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The Spanish Housing Crisis

From 20 November to 1 December 2006, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari, conducted a mission to Spain to examine the status of realization of the right to adequate housing….

At the end of his mission, the Special Rapporteur has come to the conclusion that Spain is facing a housing crisis due to several factors.

Whether in terms of renting or purchasing houses, affordability is a major problem faced by a vast number of people living in Spain. The Special Rapporteur notes that a large proportion of people is paying a high percentage of their income on mortgages. The Special Rapporteur received a number of testimonies from persons that are defaulting their payments because of the increases.

The situation does not seem to be sustainable in the long-term, and the Special Rapporteur fears that more people will experience payment problems in the future, affecting their right to adequate housing.

Spain seriously lacks public housing. The current housing programmes do not address the needs of the bottom 20-25% of the population. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that this is a conservative estimate given that Spain is the third poorest of the original fifteen States of the European Union and, according to the National Statistic Institute, figures on income distribution, released on 1 December 2006, 20% of Spaniards live below the poverty line.

Virtually all of the very low proportion of rental housing is in the private sector with only 2% of dwellings classified as social compared to 10-30% in other countries of the European Union. Moreover, although around 18% less than in the private market, the prices of public rental housing tend to be too high for some sectors of the population. Paradoxically, Spain possesses the largest number of vacant houses of the European Union (3 to 4 million).

This situation has been aggravated by land and property speculation that has benefited large developers. For instance, in the Basque country, from 1995 to 2005, the prices of houses went up by 250% while the building costs went up by 35%. During the same period, mortgages rose from €650 million to €6,000 million.

The situation of housing has generated many problems. Among others, testimonies and information received by the Special Rapporteur indicates various discriminatory factors with regard to access to housing including gentrification of cities and resulting segregation and forced evictions.

The Special Rapporteur was particularly troubled by testimonies and information received on physical and psychological violence that has been used to force people out of their homes for speculation purposes, a phenomenon known as "mobbing".

Speculation and the benefits generated by housing have led to wide scale corruption. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that scandals, such as the one in Marbella, constitute only the tip of the iceberg. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the nomination of the Special Prosecutors to look into these practices but is of the view that more rigorous investigations and prosecution of those responsible in these land scandals, including developers, is necessary.

Although the difficult situation of housing affects all sectors of the population, some sections, such as the homeless, children and youth, the elderly, people with disabilities and health problems, persons with low incomes, refugees and asylum-seekers, migrants, minorities such as the Roma (Gypsy communities) and women (including women facing domestic violence and single mothers), have been more affected.

The Spanish Institute of Statistics estimated at the end of 2005 that there were 21,900 homeless persons.

Youth in Spain has been particularly affected by the current housing crisis. The average age of "housing emancipation" (leaving parents home) has risen to 34 years. According to the Youth Council of Spain, in average, 60.8% of a young person's salary is needed to access private market housing, leading to long term debts.

The Special Rapporteur believes that a fundamental reconsideration of economic and social policy is necessary. Policies and laws that flow from such a reconsideration should be underpinned by a human rights approach to housing and land. The legal basis of this approach already exists in the Spanish constitution and the international human rights instruments that Spain has ratified.

Housing should be recognized as a basic human right and not as is currently the case, a mere commodity, to be bought and sold.

The Government in all its law and policies needs to acknowledge the right to housing and the social function of property. All sectors of society, including developers, constructors, real estate agents, civil society groups and other public and private actors, must play a role in the realization of this basic human right.

From: United Nations expert on adequate housing concludes visit to Spain, Geneva, 13 12 06

More at: Spanish Housing Crisis

Thanks to Massimo Allamandola for flagging this story.

See also: The 'success' of Barcelona

And: Displacement of Private Tenants

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