How does Barcelona’s housing crisis compare with other cities?
Tackling rising rent and evictions are on the Catalan government’s priority list, as is the case across Europe
People living in Barcelona are very aware of its housing issue - it has been one of the new Catalan president Pere Aragonès’ priorities, with Esquerra's member promising a new eviction protocol after activists occupied his party HQ on his first day in office.
In 2020, Barcelona was the city in Spain where evictions were most frequently carried out: a total of 1,028 times, and this figure soared to 1,635 only in the first quarter of 2021. This comes despite multiple municipal, regional and national efforts to alleviate the issue, such as Barcelona’s 8-point housing proposal to protect those at risk of losing their homes, the Catalan government's rent cap law (now being challenged in court) and the Spanish government's state of alarm moratorium on evictions, which is due to expire on August 9.
Rising rents and housing prices
But is this housing crisis unique to Barcelona? Regarding housing affordability, according to a 2021 Eurostat study, on average house prices rose 28.6%, and rents 14.9% across the EU between 2010 and 2020.
Another 2020 Eurostat report also measures the housing cost overburden rate, which shows the share of the population living in a household where total housing costs represent more than 40% of disposable income. In the EU in 2019, 11.8 % of the population in cities lived in such a household, while the corresponding rate for rural areas was 7%.
Catalonia's residents spend 56.5% of their income on rent, according to InfoJobs and Fotocasa report published last summer. This percentage has grown significantly over the last decade, the cost of renting having increased 30 times more than salaries in the five-year period leading up to the pandemic.
In Catalonia, an average rent costs €734 in 2020 (€140 more than four years before), but in Barcelona, it is spiking at almost €1,000 a month (€801 in 2016), even more than before the bubble burst in the 2000s. In the capital, buying a flat (€4,170 per m2) costs double than the Catalan average (€2,227 per m2). For many people, this rise is making living in Barcelona unaffordable.
Similar issues regarding rising rent and house prices have also hit Berlin. The Guardian reports that in Germany’s capital property prices rose by 20.5% in 2017, faster than any other city in the world.
Over the last two months, many people have gone to the streets to protest the revocation of a new rent cap law. The city introduced the law to combat speculation and sky-rocketing prices but it was then decided that the state government did not actually possess the constitutional authority to pass the cap. Already, the rent freeze has been lifted and increases can now be demanded on existing leases. Landlords also have the power to demand back-payments on previously frozen rents, threatening to drag loads of people into debt and potentially lose their homes.
Barcelona is also facing an eviction crisis, becoming the city in Spain where evictions were most frequently carried out.
While the Spanish government extended a moratorium on evictions for vulnerable tenants from the state of alarm, housing activists claim that it is often not applied by the courts, and many people who qualify for this law are still being wrongly removed from their homes since magistrates consider they are not vulnerable. The Sindicat d’Habitatge de Casc Antic, a neighbourhood anti-eviction group, told Catalan News that there are many misunderstandings around the application of the law, especially in cases where it is not the first eviction notice.
Despite the moratorium, official statistics reveal that nearly 11,000 individuals and families were evicted in Spain during the first three months of this year.
On June 15, crowds of housing activists returned to the Spanish Government Delegation in Barcelona to protest a suicide which occured just before eviction, a 58-year old man whose case was brought to a judge who then decided not to apply the moratorium.
However Barcelona is not the only place in Europe facing this issue - across the UK there is a looming eviction crisis, with the pandemic ban on evictions suddenly having ended on May 30.
Moreover, renters in the UK face very limited protection from eviction, since landlords have the power to evict tenants both with grounds (i.e. for a legal reason) and without grounds (i.e. without legal reasons).
Despite the British government announcing two years ago that this practice of evicting people without reason and at short notice would end, around 700,000 renters are estimated to have been serviced with “no-fault” eviction notes (i.e. without grounds) since the start of the pandemic.
Barcelona council’s housing department aims to guarantee that, in situations of social emergency, nobody will be left without a home. However, the office admits that they do not have enough public housing units to cover current demand immediately and therefore highlights alternative solutions to prevent against homelessness, such as negotiations with private owners.
A EUROCITIES report notes that there are 77,000 units of social housing for rental and 19,000 for sale in Barcelona, which has a population of 1,600,000. However, there are much more in Vienna: 420,000 units for a city with 1,900,000 residents.
In Berlin, there are also 400,000 units, divided between the private sector, city ownership and municipality housing companies, although the population of the German capital is much larger, having over 3,600,000 residents.
The study also highlights that there are ongoing initiatives in Barcelona and Berlin to increase the stock of affordable and social housing. For example, Barcelona is working on legal reform to unlock public-private investment in housing and ensure mixed neighborhoods.
Berlin, on the other hand, has increased the funding for new construction from 200 flats in 2014 to 3,500 flats in 2018 and plans for an expansion of 5,000 flats per year from 2021. The city has also transferred land owned by Berlin to the municipal housing companies to enable new developments.