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Urban Policies in Housing

The decade 2010-2020 in Barcelona was characterised not only by the intensification of practical policies and discourses in the direction of neoliberal restructuring, but also by forms of resistance, demands and proposals of grassroots initiatives, citizens and organisations that set alternative agendas challenging on the one hand the existing austerity-centred models of urban governance, and on the other hand testing new possibilities of intervention in urban reality inside and outside local institutions.

Access to housing was one of the most central points of negotiation in the Barcelona case, as it was one of the first and most basic goods to be challenged by the bursting of the debt bubble and forced austerity. If the 1980s and 1990s were times of relative improvement in living conditions and services in the most deprived areas, supported by local and community funds and the general climate of economic growth, while the period 2000-2008 was a period of spreading access to bank credit to extended and previously excluded sections of the population, 2008 was the moment when the mortgage crisis reached Spain. This was followed by a decade of deepening inequalities with the simultaneous implementation of extreme austerity policies at national level weakening the provisions of the welfare state. At the same time, access to housing is met with new challenges such as urban gentrification, touristization, and the spread of short-term renting.

The general trend in terms of state regulation and rental policies throughout the second part of the 20th century follows patterns of gradual liberalisation. That is, a gradual dismantling of the legal framework for rent protection in favour of a free individual negotiation of rents.

The election to the municipal administration of Barcelona En Comú in 2015, led by Ada Colau, who - like other members of the party - came from grassroots housing movements, highlighted a broad programmatic framework for access to housing within the complex environment of the crisis. Housing policies in Barcelona seem to seek both a short-term response to the urgency of the housing problem and a long-term mitigation of inequalities, incorporating - with varying degrees of success - demands of grassroots initiatives and citizens' movements that developed particularly during the crisis period.

Around the right to housing, multifaceted demands were articulated by grassroots organisations and initiatives. Our hypothesis is that to varying degrees and at different speeds, a range of these seem to have constituted the framework for BeC's action, but this does not mean that it has been possible for local government to move into a full trajectory of conflict with overarching power structures such as national legislation, European legislation or other forms of institutional and economic pressures. In the field of housing, such areas of intervention include policies with short-term relevance such as taking measures against evictions, expanding emergency housing forms, as well as policies with a long-term/medium-term character such as supporting cooperative housing forms and addressing the pressures on housing as a result of the rise of the tourism industry.

The central points of the municipal housing programme for the period is outlined as the Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025 and includes the following key areas of intervention:
The first area proposes to prevent and address emergency housing needs and social exclusion

The second area focuses on ensuring the proper use of housing. Firstly, by mobilising empty homes, for which housing censuses are carried out and fines are imposed on owners who keep their homes empty. Secondly, care is taken to ensure that properties retain their residential use and their occupants.

A third strategic area focuses on expanding the stock of affordable housing by proposing to strengthen the social housing market by supporting the cooperative model that is licensed for use

A fourth strategic area proposes to preserve, renovate and improve the existing housing stock.

Urban Policies in Housing

Private Initiative in Housing

The housing crisis in Barcelona after 2008 was fuelled on the one hand by the progressive liberalisation of rents and real-estate, as well as by the specific conditions created by the economic crisis since 2008. The welfare state in Barcelona , was weakened in the period 2008-2015 by the local governments of the socialist Socialistes de Catalunya until 2011 and the patriotic Catalan party of Xavier Trias (Convergencia i Unió), where the implementation of fiscal austerity measures led to cuts in social benefits, the sale of a good part of municipal property and an increase in municipal taxes and contributions, under the rationale of generating surpluses on the local government's balance sheet. (Martínez Alonso, 2022).

At the same time, the increase in tourist traffic and the emergence of the city as one of the most central destinations in southern Europe, accelerated urban transformations, such as the gentrification of areas of the historic centre, the rapid expansion of short-term rentals, increased competition in consumer goods, services and rents in the historic centre and in individual neighbourhoods. The emphasis on tourism development, starting with the projects for the 1992 Olympic Games, also seems to have been a priority for local governments until 2015, as municipal administrations such as that of Xavier Trias facilitated the release of land use, thus favouring the proliferation of cultural use, catering and hospitality projects González et al. 2017; Davies and Blanco 2017).

Barcelona's tourism development does not seem to be limited to the historic centre as neighbourhoods in the urban periphery have been put on the industrial map, such as Poblenou, Gracia and Sant Marti. The expansion towards these new zones of activity in the search for new areas of profitability is accompanied by practices of gentrification, urban development, simultaneously with the creation of new spatial identities (placemaking, place branding), as well as the displacement of existing resident activities and identities (Mansilla & Milano, 2019). '

Barcelona's city administration has been regulating the tourist use of residential accommodation since 2002, with revisions in 2012 to 2014, providing for the rental of entire accommodation for less than 30 days after permission has been granted by the authorities. Among the provisions of the last of these revisions (Pla Especial Urbanístic per a la Regulació dels Habitatges d'Ús Turistic a Barcelona) are restrictions on the density of dwellings for rent per block, their concentration outside purely residential buildings and outside tourist-heavy areas (ban in Ciutat Vella and restrictions for Gràcia, Poble Sec, Sagrada Familia and Poble Nou). However, during the same period, supply through platforms such as Air bnb appears to significantly exceed the number of accommodation licensed by the local administration (Sans and Domiguez 2016)

Private Initiative in Housing

Commoning Practices in Housing

The struggles against evictions in Barcelona were expressed both at the level of direct action and at the institutional level. The Platform for Mortgage Victims (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, hereafter PAH) is one of the grassroots movement organisations formed by people who were under the threat of having their homes auctioned off. PAH expresses a public discourse at a kinetic level about the spatial injustice inherent in the private debt condition which in the period 2007-2014 caused 600,000 foreclosures1. As a grassroots initiative, PAH developed around direct intervention practices seeking to prevent, through the presence of its members, the process of eviction. In addition to these forms of mobilization sought to approach the institutional framework that defines eviction procedures, 'PAH creates protocols, "useful documents" and collective strategies to be used in direct negotiations between affected people and banks in order to circumvent the Spanish eviction law' (D'Adda, 2018). The organisation maintains an advisory role towards the municipal administration, while at the same time as a civil association it is organisationally supported by the entity Observatori DESC which funds a specific number of activists who provide organisational work and evaluation for PAH.

The PAH's programme is reflected, among others, in the ILP - Initativa Legislativa Popula (Popular Legislative Initiative) which, with the support of the PAH and trade unions, attempted to respond to the housing crisis by proposing changes to the institutional framework around over-indebted households and the conditions under which evictions and bank auctions take place. Law 24/2015 of the Catalan Parliament provides for emergency measures on homelessness and energy poverty. It provides, among other things, methods to avoid over-indebtedness, and consequently the increase in congestion due to evictions, measures to expand the capacity of social housing by the local administration freezing empty houses owned by financial institutions or large companies (D'Adda, 2018).

It is worth noting that an important starting point for the action of individuals and collectives against evictions were the squats that, organized or not, proliferated in Barcelona during the crisis. One of these examples can be found in the example of La Bordeta, which was occupied by people without alternative housing, with the support of PAH as well as the Grup d'Habitatge de Sants (GHAS). The presence of these shelter squats seems to function as 'popular infrastructures' or 'reproductive communities', making them of organizational importance in the formation of a 'constellation' of kinetic entities in their territory (Cayuela & García-Lamarca, 2023).

However, what is perhaps the best example of the public/community governance model of the new municipality is the cooperative model of collective housing. Similarly to the New Democracy paradigm in the case of Barcelona, the cooperative housing models developing after 2015 seem to express a shift from public/private to public/community partnership as part of a broader long-term housing agenda. This alternative structure seems to weaken both the importance of private initiative and the central state as "unlike the public-private partnerships that characterise neoliberal urbanisation, in public-cooperative arrangements the cooperative can function as a 'non-state public' (Laval & Dardot, 2015)

The correlation between local struggles for the commons, as well as their institutional expression (patrimonio ciudadano), with the field of housing is expressed through specific cases of synergy between such initiatives, as in the case of the relationship between the occupied cultural centre Can Battlo and the cooperative housing complex (La Borda).

Barcelona's co-operative housing structures start from grassroots initiatives, which through democratic processes and negotiation, co-decide on how to acquire, build and then manage the shared space. The cooperative housing paradigm, unlike other forms of social housing, involves the joint management of the properties, while at the same time it is not possible for the exchange value to be realised by the residents, as they cannot be placed on the market. (Ferreri and Vidal, 2022, p. 6)

The intention to expand the cooperative housing paradigm is reflected in the "Housing Plan 2016-2025" where it is proposed to reach the figure of 500 collectively owned housing units in Barcelona" (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona 2017). By 2018, six other co-ownership projects of the same type were underway (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona 2018b), and at the time of writing, a new round of seven projects is about to be selected". (Zechner, 2020). We highlight some of the projects of this type in the city.

The La Borda cooperative housing complex is located near the former Can Batlló factory complex. The members of the cooperative retain rights of use in exchange for a rent which is used to repay the loan required for the construction, while the land is granted by the local administration. At the same time, the members of the cooperative participate and co-decide in the planning and construction processes. At the same time, they share the daily manual and management tasks. Finally, the building is made of sustainable building materials and seeks to optimise its energy consumption.

The Princesa49 apartment complex is the first cooperative housing project. It consists of 5 apartments. Residents participate with an initial amount of 9000 euros for their entry into the joint project and a sum of around 400 euros against rent. The restoration work was largely carried out by the residents themselves, with the support of experts.

The La Xarxaire cooperative building is the latest cooperative housing building to bring Barcelona to 125 apartments in cooperative buildings. As in previous cases, the land, which remains the property of the city, is rented for a period of 75 years, with the right of use being granted to the residents.

Commoning Practices in Housing
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