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MEP Estrella Durá in elDiario about Housing

The smart city: a social city

8 September 2020 | Social, Economy, The future of the EU & Housing

As elDiario mentions, we have assumed housing as one more commodity and we use the city as a commercial object for consumption and tourism, privatizing urban spaces and allowing 700,000 people in Europe to sleep on the street every night!

The recognition of the right to housing as a fundamental right is linked to its consideration as an essential need to live with dignity and security, and to freely develop one's own personality. Its violation calls into question the physical and mental integrity of people, their private and family life. The absence of decent housing affects health and the environment, both individually and collectively, and undermines the right to education, professional development and even participation in public life. It is not surprising, therefore, that the guarantee of the right to housing appears increasingly linked to that of the broader right to an inclusive, sustainable and democratically managed urban environment or, if you prefer, to the right to the city.

The right to the city is not a new proposal. The term appeared in 1968, when Henri Lefebvre wrote "The Right to the City" taking into account the negative impact suffered by cities in countries with a capitalist economy, with the conversion of the city into a commodity at the exclusive service of financial interests. As a counterproposal to this phenomenon, Lefebvre constructs a political approach to vindicate the possibility of people once again owning the city.

Cities reflect the society in which we live and, in that sense, they are a mirror of who we are. A city of monolithic, granite architecture is probably the projection of a totalitarian society. While a city, like Paris in 1968, in which there are bohemian neighborhoods like the Latin Quarter, and other aristocratic ones, like those that surround the Champs Elysees, reflects a society that votes for De Gaulle but in which, at the same time , the future explosion of May 68 is already being prepared. A city like Vienna, which continues today to top the list of the best city in the world to live in, reflects a democratically managed society concerned with well-being and the environment. Several social factors converge in the design of its infrastructure: excellent public transport and electricity and water supply networks, quality health and educational services, and effective measures to decongest the city from traffic and improve air quality etc, however, all of these policies appear to be later ramifications of a long-standing social policy dating back to 1920 that represents the backbone of the city: housing policy.

We have assumed that the right to health and education are an integral part of our public policy system, however, we treat housing as one more commodity and use the city as a commercial object for consumption and tourism, privatizing urban spaces and allowing 700,000 people in Europe to sleep on the streets every night. The result is, on the one hand, socially, economically and psychologically fragmented cities that have been suffering the effects of gentrification and tourism for years and, on the other hand, societies whose social elevator is paralyzed (a child from a poor family, who passes his childhood in an overcrowded house, it will take 4.5 generations to reach an average income level). That the tourist, a being who, by definition, does not belong to the community, is conceived as the ideal subject of urban architecture, certainly poses a serious political problem. Temporary rental digital platforms that are producing an increase in housing prices and a change in the composition of urban neighborhoods, without creating affordable housing or other benefits for the local population, must be subjected to strict regulatory control that protect the right to housing in our cities.

The European Union is currently experiencing a major crisis in the housing sector and the real danger of excessive housing costs no longer only affects the most disadvantaged, but also an increasing part of the rest of the population. More than 15% of the EU population lives in overcrowded housing; more than a third of European citizens spend more than 40% of their disposable income on housing, this proportion of the population being greater than two-fifths in Spain (42.1%), and a total of eleven million "households" Europeans - families, couples and even single people - lack a roof and live on the streets, in social shelters or in the homes of third parties. Furthermore, in our country alone, since 2008, there have been more than 1,002,000 evictions.

Against this background, the European Commission must speak with one voice and act accordingly. For this, it is necessary to look at the different national models and adopt best practices. The cities that best regulate the housing market are those that have a wide range of social housing. By country, France is the European country that invests the most in social housing (500,000 social homes per year). The Netherlands is the country where there are more people in social housing (33%). In Sweden there is no need for social housing as rents are managed by municipalities and owned by the state or by non-profit companies whose aim is to ensure access to housing for everyone regardless of age, gender or nationality. income. Spain, however, offers one of the most bleak outlooks in the EU in this area, mainly a consequence of the mismanagement of the popular party government and the devastating effects of the financial crisis that burst the real estate bubble in 2008. Between 1997 and 2007, during the government of the popular party, housing prices rose to a staggering 232% and construction almost stopped: while 727,893 building permits were granted in 2006, in 2011 the number was just 77,700 according to data from the Ministry of Development . Today, there are a large number of empty houses, most of which are owned by banks and our country continues to be behind in the construction of social housing (2%).

It is clear that there is no single answer to fight the lack of affordable housing, but that the recipe has to be completed with different measures. Socialists in the European Parliament have included, in the report being prepared by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs on Access to Affordable and Decent Housing, some specific measures: increasing social housing and committing to a new concept of social housing accessible to all (not only vulnerable groups), firmly support the Housing First program at European level to combat homelessness, exclude social spending from fiscal rules at European level, improve social housing indicators for the European semester, improve information at local level on access to European funds for housing, betting on the circular economy in the construction sector, and effective measures to combat energy poverty and guarantee the provision of basic services to all households and, above all, firm measures to stop evictions .

The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of housing for health and well-being. The principle from which the European Commission must start is that housing, as a fundamental right, cannot be an element of speculation and, in this sense, there is a need for public operators who can dissociate themselves from the market and offer real alternatives to the configuration of housing. “Smart” cities of the future and that it is the citizens themselves who decide on how to transform their city and how to transform itself as a society through it.

According to the OECD in the year 2100, 85% of the 11,000 million inhabitants of the planet will live in cities. I believe that we therefore have a great challenge in the age of cities and that is to choose one of the following two positions: o we continue to reaffirm our blind beliefs in the power of economic growth and the tacit assumption that the benefits of such growth, Synonymous with progress, will they gradually reach the poor and make cities a livable place, or cities must strive for true social development subordinated to the values ​​of social equity, ecological sustainability, economic efficiency, political participation , pluralism and cultural integration. European socialists will of course opt for the second, recognizing that science and technology are one social process among others, so we will reject an urban policy rooted in the mystification of technological destiny and will bet, today more than ever, on its social destiny. Technology and sustainability will mark the future of smart cities, which will have better infrastructures and advanced connections for greater environmental and economic development. But let's hope that the digital city of the future is not only a reflection of artificial intelligence but also a reflection of a true social intelligence capable of enhancing human capabilities.





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