The objective is to increase the number of public, social and affordable dwellings in gentrifying dense urban areas. Place-based anti-speculation housing policies are based on a territorialised diagnosis of residential vulnerability, using data from the census of vacant housing and illegal touristic uses (elaborated through a job placement programme run by the public agency Barcelona Activa), and a Study of vulnerable areas carried out in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). Based on the resulting indicators, Barcelona City Council has developed a series of measures.
Barcelona suffers from a housing affordability crisis and limited re- sources in terms of land and capital to develop new public, social and affordable housing. This is why the City is looking at the private housing stock as a source of housing that could be removed from the market and offered at a below-market price.
The City has a very low vacancy rate (estimated at below 1.5%), but most vacant dwellings remain so because of limitations on the part of landlords to maintain them. Concurrently, Barcelona is experiencing an increase of real estate activity and witnessing the displacement of long-term residents as a result of speculative investment. There is therefore a need to intervene where neighbours are being displaced to ensure their right to housing and everybody’s right to the city.
Barcelona City Council has launched the Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025, which includes specific measures to curb speculative practices in the private housing market and guarantee the right to housing, especially in the neighbourhoods most affected by gentrification. These measures will complement other policies included in the Plan, such as the increase in the rental public housing stock, the collaboration with the non- and limited-profit private sector for the construction of affordable housing, or the promotion of cooperative housing, among others.
Both the acquisition of housing units in the private housing market and the mobilisation of private housing for affordable housing have had an impact in neighbourhoods that are severely stressed by gentrification processes and where the City does not have many public housing units or land on which to build.
In addition, the combination of rehabilitation subsidies, subsidised taxation, guarantees, direct investment through private acquisitions and participation in job placement programmes have created a virtuous circle that guarantees citizens’ right to housing in their own neighbourhood, while ensuring their personal autonomy and the adequate upkeep of the housing stock.
The City had already acquired 661 private dwellings (with a public investment of €73M) that have become part of the public housing stock. Another 1,117 private units were mobilised in 2018 and will be made temporarily affordable to low- income households through the Rental Housing Pool (direct public investment of more than €2.6M) and the Cession Programme (a total investment of €1.4M during the 2015-2018 period, 20% of which is public subsidy and 80% of which comes from the rents).
An important feature of this policy is that it allows the City to increase its public and affordable housing stock in areas where there is little or no opportunities to develop new housing, therefore ensuring a social mix and inclusive communities across Barcelona.
The Acquisition Programme has also allowed the City to stop displacement in gentrifying neighbourhoods, by allowing residents that were threatened of displacement to remain in their homes.
The use of public subsidies for rehabilitation and public guarantees in exchange for temporary affordability is an innovative way to maximise the use of public resources for the provision of affordable housing.
Targeting small landlords and units spread across the city has also been an important qualitative effort, moving away from operations in big housing states on the outskirts and promoting housing affordability in high opportunity areas, where affordable housing is most needed.
The selective acquisition of privately-owned housing units in gentrifying areas has also implied a qualitative improvement in the City’s housing policy.
The Right to Housing Plan from Barcelona: http://habitatge.barcelona/en/strategy/right-to-housing-plan
Source images: https://habitatge.barcelona
Winner Responsible Housing awards 2019 in the categorie ‘Fair financing for housing affordability’https://habitatge.barcelona/en/about-us/municipal-institute-housing-renovation