, it is the first funding the city receives for these types of operations. Our experience is good, and we always value it because without this European funding it would have been impossible for Barcelona to have started to make this public housing policy so powerful.

Thank you for the interview!