12 January

Public policy guidelines for post-pandemic housing

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the close links between the right […]

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the close links between the right to housing and the rights to health and life. Right from the start of this public health crisis, cities all over the world deployed emergency measures for dealing with critical housing situations that were growing steadily more severe. Believing that the protection policies adopted during this time can and must be continued, the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) released a report this month entitled Towards a post-pandemic housing policy for cities. This document was co-authored by architect Raquel Rolnik, a confirmed speaker at UIA2021RIO who coordinates the Right to the City and Public Space Laboratory (LabCidade) at the Architecture and Urban Planning School, São Paulo University (FAU/USP) and Eva Garcia Chueca, a CIDOB researcher. It is available on the CIDOB website and the LabCidade homepage.

According to the authors, initiatives that were once unthinkable are being implemented as the pandemic opens up opportunities for governments to forge ahead with their actions. An example was the mobilisation of current housing stocks that were underused or vacant, in response to demands from people without decent housing. 

Heading up this drive, the Barcelona Housing Department contacted fourteen property companies owning 194 empty apartments in early January, giving them a month to find tenants for them. Otherwise, the civil service could take possession of these properties, paying compensation at half the market value. These apartments would then be rented out as public housing to low-income tenants. The companies were also subject to fines ranging from € 90,000 to € 900,000.

As the Spanish property market remained stagnant after the 2008 financial crisis, owners with many units kept some of them empty, waiting for the market to recover. 

Housing open to expropriation is owned by these landlords with many units. But they must have been empty for at least two years to qualify for forced purchase, with no rental agreements and or records of using electricity or other public services. 

Heading up the Barcelona Housing Department, Lucia Martín told the local press that the intention was to push proprietors into renting, rather than pursuing expropriation. In addition to the 149 apartments, another 232 empty homes were identified as the next targets of this programme.

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