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Barcelona launches its first CLT-inspired housing initiative

The city's ambition to deliver more affordable homes

Barcelona, 7 December 2020 | Social, Economy, The future of the EU & Housing

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) have become a popular housing model among housing activists and practitioners around the world. Originally developed by rural African-American communities in the United States, it is now spreading in urban areas across North America and the United Kingdom, as well as in continental Europe. Eduard Cabré Romans - International Relations Consultant at the Barcelona Municipal Institute of Housing and Renovation (IMHAB) - tells us more.

The model is built on an ownership structure that dissociates the ownership of land, which remains collectively owned, from that of buildings. CLTs also rely on a singular organizational structure based on a tripartite governance model, where public administrations, community organizations, as well as residents each hold 1/3 of the seats in the decision-making body. The combination of the ownership structure and the governance system results in a model that ensures long-term housing affordability and community engagement.

Barcelona context

Barcelona has seen a major shift in housing policies since the adoption of the City’s Right to Housing Plan 2016-2025. The Plan aims to more than double the number of affordable housing units in the City, primarily by investing in the construction of rental public housing as well as by partnering with private limited- and non-profit affordable housing providers.

One of the initiatives adopted by the Plan is the construction of more than 500 zero-equity cooperative housing units on public land through long-term leaseholds. This model differs from the traditional cooperative housing model in Spain, which grants cooperative members individual ownership of the housing units once housing construction is complete.

There are currently 2 zero-equity cooperatives built on public land in Barcelona. 4 more projects have begun construction, while another 3 have just been allocated a plot of public land through a public tender process (check all new affordable housing projects in Barcelona here).

Towards a Barcelona CLT?

The City of Barcelona partners with limited- and non-profit housing providers, including housing cooperatives, by providing public land to build on. The allocation of plots is usually done through competitive public tenders, a process that ensures transparency and equal treatment to all contenders.

However, these competitive processes take a long time given the necessary administrative procedures, therefore slowing down housing development. They also challenge the principle of cooperation that inspires most of the participating entities, forcing them to compete with one another and generating frustration among prospective residents.

Housing cooperatives and small non-profit developers sometimes cannot afford technical support before they have been awarded a plot of land to build on. They also suffer from limited access to financing, which has been overwhelmingly dependent on small ethical banking institutions unable to meet the goals of the sector as a whole.

Given these challenges and the City’s goal to enhance the production of affordable housing, Barcelona City Council has just launched a new strategy based on a Collaboration Agreement between the City, the Catalan Association of Social Housing Managers (GHS), the Federation of Cooperative Housing, the Social and Solidarity Economy Network (XES), as well as the Social Housing Foundations Coordinator (Cohabitac). Through this agreement, the different partners will work with each other to propose projects, one per plot, to the City, which will then evaluate them following the principles of non-accumulation, local linkages, and affordability. The City and the entity proposed for each project will then sign a long-term lease on the land.

Overall, the agreement envisions the construction and renovation of 1.000 housing units, 40% of which under a zero-equity cooperative model and 60% as affordable rental housing. In the short-term, the City will provide 10 plots of land and 3 buildings to be renovated, spread across 5 of the 10 city districts, while another 2 plots will be added in the coming months.

Next steps

Barcelona has not fully embraced the Community Land Trust model just yet. Residents still do not have a seat at the decision-making table, although the articulation of the different social housing providers around a joint land management system and the use of leaseholds to dissociate the ownership of land and buildings do follow a CLT-inspired scheme.

Moving forward, the announced Collaboration Agreement has the potential to allow the different entities to collaborate and improve their technical expertise, while enabling them to benefit from economies of scale regarding central purchasing and procurement. Having such a framework can also facilitate access to financing by means of sharing risk and making earnings available to one another.

All in all, the Collaboration Agreement is a major step towards building a public-private-social partnership to maximize Barcelona’s ability to deliver affordable housing while strengthening the emerging local non-profit and cooperative housing sector. In order for the scheme to evolve into a full-fledged CLT, residents should be included in the agreement as a third party with equal rights and responsibilities. Time will tell.

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