It was no coincidence that Bilbao hosted the recent General Assembly of AVS, the Spanish federation of public housing providers. This year, Bilbao celebrates its 100th anniversary of social housing. Although Spain has a relatively low share of social housing (2,5%) at national level, many regions and cities have a strong tradition of municipal housing companies. Still, the Spanish public sector was hit very badly by the financial crisis - e.g. drastic budget cuts and forced sales to aggressive investment funds. AVS lost many of its members through this process, but the latest signs point that, ten years later, the worst might be behind as the sector is slowly recovering. AVS is starting to regain members and politicians are becoming more aware of increasing needs for more affordable housing.
At the conference, Sébastien Garnier, Innovation and Project Manager at Housing Europe, presented an overview of the latest housing trends in Europe, including the latest innovation projects in which Housing Europe and its membership collaborate (e.g. Heart, Houseful and Triple-A Reno). He mentioned a worrying trend of increasing disparities between housing costs increases and stagnating wages that came out of the latest State of Housing report. The latest figures show this trend continues and that there is a reason to be alarmed, especially in Spain and other countries like Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands.
The organization of civil movements to fight against the massive wave of evictions since the crisis has also put significant pressure to put housing higher on the local and national agendas. For instance, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, was a leading figure in that field and promotes a strong housing rights agenda in her city.
Encouraging signs have emerged recently. The 150 participants of the AVS were informed that the national government has adopted a national housing plan (2018-2021) last March with a budget of EUR 1,4 billion. These funds will be dedicated to helping regions- primarily competent for housing policies- increase housing allowances and investments in newbuild and energy renovations, especially in the rental sector. Both public and private actors will be eligible as long as the investments are related to the social segment of the so called 'protected dwellings' (Vivienda Protegida Oficial).
Another positive example that was presented in Bilbao is the active involvement of the Basque government, that introduced a personal "right to housing" which takes the form of access to housing allowances to help access private rent if an eligible household cannot be guaranteed access to public housing. The way the Basque government and the Basque Housing Observatory opened the debates and involved citizens in the draft of its Regional Housing Plan 2018-2020 through a special platform shows a willingness for inclusive and open policy-making in the field of housing. This work is coordinated by the Basque Housing Observatory, which also plays an important role in researching and publishing information about the regional housing situation.
At the General Assembly, Jerónimo Escalera was re-elected president of AVS. In the evening the awards ceremony organized by AVS in Bilbao showed that, after a very turbulent period, the Spanish public sector has not lost its capacity to deliver innovative and effective solutions in the field of affordable housing and urban regeneration. Looking at the local housing challenges, their expertise is still highly necessary.