Protected housing for rent is making slow progress in Spain, but it is still far from the goal set by the Government. According to data from the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, last year 9,957 definitive VPO licenses were granted (the acronym by which protected housing is generically known, although the denominations vary in each community). Of these, 2,422 were for rental purposes, 24.3% of the total. This means that less than one in four houses that are built with public aid are used for rent, when the future housing law that Congress is processing provides for at least 50%.
Last year’s percentage reveals a slight progression compared to 2020 (22.4%), although the absolute figures do show a jump in the last two years compared to the previous ones: in 2019 barely 1,000 rental VPOs were built , and in 2017 and 2018 (the years with the lowest public budget dedicated to housing in recent history) they did not reach 350. But the joy goes by neighborhoods or, rather, by communities. While Madrid covers more than half (1,396) of all the protected housing licenses for rent that were granted last year, ten territories (Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Murcia and La Rioja) did not register a single qualification of this type of houses, according to ministerial statistics.
In Transport they value the general evolution positively, although a spokesman for this ministry points out that “it is difficult to predict the date on which the percentage of 50%” established by the future standard will be reached. This would be applied both to new urbanized land (in which 30% of the buildable area must be reserved for subsidized housing, of which half should be used for leasing), as well as requalifications on urban land (with a general housing reserve protected 10%). The law is still in an uncertain parliamentary process. Later, they explain in the ministry, the requirement “will have to be included in the regional legislation and in the municipal urban plans, so that the increase in protected housing for rent in completed homes will be progressively observed in the statistics.”
From the point of view of Carme Trilla, president of the Fundació Hàbitat 3, the differences between autonomous communities are less important because “a homogeneous objective of 50% throughout the country does not make much sense”. The economist, one of the greatest experts in Spain in social housing, already advances that “surely in metropolitan areas more density is needed [de VPO en alquiler]”, and that is why he believes that the first step should be “a prior reflection” in each municipality. For this, he proposes promoting “local housing plans”, in imitation of those that all French towns have to diagnose their needs and plan their urban planning.
A path with obstacles
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
But even with these conditions, making protected rentals is not easy. Trilla believes that there are three obstacles: the land, the subsidies and the financing. The first, she explains, “would have to be at almost zero cost” because “if it is carried out on reserved land for VPO, the price is dissuasive”. That is to say, the promoters do not find it profitable and for this some subsidies would be necessary that, “despite the European Next Generation plans, are yet to be specified”. Added to this is the problem that “banks do not want to finance rental housing”, although, according to the economist, who is also part of the ministry’s advisory council, “they are talking with the ICO [Instituto de Crédito Oficial] to open lines”. As a result, synthesizes Trilla, “obviously the houses that are needed are not being produced”.
Spain finished building less than 10,000 protected homes last year, compared to the nearly 70,000 (almost all for sale) that it built each year until the outbreak of the Great Recession reduced public policies. “The VPO by definition is cyclical”, maintains the professor of Civil Law Sergio Nasarre, “it only exists when the State has money to build, promote, finance or acquire housing”. Nasarre, who headed the UNESCO Housing Chair at the Rovira i Virgili University, is one of the experts who was called to a parliamentary commission on April 25 to give his point of view on the future law, with which very critical in several aspects.
One of them is precisely the regulation of the VPO. “In Spain we don’t even know what social housing is, the bill doesn’t say so,” says Nasarre. And neither is it known “neither how much there is, nor where it is, nor what it is like, nor who manages it”, he continues, alluding to the scarcity of data on the public housing stock (which the future regulation estimates at 1.6% of the total households, well behind the European average). The professor criticizes the “blind policies” and defends a balance in the action of the Administrations that takes into account the current and new property tenure regimes, and not just rent. Although, judging by his words, that the VPO for rent does not come close to 50% should now be the least worrying to the Executive: “The competition for housing belongs to the autonomous communities and the law establishes a very specific policy, even with a specific percentage. That article is a clear candidate to be unconstitutional”, he concludes.
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