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Experts in the Spanish real estate market always cite a pair of data to characterize its rareness, especially in regard to private and public rental. The two key facts were that Spain had about 10% of rental housing and only 1% of public or social rent. The oddity is that in the EU Member States these figures are usually between 30% - 50% for rental and between 20% - 35% for social or public rental.

This being said, we should not hide the fact that many neoliberal governments in the EU are undermining public housing stocks, claiming budgetary constraints, but with a clear ideological purpose. Nevertheless between 1% (Spain) and 35% (the Netherlands) of social rental housing, there is still plenty of room to cut there and to grow here in Spain, in order to converge.

Well, I notice with dismay, but not surprisingly, that Spain in the last three years goes back at an extraordinary rate in terms of social or public rent, after decades of stunted progress (difficult in many cases due to the fight with certain corporate lobbies) and many lies or half-truths proclaimed by some politicians and/or high officials (to paraphrase M15 movement – movimiento 15M "They call it social rent but it is not").

I’ll share various data that have led me to title this post as “privatization avant la lettre" to refer to the privatization of Spanish public rental stocks even before they have some entity.

  • In Spain we used to refer to the 148,000 social housing units for rent that amount 1% of the total housing stock (AVS, CECODHAS and Carme Trilla I Bellart). If today we go to the official data sources now we’ll see that Spain nowadays has only 124,000 units of this type which does not even reach 0.5% of the total housing stock.
  • The Madrid Region (Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid) and Madrid City, the capital of Spain, spurred by their debts (well above the Spanish local authorities average), due to its neo-liberal ideology or on account of both things at once, have being developing a massive plan of indirect privatization of public rental stock and public land (inter alia with the "Plan Vivienda Joven - Youth Housing Plan", homes for social rent with a purchase option in a few years, as few as seven, with the clear effect of using land legally fixed for social rental housing in fact for private property housing, in a clear legal fraud-), now hardened with direct privatization of public rental park (inter alia, the sale of the land of dwellings hand by the Administration to users in righ of use – derecho de superficie, “The 18.000 Plan – El Plan 18.000”, or the sale of public rental stocks to investment funds authorized to sell the units at free market prices in a few years).
  • A little over a year ago, the Extremadura Region (Comunidad Autónoma de Extremadura) sold all its social housing rental units to tenants, claiming it was too expensive to maintain them and that in these moments of crisis (when social rental housing is more needed) could not take care of these dwellings (reducing Extremadura’s public stock of social rental housing to zero).
  • The Basque Country (Comunidad Autónoma de Euskadi) has spent months trying to sell the land of the social dwellings owned by the Basque Government and handed to users in right to use for 75 years (over 21,000 units in, we could called it, social rent for life) and apparently it’ll put thousands of public housing units intended for social rental in the hands of foreign investment funds that in a few years will sell them at market prices.
  • The Public Rental Company – Sociedad Pública de Alquiler (SPA) is now available to private developers, using tax payer’s money, to rent unsold private dwellings for a while (as few as 18 months), try to avoid corporate failure and hopefully after the crisis these units can be sold at market prices, in theory with no corporate losses. Understandable in times of crisis? Maybe. But remember that the SPA is devoted to the promotion of social rent and with these types of schemes uses public money and resources to promote the opposite. From the promotion of social or no market rental to the promotion of property at market prices.
  • On Monday, May 23, just one day after the regional and municipal elections toke place, the Valencia Region (Comunidad Autónoma de Valencia) announced the total cancellation of the rental aids. In this case we are not dealing with public rental stocks, but with financial public aids for the payment of rents in the private market, similar to the federal Renta Básica de Emancipación - Emancipation Basic Income.
  • Although I could go on with dozens of examples, I finish with the Catalonia Región (Generalitat de Cataluña). Recently has abolished completely its Ley de Barrios- Neighborhood Law (the most advanced example of renewal and anti gentrification public policy in Spain) and almost all of its Law on Housing Rights (one of the most complete examples os its type in Spain and the entire UE) through a law known as Ley omnibus. It has also made it clear its intention to sell whatever is sellable (thus the small rental public housing stock of Catalonia will be offer to all types of financial intermediaries).

I do not exaggerate if I say that in public rental housing Spain gives a step forward and afterwards ten back. Apparently we have not had enough shares of deregulated land and housing markets. It seems that those who brought us to this crisis (the political, financial and business collective authors of the Law 6/1998 of soil and assessments – Ley 6/1998 de suelo y valoraciones) will also run this post real estate and finance bubble period. And they will do it under the premise of “more market and less state”. What in the field of public or social rental housing may lead us, more or less, to the extinction of this category. A true regression of negative spectrum, but it’s crystal clear that we are heading to it, unless the people stop it through great social pressure.
And this context of privatization of Spanish public rental stocks, even before they really exist, it’s especially dramatic if we consider that the unsold or unrented stock of land and dwellings in the hands of private developers and financial institutions (stock that can involve as many as more than 3 million units) has only one realistic way out: the partial conversion into social housing for rent. Possibility that I've been advocating on this blog since 2008 as you can see, among others, the following posts 1, 2 and 3. Now the M15 movement – movimiento 15M clearly supports this possibility. This option is also begin openly defended today by many housing market, financial and public sector experts. We are about to see Spanish taxpayers to fill almost completely the hole left by the private real estate bubble (more than 10% of Spanish DGP). This could lead to an artificial freezing of high land and housing prices. And public bail out will not materialize in public banking or public housing stocks (which to some extent could be used to avoid the social harm caused by the half million evicted tenants and former house property owners that Spain is approaching little by little). As far as possible we should avoid this perfect storm and for this, among other things, instead of privatizing our insignificant public rental housing stocks, we should be converting part of the unsold and unrented private land and dwellings into social rental housing. But as I say, the market and the main Spanish political parties are devoted now to something completely different, very dangerous and with potential negative effects for generations that can only be subverted if there is great social mobilization around these issues.

PS: the picture that heads this post was taken in a meeting of M15 movement, specifically in one held in the Arriaga Plaza in the city of Bilbao.



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