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LIVE BLOG: The International Social Housing Festival in Barcelona 2023

The essence from big debates, best practices, challenges, memorable quotes, stats, and impressions

Barcelona, Spain, 9 June 2023 | Published in Future of the EU & Housing

This week, 2,100 social and affordable housing providers, policymakers, city representatives, urbanists, architects, researchers, NGOs, and activists took part in the International Social Housing Festival in Barcelona. Housing Europe and peers were live blogging from different corners of the city, reporting about working housing policies, emerging challenges and big question marks, community-led homes, and exhibitions. Follow this thread.

#ISHF2023 | @HousingEurope |

Get the ISHF guide.

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9th June 2023 I 14:06

Now, we can say that the International Social Housing Festival has a history and a bright future, becoming not just celebration and a protest, but also a movement with many cities becoming strongly interested in hosting an ISHF and declaring the right to community-led homes!

What a fantastic indirect feedback!

We have noted down a lot more info than what you have read in our live blog, make sure to receive our June newsletter to read more about the main lessons and findings during ISHF.

¡Hasta luego!

9th June 2023 I 13:42

At the closing ceremony, our President, Bent Madsen reminded one of the core reasong why we organise the International Social Housing Festival - to make different society-led ideas meet, to learn, and start working together, reach out to one another after ISHF.

Bent also announced that Dublin will be the 5th ISHF city host in June 2025. After Amsterdam, Lyon, Helsinki, and now Barcelona we do believe that the Irish capital can trigger a true debate about what really matters to ordinary people.

Ireland’s Housing Minister, Darragh O'Brien said: “Being in the wealthy part of the world, we should be able to provide homes for our people, we should not see high levels of homelessness and that drives us every day. I am absolutely committed to doing that.”

9th June 2023 I 12:40

"We know that the dignity to have a place to call home is essential to connect to society," Adrianne Todman, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said at the end of her keynote speech during the ‘Emerging housing systems in the Americas’ session. She highlighted the US rental assistance programme with 10.5 million payments to families, a new initiative to tackle unsheltered homelessness, the need for more tenant protection,  and stressted that the government relies stronlgly on public-private partnerships to deliver affordable homes.

This is what we are taking away from her speech: "Also I believe that one person can make a difference. If you create a home you are literally changing a life. Creating a house makes change happen. Please think about this when your work on housing is difficult. Thanks to your work, homeless persons will be able to live with dignity. Families will find a home. In the end, housing is not about walls and roof. It’s about the people. I things get difficult, think back to this festival. You and I are making housing happen. Enjoy your time. And let’s get to work."

9th June 2023 I 12:15

"Globally, a unplanned world is the reality."  The global trend is to respond to housing demand with the mass building of dwellings: we react in the same way by resolving the need for a commodity, rather than understanding housing as part of a wider structure, Maria Buhigas from Urban-Facts explained. "We need to build environments where the city is more than just dwellings," and this extends to our sustainability goals. Rather than just developing houses with solar panels and green spaces, we need to change our mindset about how our neighbourhoods can be truly sustainable, removing the disconnect between housing initiatives and the city. 

Josep Bohigas Arnau expanded on this concept. "If the city were a paella, housing would be the rice." We can't keep adding ingredients and forget about the basic needs of the people. Reform, co-exist, cooperate. Working with residents, we can design a city inside out, starting with the houses as the crucial foundation. All the different elements of the city should be connected based on the real needs of the residents. 

9th June 2023 I 10:40

Ireland has a long tradition in public and social housing and yet, its affordable housing stock is relatively small and Ireland is suffering financialisation, like all other countries. Bob Jordan, CEO of the Housing Agency of Ireland stressed a few more challenges: the undersupply of housing, home ownership that gets out reach for many, rising prices in private rental sector, homeless and social exclusion.

Now, as Darragh O'Brien, the Irish Minister for housing O’Brien stated, we took the corner in housing. Making a plan is first identifying where the gaps and issues are, as well as what do we need to fix it. O’Brien says he took 280 specific actions, arranged long-lasting state funding. The state needs to lead by example, he said and added that he truly believes in the power of public and social housing.

Speaking for the first time about the next ISHF edition in 2025, the panellists highlighted the the strong connection of Ireland with the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world, especially the UK and the US. Housing Europe's Secretary General, Sorcha Edwards also encouraged organisers to give room for new ways of addressing the housing challenges, but also that the Festival should be a celebration and a protest, encouraging debates. 

9th June 2023 | 11:00


In 2002, five people addicted to drugs burned a house down and Finland responded by creating a new service to tackle issue before they become crises... incredible! Prevention instead of the cure. 

Mirka Järvinen and Sina Rasilainen from ARA - the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland - explained how the state avoids evictions.  Housing Advisors - a placeholder name because there is no English-language equivalent - are accessible to all and every tenure, everyone in Finland is entitled to receive housing advice. The aim is to prevent evictions and act as a stop gap between the resident and social services. For example, a gambling addict who may be about to lose there home can go for advice, avoid eviction and be shepherded to the relevant social services. 

It's true Finland has the advantage of high salaries and excellent public social services. After all, the most common salary is €2,500 per month and the average salary is at least €3,000 per month. 

But here is another figure... a single eviction costs housing companies €10,600. Saving three people from eviction pays the salary of one Housing Advisor. 

Simple. Effective.

9th June 2023 I 10:35

In 3 years social housing providers, social workers, municipalities, and researchers got training and trained 2m000 people all across Europe to fight energy poverty. We are bearing the fruits of this commitment thanks to our EU-funded project, POWERPOOR but also, trust, open communication, persistence, scale-up. We welcomed six local heroes, the most motivated energy supporters and mentors who have been helping households in Bulgaria, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, Estonia, and Latvia.

9th June | 10:15

The war in Ukraine has led to a 30% increase in construction costs, while mass migration to populated cities is growing, so how do we house people?

We will not build enough housing. We will never catch up. Therefore, vulnerable people end up in private housing. The cardinal law of the housing market is that "the most vulnerable always live in the worst housing".

The head of the EU office of the International Union of Tenants (IUT), Barbara Steenbergen called for taming rents and more caps that last for five years, unless there are MAJOR quality increases in the housing. "If this is the case, rent can be raised by 3-5% - which is the normal rent increase for social and affordable housing providers," Barbara reminded.

A caution: It is the duty of the city to help tenants if there is no tenants union to fight on your behalf. However, furnished apartments are outside rent control law. So landlords can put up a mattress, table and chairs, and call it furnished.

9th June 2023 I 10:01

How can we improve energy performance in buildings? With this question, Jan Buyle from Knauf Energy Solutions kicked of the Tech Talk about new energy efficiency systems in construction or renovation. The main points of improvement we should strive for are, according to him: a result-oriented market, clear ROI and the adoption of a new learning cycle based on real measures. Occupants should have a better understanding of the impact of renovations and there should be a new business model that includes precise performance contracts, grid management etc. At Knauf Energy Solutions, measures are taken before and after renovation but they are also developing and training an algorithm to learn about house behaviour.

9th JUNE I 09:05 

Beatriz from RMIT University Europe kicked off the event by reminding us of the importance of experimentation and trying new approaches in housing. 

Alexis Versele from KU Leuven, who is an expert on “socio-ecological construction”, presented the work that he and his colleagues are doing on developing new building typologies, with a focus on modularity, circularity, and bio-based elements. The approach is based on using one common set of “elements”, such as windows, doors and wall panels, but which can be fit together in different ways to develop homes of different sizes and with different configurations. Alexis described this as the “Lego-isation” of construction, where common pieces can be reimagined and reconfigured again and again. The approach being developed by KU Leuven has benefits in terms of the speed of development, but also in terms of reduced environmental impact and recovery of residual value from dwellings at the end of their lifecycle. Another benefit of the approach developed by Alexis and his colleagues is that it is very adaptable, based on market conditions. For example, if there are supply chain issues, which mean that one component or material cannot be easily or cheaply sourced, then the design allows to pivot to the use of other options.

Gaetano Bertino, from alchemia-nova in Austria, discussed the need to move away from the linear economy and towards a more circular frontier. For example, buildings account for around 35% of the resources used in the EU, such as materials. Alchemia-nova is expert in green facades and nature-based solutions, with a focus on creating sustainable water cycles. Gaetano also explained his work on creating so-called ‘pop-up’ buildings to meet temporary needs. While this can serve a housing function, for example for migrants or others in urgent need, it can also play a more general community or cultural role, with many good examples of vacant plots being used for pop-up venues. In areas with various types of vacancies, including lots, commercial units, or even public spaces, a pop-up building approach can be used to quickly and sustainably meet housing and needs.

Jessica from ‘360 Climate Change Solutions’ in Spain has developed a new type of mortar, “without sand”, called “Bio-EcoMatter”. Given that traditional sand-based cement generates around 8% of global GHG emissions and that we will need 230 million tonnes of cement between now and 2050, this more sustainable approach is a welcome development. Rather than using sand, the new mortar is derived from agro-industrial waste, meaning it is a bio-based and circular material. Bio-EcoMatter is also lighter and cheaper than traditional mortars. When looking at the life-cycle of the new approach, it is noted to be significantly less damaging for the environment, especially from a CO2 emissions perspective. The fact that less material is required, and at a lower price point, in order to achieve the desired rendering, the new product can also provide meaningful cost savings; meaning it pays to be more sustainable.

9th June 2023 I 08:22

Fun fact, last night, the Festival made it even to Beyonce's global tour thanks to our member, Legacoop Abitanti from Italy. See it fot yourself.

8th June 2023 I 18:02 

It was difficult not to be happy after watching the two short movies that were screened at ISHF side event ‘How social housing and community regeneration benefit challenging neighborhoods’. We saw deeply motivated professionals in community projects and we heard citizens and tenants telling how the neighborhood changed for better.

The first movie was presented by Daniel Millor Vela and Neues Maronas Morant, who are program coordinator of the ‘Asertos’ project, to revitalize a run down neighborhood called ‘El Cemeterio’ in Alicante, Spain. Right at the introduction we learned that this area is one of the worst in Alicante. Houses are run down, public space looks like a dump, people's lives are bad. ‘My life is fighting for my loved ones’ says a woman living in a shed.

Then we saw projects being carried out, with great involvement of the inhabitants. Roofs were repaired. Gardens were planted. People gathered for shared dinners. And it worked, people started being proud of their neighborhood, started helping each other, started working on public spaces and gardens themselves.

"We decided not to focus on solving the problems, but instead on strengthening the qualities that we saw," says Daniel Millor after screening the movie. ‘In Spain 1/3 of the people live in vulnerable neighborhoods. There are so many resources, there is so much talent in those neighborhoods. We all know the theory behind innovation, it is using the same resources in a different manner to create something better. Here we did the same. We tried to raise awareness among the people of their qualities and to enable them to develop.’ And it worked.

The second movie was about the ‘Bijlmer’ neighborhood, a vast seventies modernist style social housing district in the outskirts of Amsterdam. Rosita Mo-Ajok, Chiara Nykamp and Justin van der Ven represented the housing association ‘Rochdale’. This association is the biggest landlord in the district, and therefore is very present in the people’s lives. The movie makers asked themselves what value social housing providers bring to them and interviewed tenants, neighbors and experts working in the area.

The result was surprisingly positive. Rochdale -in in particular its social workers- were not just regarded as a landlord, but also as the first person to talk to if there is any problem concerning the neighborhood. All interviewees couldn’t imagine that the Bijlmer would be the same if there was no social housing provided by a non-profit association. The area -as they expected- would be more run down, the rents would be much higher, the landlords wouldn’t care as much for the tenants as Rochdale did.

8th June 2023 I 16:04

"Young people's housing needs must be advocated for by young people themselves." Martina Gentili, Delft University of Technology gave a clear message that we cannot create housing policies targeted to young people without hearing from young adults themselves. What issues are they facing and what solutions would young adults like to see? The feedback process between young people and policymakers is crucial. "The most important change we want to make with the Uplift project is to change the mindset of policymakers so that they understand how important co-creation is." 

"In the UK, young people are stigmatised for being young." Amanda Oliver, Tai Ffres / United Welsh Housing Association, gave concrete examples from Wales. This included the coalition End Youth Homelessness Wales which aimed to create a shift to involve young people in housing policy at the homelessness prevention stage. Young people have opportunities to give input to governmental initiatives and are trained in research techniques.

8th June 2023 I 16:00

Asian housing professionals have a special relationship with the ISHF, as they were part of the very first ISHF in Amsterdam and look back on a long lasting and fruitful collaboration with Amsterdam practitioners. Great to find out that Yi Ling Chen, associate professor at Wyoming University, put together a program of housing specialists working in Taipei, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul, giving updates on affordability and provision of affordable housing.

The first presenter, Kuo-Chung Wei, introduced us in the ‘miracle of Taipei’, as Chen coined, meaning that the city has build a significant stock of now 2% of the total stock and growing to 5% in the nearby future. A robust model was created to finance, construct and operate social housing. This enabled developers to create more diverse projects, breaking with the monotonous stereotypical image of social housing, including social services in the buildings and encouraging neighbors to care for each other.

The second presenter, Geert Kornatowski of Kyushu University in Japan explained the challenges in Japan, which are totally different. Japan faces a incredibly fast ageing population. Between 10% and 20% of the houses in Japanse cities are abandoned, in particular in the inner city. There are no non-profit social housing providers. Actually ‘social housing’ barely exists. Vulnerable Japanese groups that need support in housing receive subsidy from the government. Compared to other Asian countries, this subsidy is relatively high. This type of voucher system enables landlord to refurbish run down areas and provide social housing.

Third presenters from Hong Kong introduced us to the challenge in their city. Accessibility to social housing is getting more difficult over the years. In 10 years time, the minimum waiting time has risen from 1 to 6 years. To tackle the shortage of housing, the current administration plans to build 30.000 temporary flats, next to planning more permanent projects that will be completed in 5 years time.

8th June 2023 I 15:30

This session presentED some of the key tools and finding from the Super-i project. The project has developed a methodology to score the potential positive impact of different practical measures (insulation, replacement of windows, inclusion of renewables etc) therefore allowing social housing companies to chose the best combination given the local context

Cristina Davi of ATER Trieste highlights the benefits of the Italian pilot, including tools to tackle energy poverty and overall poverty, environmental benefits and increased quality of life, as well as the creation of services for residents and the local community.

8th June 2023 I 14:06

‘We can do it’ says Eleni Myrivili at the end of her introduction of ISHF side event ‘Climate justice in the Mediterranean.’ This is the hopeful conclusion of an alarming overview of how temperatures are rising and how it affects in particular vulnerable people and communities.

What is happening? Last year was the hottest summer ever recorded. Last October was the warmest ever recorded. We’ve seen a heat wave in April. Global warming disproportionally hits this part of the world. The Mediterranean is heating up much faster than elsewhere.

Cities in the Mediterranean are unprepared for heat, as they were planned in the fossil fueled era. Because we had unlimited access to fossil fuel and disregarded the effect on global warming, cities could be built regardless of local circumstances, unaware of possible heat problems once we would disconnect from fossil sources.

The result is that in particular vulnerable people get affected by heat. Heat means inequality. If you have access to good housing, if you can afford air conditioning and if you live in green areas, the effect is limited. But if you can’t, in particular elderly, young children and fetuses suffer heat. Heat exaggerates symptoms. Not just physical, but mental problems as well.

In a broader sense, low income groups suffer energy poverty and cannot afford air conditioning, resulting in bad night rest and fatigue, resulting in less productivity. We need to protect them better.

Myrivili sees three solutions for our problems that we need to work on simultaneously. First we need to measure the problem better, to enable us to develop better insight and better policies. Second we should provide short-time solutions, for instance create public (indoor) spaces that people can move to if they experience heat problems at home. And finally we need to rethink how we build our cities. For instance we need to stop using impermeable building materials like asphalt, glass and metal and change to permeable ones, like clay, wood etc. It means using older techniques and local materials. ‘This is not difficult, we can do it,’ she concludes.

She is followed up by presenters from Spain, Greece and Portugal. In particular Carles Oliver Barceló, who is an architect at the Institut Balear de l’Habitage (IBAVI), is inspirational. He shows a wide range of projects and materials, including stone, clay, wood, rammed earth blocks, demolition materials and ‘posidona oceanica’. And he concludes that architects should change their architectural language. Moving from the language of the international modernist style -which means working with concrete, glass and steel, all materials made with fossil energy- to the many architectural local styles in the world.

8th June 2023 I 13:45

How do we better involve residents in building sustainable neighbourhoods? We heard about a number of projects which place resident engagement at the heart of the retrofitting process. Caroline Cheng, SINTEF presented the SMILE methodology developed through the ARV project: Scope, Map, Implement, Learn, Enhance. The process involves analysing the key actors involved to focus in on specific needs. Through in-depth  understanding of target groups, we can better craft messages from the tenant's perspective. 

"Sometimes things don't happen as you expect. The human factor must be considered at all stages of the process." Marta Nicolau Prohens, Palma City Council introduced strategies for creating an inclusive energy transition process and carrying out large-scale retrofitting. A major challenge to address was a feeling of distrust in institutions. It was key to develop an approachable presence within the neighbourhood and to diversify the communication of information.  

8th June 2023 I 12:40

Marco Corradi highlights common issues in southern countries. First and foremost having a small and unaffordable rental sector which is excluding low and increasingly also middle income families. We need a system approach mobilising all sectors/resources with public administration leadership. We need to rethink housing in a logic of offering and sharing services, with people at the centre. These objectives are reflected in the ‘Pantheon pact’ signed by public housing federations in Italy Spain and Portugal.

Filipa Roseta says the basis for having common policies is having the right to housing as a basis. She added that with political will and agreement anything can be achieved, as proven for instance by the major urban renewal programme that in the 90s allowed Lisbon to get rid of slums and changed the life of thousands of people. An exhibition on this programme is displayed at ISHF2023.

Doris Andoni from the government in Albania is facing massive emigration of young people- unaffordability of housing is one of the causes behind this phenomenon. The National Housing Agency provides affordable housing for sale on a small scale- needs more injection of other sources of finance to be able to provide social housing.

8th June 2023 I 11:13

Homelessness continues to be an alarming issue in most countries in Europe, often driven by unaffordable housing, lack of supply and long-term political commitment. The Housing first hub and the Housing Solutions Platform have identified the issue of cooperation between housing and social workers as well as more in general integration of accompanying support services that can help people access and sustain housing tenancies on a permanent basis as key area for capacity building. We believe this kind of targeted approach is key for the success of local initiatives like housing first projects.

This workshop presented local level innovative actions to address homelessness and housing exclusion through prevention and collaboration with housing and social services providers.  Looking at housing mobilization but also the wrap-around support, collaboration with social workers, and alliance building with a particular attention to be given to cooperation of municipalities with organizations that provide the wrap around support that goes with the housing

Policy makers, housing providers and social workers supporting people to access and keep housing were the key target groups of the event. In other words: how to successfully implement Housing First programmes on the ground.

Bent Madsen, President of Housing Europe and Gyorgy Sumeghy, Director of Policy of Habitat for Humanity opened the event. Bent highlighted that in order to bring housing to those who need it most and successfully implement housing first programmes, we need to make sure housing and social services work together and we bring forward the experience from experts work in day-to-day life to inform policy making. Gyorgy Sumeghy spoke about the importance of the well-functioning welfare system to unlock housing for Housing First. 

In the Panel discussion case studies sourcing housing for Housing first were discussed (from UK, Ireland and Spain), and reactions from cities were shared. 

Joey Lawrie, Homes for Good, Glasgow, UK informed that everybody deserves to have an affordable home because it is a foundation of everybody's life. 35 % of the properties are social rental. They are organizing a social rental agency that buys and rents private properties and rent them for social purposes. 

Response from cities:

Renaud Payre, in charge of housing for the metropolis of Lyon underlined that the Metropole started implementing Housing First in 2018. In order to tackle the affordability issue, we need to mobilize housing supply which also includes the mobilisation of the private stock. Renaud Payre also sent a strong message to the EU level: the housing crisis is a new reality and we need to find a new paradigm: a new European Housing Policy. He explained that housing is a European issue (it is linked to employment, social issues, integration issues) so EU Institutions should consider it as European housing policy. 

Coilin O’Reilly, Representative of Dublin city: stressed thatCommunicating with the host community is a tricky issue and needs a lot of time. The key is to build trust with communities where Housing First will be built. 

The plan of Dublin is to build 707 dwellings for Housing First. 70 % of the need is one bedroom dwelling. 

Carme Fortea, Director of homelessness service in Barcelona city spoke about the close collaboration between associations, NGOs since 1985. Barcelona has 800 social workers that support people accessing the 1700 Housing First dwellings of the city. 

43 million euros is spent yearly on this issue. However, the demand is very high due to

  • Difficulty to access housing

  • Migration

  • Low income

Many challenges remain for Barcelona, such as scaling up Housing First, regulation of rental prices, lack of social housing in the city, stigmatisation of homeless people, need for preventative policies. 

8th June 2023 I 10:10

It was in a public bus, that Mariana Mazzucato and Leilani Farha coincidentally took together after attending a meeting, that they found out that their frameworks matched perfectly. Mazzucato is the famous professor Economics of Innovation & Public Value at the University College London, known for her book ‘the Entrepeneurial State’ and ‘Mission Economy’. Farha is the former special UN rapporteur on the right to adequate housing and not global director of ‘the Shift’. They decided to team up, resulting in paper ‘the right to housing: a mission-oriented and human rights-based approach’.

The two women teamed up again for ISHF plenary event ‘Emerging housing systems in southern Europe’. Mazzucato as keynote speaker and Farha as moderator of a large panel of practitioners from France, Greece, Italy, Spain an Portugal.

In her keynote Mazzucato outlined that in reaching for the sustainable development goals governments should stop talking and start taking concrete actions. In particular in realising goal 11 ‘Housing for all’, to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. She stated that governments don’t take this seriously enough. Governments’ main concern is continuing the current status quo, policies are meant to fix the system. We should move to an output oriented approach and restructure our economy to reach our goals. This might mean that we need to rethink how the public and the private sector work together. Governments must play a key role to organise this. 

Additionally, Farha addressed why the human right to housing should be central. First she summarised the size of the problem of housing by sharing some dazzling figures. At least 1,8 billion people worldwide are homeless or live in inadequate housing, meaning that they have no access to water and electricity. In Berlin in 2023 the level of new rental has risen by 27%. In 21 cities in Italy the rents have risen stronger than inflation. This is the result of the residential tenure is the biggest investment in the world. About USD268 trillion - almost three times the global GPD - is invested in housing. Housing is financialised and Leilani Farha said she remains very committed to advocate for governments to take action. She shortly outlined how Mazzucato and her think that governments should act by focusing on the mission, promoting public-private partnerships in which public investment exclusively leads to public value, by bringing in communities, as they are the experts. Governments should be convener, not the rulers.

8 June 2023 I 9:02

The former UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing and director of the Shift movement that fights the financialisation of homes, Leilani Farha said it loud and clear at the start of day two: "Every dollar of public money should be spent with a human rights objectives - that applies to hhousing as well."

A human Rights approach SHOULD be enough to convince governments to act but in reality this is unfortunately not the case. A housing mission as the one proposed by Marianna Mazzucato could motivate policymakers, as it’s a challenge - a carrot rather than a stick.

Municipalities allied to work on affordable housing in Italy are asking the government to set up a law framing public housing, deliver programmes on homelessness and welfare, secure stable funding, regulate short term rental platforms, the deputy mayor of Bologna, Emily Clancy rightly pointed out.

Dimitra Siatitsa, a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Crete and the National Technical University of Athens, went onto saying that Greece has no social housing. Financialisation as investment funds took the opportunity of falling house prices after the financial crisis to buy large parts of housing stock in cities. Today access to housing is becoming increasing difficult for many, particularlyt young and mingrants - but despite of the hardships, there is still a lack of social movements to claim their social right to homes.

Felipe Castro Bermúdez-Coronel in charge of municipal housing in Sevilla is working on attracting private sector developers to build homes under the control of the city. In Portugal, the housing councillor of Lisbon, Filipa Roseta outlined three goals for the capital to plan for the next 10 years. The past decade was the worst in history for production of housing so today increasing supply is top priority, more specifically, mobilising 2,000 vacant homes, building a new coop not for profit housing sector.

Josep Montaner from Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya welcomed the new housing law in Spain - although one point still missing is regulation of short term rentals.

8th June 2023 I 18:50

Right from the beginning of the ISHF site visit ‘La Mina’ we feel that there is tension in the neighbourhood. Our guide is a project coordinator of a big urban renewal project in the area. He had rather received us in the morning, as he explains, there would be less people in the streets and it would be safer for us to walk in between the big concrete apartment buildings in the neighborhood. Now, the tour is in the evening, we are at the main road perpendicular to the buildings and we don’t stop taking pictures.

We pass by gigantic 11-floor flats and fully paved urban spaces in between. Boys are hanging around, we hear fireworks in the back, homeless men search for food in garbage bins, there is a sound of Christian worship, coming from a garage box. Expensive cars with loud music are passing by and a man is holding a bird cage watching us as we walk by.

Epic history

Only at the other end of the area, the guide takes a breath and continues the story, which is rather epic. La Mina was built in the 70s’ as a final project of a slum clearance programme. Until the 60s’, there were many slums in Barcelona and of the most visible ones was the Somorrostro slum, right at the shore (currently the Olympic village and Olympic harbour). It was in the 60s’ that dictator Franco ordered to clean the slum and relocate the families.  The estates in la Mina were built to relocate the last (and regarded as most difficult) slum dwellers.

La Mina, back then was located in the outskirts of the city, beyond the border of the municipality. The biggest buildings are 11-storey high concrete slabs, containing big apartments (62 m2 usable space, 85 m2 total). They were publicly funded. After paying a deposit, and after paying rent for 24 years, the dwellers became owners. Right now the apartments are owned by a wide variety of home-owners (both residents and landlords), which makes any regeneration project very difficult.

Right from the start, all ingredients to stir social problems were present: new inhabitants of La Mina had no experience of living in apartment flats, moreover they were unfamiliar with the area and the public institutions. And finally, there was little help because the municipality that they moved to, Sant Adria de Besos was very small and poor. Up until today, La Mina is the poorest area of the city. It is known for drug dealing, violence and extreme poverty, and illiteracy unemployment rates are among the highest.

Urban regeneration plan

The municipalities of Sant Andria de Besos and Barcelona, the metropolitan government and the region of Catalonia teamed up in a consortium to improve the neighbourhood. A plan was designed to open up the area to the city by adding a tram line, to partly demolish the massive apartment blocks, to create a new ‘rambla’ with a sea view, and finally to build new projects along this main road, both to relocate residents and to add market rental apartments.

The biggest challenge of the project was relocating the tenants and homeowners of the old buildings. The consortium worked on the right financial conditions to move. The owners (whether they were resident or landlord) would receive the appraised value for their apartments in the old building. If needed the consortium would provide additional loans. This would enable them to buy a similar apartment in a new building along the new main road at zero costs, only having to cover expenses in case they wanted to move to a larger flat. Social tenants were enabled to move from the old to the new without rent increase.


In 2012, just after the consortium had realised its first apartments for relocation of tenants, the project got hit by the global financial crisis in a terrific way. The landlords could not obtain funding to invest in affordable rental projects and without landlords it was impossible for tenants to move from the old buildings to the new ones. So, the apartments remained vacant and finally were squatted.

Up until today, the apartments are occupied, leaving the consortium with a financial construction that has proven to be very vulnerable to financial crises, with new apartment buildings that bear traces of being squatted for 10 years and last but not least, with very disappointed local residents who were promised better living circumstances but who have to remain in the old buildings.

While walking along the Rambla, the guide points us the traces of squatting. External doors to technical spaces were damaged in order to illegally connect to water, electricity and even gas supply. We see poorly maintained facades, garbage at the balconies. ‘We need to be very careful with these people, as they are families and should not be evicted without an alternative home. It appears that we need to relocate even more people now,’ he says.


Despite all problems, the consortium keeps on working. Social workers try to help the dwellers as much as they can. Vacant plots along the Rambla are waiting for new development giving hope that the area could change for the better. The presence of a newly installed police station and of the company acting as reference point for residents concerned with the urban renewal plan also contribute to smoother running of the project. Last but not least, the positive change brought about by the new Rambla axis is both practical and symbolic: what was before a ‘dead end’ place cut out from the city has been opened up and connected - breaking the sense of isolation and claustrophobia which must have been adding to the (undeniably huge) social problems in the past. 

7th June 2023 I 18:45

All doors of the apartments in La Llavor facility for homeless women have images of strong, inspirational women on them. The women, transgender and non-binary people that live in the facility choose the image when they arrive. Our guide Martha* (not her real name), who has lived in the facility for half a year, chose French writer and feminist Olympe de Gouges, only because she liked the hat that Olympe is wearing in the picture.

This is just one of the intriguing facts that we learned during our site visit to La Lavor homeless facility up in the hills, overlooking Barcelona. Martha has no permit to be in Spain. After arriving she became homeless, lived in a mixed facility elsewhere in the city, and finally moved to La Llavor. Now she lives among about 40 other women in the facility.

La Llavor is the only 100% female facility in Barcelona. The social workers help women to recover from the specific violence that women experience while being homeless. Step by step the women learn to live a ‘normal’ life of cooking, doing laundry, gardening, and being part of the local community. First, they live in groups and share a toilet and bathroom. Later they live more independently and leave the facility for work in the city.

Apart from the great place - the quiet atmosphere of the building, surrounded by a vegetable garden, distant from the busy city center - we enjoyed the firmness of the social workers, the structured daily routine, and the friendly approach. It felt like women were truly seen as real persons again and that they were building a new future together.

7th June 2023 | 18:40

The old cardboard factory - Fabrica Carto - overlooks the river Besos on one side, and the city on the other. Close to the now-closed thermal power station that remains an emblem of Badalona, Fabrica Carto was active between 1919-2008. Incasòl, the Catalan Land Institute and public owners of Fabrica Carto, are now investigating the potential retrofit, rehabilitación, and reuse of the now derelict building. 

The original permeated and louvered brick façade was designed to let the air from the river cross ventilate and dry the cardboard hanging from wooden structures that hover above head (or at eye level for people less tiny than I am) much like a suspended ceiling. 

The aim is to create a cohesive environment with the River Besos and enhance the local identity by developing Fabrica Carto into mixed-tenure housing with sustainability at the centre. Social housing and economic needs mean Fabrica Carto is a great opportunity to generate new social housing, but it just hasn't happened yet. 

A new plan is being explored combining two principles: Urban hybridisation - mixed-use and CREHAB - live and work. The vital agenda is to consider "the social activation beyond the physical renovation of the area because we live in a global, social crisis". 

Desires include: refabricated systems to reduce time, cost, and waste; renewable energies; a new public space including a link to the river; an increase of dwellings from 120 to 150; common spaces for added social value. 

Structural and social analyses - including the participation of the local community - are currently underway to determine the architectural, social, and historical heritage value of Fabrica Carto.

A combination of tenure will exist here, under three "plots", 1. affordable rental housing, 2. space on the ground floor given to cooperatives for communal spaces and social rental housing, and 3. private ownership.

Incasòl is exploring a public-private-partnership, where Incasòl owns the land and leases it to the private or third sector for 75 years. After 75 years, it can be re-leased or someone else can take over. But whoever takes the lease will have to guarantee minimum levels of sustainability - a policy being trialed by Incasól around Catalonia.

The refurbishment will be a long journey.

The structure needs improving to hold more storeys, the basement needs reinforcement. But the space is ethereal and the façade is beautiful; it could always be removed and reused - an idea already under investigation.  

Who will win? Retrofit, circularity, or demolition?  We'll have to wait and see.

7th June 2023 | 17:02

"There is a lobby and there is a lobby," says Barbara Steenbergen at the ISHF side event ‘Towards a just housing system’. Some lobby for the good, some to make a profit. Barbara, head of the International Union of Tenants (IUT) liaison office in Brussels, lobbies for the good, for the interests of tenants across Europe. She speaks directly to the tenants in the room, who form about half of the attendees of the event. ‘Your landlord is always on the steering wheel. No matter where you are. Be careful which actions he will take with your rent.’

  • Nevertheless, IUT cannot directly intervene in the interaction between tenant and landlord. Instead, Barbara talks with national and local governments all across Europe to call for:
  • Public funding concentrated on public, affordable, cooperative, and social housing as well as on affordable private rental apartments with mandatory rent caps. No cap no cure, she says
  • Moratoria on evictions against tenants who have fallen behind with their payments.
  • Policies on energy renovations to not negatively affect tenants leading to gentrification displacement and ‘renovictions’.
  • Maximum level of institutional tenants’ participation, ensuring a level playing field with landlords and housing providers.

7th June 2023 I 17:00

Guido Schwarzendahl representing German cooperatives reminded about the global scale of the cooperative housing sector, which in practice covers many types of housing and living arrangements. CASAE for instance showcased their work as cooperative social housing in Italy, including retrofitting and reusing existing public buildings, and converting them for use as cooperative housing. Once CASAE agrees with the owner of the building to develop a new housing project, they then put out a call for future residents. 

Sostre Civic, the award-winning co-operative housing body from Catalonian and the Balearic Islands, provided an overview of their new approach to social cooperative housing. They are growing quickly, with 140 dwellings already completed and 300 new units in the pipeline. The organisation has achieved this by mixing new-built projects with public lease/renovation projects. Their projects cover the housing needs of many types of households, including specific projects for older people, and emergency accommodation. 

The TULE initiative discussed how co-housing can be used to tackle climate sustainability issues. This is via collective decision-making and the pooling of resources and efforts to scale up sustainable actions. 

The Austrian Federation of Limited-Profit Housing Associations (GBV) demonstrated that, despite having a high level of good quality social housing, the Austrian state invests less in Housing (capital investment & income top-ups) versus other developed nations. This is because of the strength of the system, where money is kept in the system and reinvested. This includes co-ops, which make up a significant number of social dwellings in Austria. 

Overall, the key messages from the session are that the cooperative housing sector is diverse, in its approaches, but that it is at all times about cooperation and bringing people together to find collective solutions. In doing so, they can deliver more favorable outcomes for their residents - in terms of affordability, adaptability, inclusion, and environmental and social sustainability.

7th June 2023 | 15:30

RE-DWELL and Housing Europe co-organised a seminar to debate whether social policies aligned with environmental policies and whether the environmental framework of housing is socially-just, or it brings tenants further burdens. Some of the key messages that we took away were that we should not just retrofit but renovate in mass, industralise the renovation process, avoid creating segregation, deploy organisational transformations to allow social innovation to emerge and ensure socially just quality of life improvements. 

Paul Dufraisse from GREENFLEX, France stated that we need to scale up the net-zero roll-out, industrialise off-site solutions to minimise nuisance, increase attractiveness by including architects and have a scaleable market to remain affordable. Scaling up now needs to grow from thousands to millions.

Alex Fernandez, a PhD researcher also part of the RE-DWELL programme pointed out that the main issue that he observes with ESG finance is the difficulty to define and set clear boundaries and indicators of environmental, social, and governance finance.

Social housing providers draw finance from governmennt loans and grants as well as capital market funding. "There is still a need for public funding if we still want social housing to be built at scale," Alex said. 

Becky Ritchie from Clarion Retrofit, the largest social housing organisation in the UK with 125,000 social homes covering a distance from Plymouth in the sound of England, to York in the North also has a resident-focused charitable arm called 'Clarion Futures'.

The UK has 4.4 million homes to retorfit and its SHDF - Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund - is government funding for retrofits based on the "worst first, fabric first, no regrets" approach.

Clarion has funded 100 jobs training in retrofit awareness and created a 12 Stage Roadmap for Retrofit. Becky said: "It is not just about carbon, but a just and fair transition for our residents".

Going back to Spain, Nina Turull Puig from Sostre Civic, the housing cooperative promoting the "Right to Use: no rent no purchase" provide emotional and financial support for members. To them, we must define the way a group of people wants to live, then look for funding - support comes from the municipality and, at times, the private market. 

Retrofit Project 'Clau Mestre' - an old teachers' block. In Spain, in the past, work came with housing e.g. teachers housing. Today, much of this housing stands empty. Clau Mestre is a Sostra Civic retrofitted social housing block where groupd of residents self-organised, went from planning meetings to painting, started sharing energy between residents, use as less materials as possible, benefit from biomass energy and PV panels, but also rely on shared mobility network.

Housing Europe's Policy Director, Julien Dijol stressed that imperatives are urgent and essential, not just short term but long term. We are now in economic, climate, biodiversity, and social imperative, he said and added that we must balance where we put the money. "We cannot afford to put all the money into one imperative," Julien said.

Today, decarbonisation is happening and social housing right now is more energy, water, and resource-efficient than in other parts of the housing sector. The challenges ahead are to take into consideration the behavioural effect to reduce the rebound effect and quality of the works and supply chain. Industrialisation is also a good solution to impact these issues. At the same time, CO2 reduction is a co-benefit of the renovation for people. Quality of life, summer comfort, vegetation, and new businesses are the main benefits.

7th of June 2023 | 15:30 


How to use mapping in advocating for more affordability and better protection of tenants? This question was at the center of ISHF side event ‘Mobilizing alternatives by and for people through mapping and maps’, which was prepared by participants of project  Critical Mapping for Municipalist Mobilization.’ Researchers and activists from Belgrade, Berlin and Barcelona introduced the housing challenge in their cities and how they try to change the status-quo by using interactive maps.

Jovanna Timotijvic introduced the case of Belgrade, which moved from a collective and public approach to housing to an individual and market driven one by a liberal oriented public administration. Her group developed a tool to be used by citizens which shows whether apartments suit them spacewise and pricewise. An  overview map shows how badly the apartments suit the needs and the financial situation of tenants.

Julian Zwicker from Berlin described the increasing rent levels in his city. His group advocated for private, market driven parties to sell their stock to non-profit actors. A tool to be used by citizens maps the desire to change landlord by the tenants.

Finally Irene Escorihuela Blasco and Lorenzo Vidal introduced the situation in Barcelona. Less than 2% of total stock is public housing. Resulting in an average rent value of 1077 euro, while the minimum wage is 1080 euro. This makes that between 2012 and 2021 22.130 households were evicted, on average 10 per day. The group developed a tool to map evictions in the city, the reason for evictions and details about the landlord that is evicting.

Mapping, it turns out is a very strong tool to advocate the status quo in cities, to put the right to housing back on the agenda. As one of the speakers noted ‘an image says more than a thousand words’.

Check out the project website for more information.

7th June 2023 | 13:45


This session organised by the Generalitat de Catalunya offered a very interesting panorama of housing policies in different regions and systems. The first speaker, Josep Casas, Deputy General Director of Housing, Generalitat de Catalunya presented the new Territorial Housing Plan of Catalonia, hopefully to be approved next autumn. The plan will include objectives for the next 20 years. Two important points were considered: housing policies are one of the main welfare state pillars, and housing policies should be structural, not cohesion policies. The plan will set two main objectives: 15%of the main homes in high demand will have to be allocated for social policies; and then to increase the social rental stock up to 7% of the main homes. ‘If we continue doing the same things, we will not achieve our objectives.’

Pablo García, Director of Housing, Land and Architecture, Basque Government, talked about the situation in the Basque Country. The main issues they are confronted with include: insufficient income within the population, the housing stock is of considerable age, or the reduced rental housing stock. The signing of the Social Agreement on Housing is an important step, as it will bring long term perspective for the policies planning in the next 15 years. As part of the short term goals, the Basque Country established: doubling the social rental housing stock, to reach 50.000 units in 2036; refurbish around 350.000 houses (from 1.5% to 3.5% per year in 2026), and create a strategic land reserve for social rental housing.

Alexis Harris, a Housing Policy Manager, within the Greater London Authority gave the audience an overview of the local context. The social rented sector decreased in the 1980’. The Mayor of London has set as a priority to restart the building of affordable housing stock in all 33 areas of London. Due to migration, the demand for housing keeps increasing. London has limited capacities of raising money by own means to allocate for housing, with most of the budget coming from the central government. Two important updates from the mandate of the current mayor are the establishment of the Building Council Homes for Londoners, launched in 2018 to kickstart council homebuilding in London; and the ‘Right to Buy Back’ programme launched in 2021 which allowed councils to purchase street properties and convert them into social housing. 

Lastly, Frédéric Druot, the Director of Frédéric Druot Architecture from France made the point that by not considering what we have now, we cannot properly plan for the future. ‘By not demolishing, we spend less to build more’.

7th June 2023 | 12:40

The independent charity organisation World Habitat has a mission: sharing worldwide solutions for housing problems. Following this narrative, the World Habitat Awards, organised in partnership with UN-Habitat, recognise innovative and sometimes revolutionary projects from around the world every year. At today’s event, four award-winning cases (three from Catalunya and a Scottish one) were presented. 

The first one was the 2023 Bronze winner “Service for Intervention and Mediation in Situations of Loss of Housing and/or Occupancy (SIPHO)”, which works closely with vulnerable groups that are at high risk of losing their homes and with homeless people. They provide administrative support and offer mediation between tenants and landlords. When prevention fails, they do everything possible to minimise damage and help homeless people to find new accommodation.

After that, the representative of social housing provider Hàbitat 3, Gold winner in 2019, highlighted the importance of cooperating with social organisations, and public administrations but also with the private sector, to guarantee the right to housing for people in situations of vulnerability.

The third organisation to present its projects was Sostre Cívic, which is the first Catalan cooperative housing entity. Their approach based on collective ownership as a tool to prevent individual speculation and to guarantee the right to housing got them the Silver prize in 2023. They currently manage 11 co-housing projects with 137 dwellings in the region.

Finally, the 2023 Gold winner Homes for Good, Scotland’s first social enterprise letting agency. Their work consists of raising investments, buying old properties, renovating them (with special attention put to interior design) and letting them at affordable prices to vulnerable groups that are on waiting lists for social housing (more than 64 500 in Glasgow).


7th June 2023 | 12:25

“Effective housing solutions require commitment, iteration, and vigilance. Social housing in particular requires consistent effort. Needs are always changing with demographics, culture, and technology.” Shane Philips, UCLA Lewis Center Housing Initiative took to the floor to explore lessons learnt from the United States.

Progress in the US has been made through state intervention. States learn what works and what doesn't by observing cities, so state mandates usually start with city leadership. “But we have relied too much on cities to meet our needs without oversight or accountability.” This has led to a collective action problem where individual jurisdictions can internalise the benefits of housing scarcity and unaffordability while externalising the costs. “We need everybody rowing in the same direction.”

7th June 2023 | 12:10

“The building process for social housing needs to be faster with less red tape: this is the fundamental key to protect social housing through urban planning.” Laia Grau, Barcelona City Council, explained the challenges faced in Barcelona, where social housing represents just 2% of the housing stock. In a city with very little land available, we need to focus on transformations on a plot by plot basis, as well as regulating the use of land for tourist use. “We need to establish some limits so that the whole system doesn’t collapse.”

On a metropolitan level, Mireia Peris Ferrando, AMB presented the ‘master plan’ to retrofit existing buildings and “regenerate the fabric of the city.” As existing buildings are often old and lack energy efficiency, the focus is on sustainable, affordable homes. It is crucial to also think about proximity to basic services. As a compact city, Barcelona has a good foundation but there is still a lot to be done, explained Guillem Costa Calsamiglia, Col·Legi D'arquitectes De Catalunya.

Outside of Barcelona, planning has aimed to rediscover the idea of the neighbourhood, developing community and green spaces. “As most of the land in Catalonia is in private use, we also have to ask: how can the community benefit from the increase in the price of land?,” stated Maria Sisternas Tusell, Institut Català del Sòl.

7th June 2023 | 12:05

The Association of Housing Corporations (Aedes) through its representative Robin an Leijen, a Housing Europe member, organised an event in order to bring into the spotlight the Dutch social housing context. Although the sector went into crisis a long time ago, 2021 brought an acceleration. Historically, the tendency was to let the market regulate itself as much as possible. In 2013, the Landlord levy was introduced, to deal with the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis. Social housing providers would sell the stock to private market in order to pay the tax. Fortunately, housing got back on the political agenda again. This can also be seen within the society, as people took it to the streets to voice their concerns. Aedes took on the mission to find a solution, a hard one as two different realities competed: the one of the sector saying that the business model will not work for much longer, and the government saying that the guaranteed loans will be available. Finally, a resolution was reached in the Parliament and the National Performance Agreement was signed. 

Pepijn Bakker, representing the Dutch social housing provider Rochdale, took the floor to talk about the practitioner’s perspective. For Rochdale, the renovation part is now bigger than the new-built, which is typical for a mature organization. Speaking of scarcity, one important problem, he gave the example of a family of six, that could not move from a two-room apartment, due to a very long waiting list. In terms of challenges, the most serious ones are: to ensure sufficient affordable housing, how to make it sustainable and futureproof, and how to create stronger communities. ‘We are looking at how the national agreements can match with the challenges that we are facing’. 

Lastly, Sorcha Edwards, Housing Europe Secretary General, brought to the table the European perspective. ‘When it comes to housing, people are only aware of their local context’. Households were pushed to the limits during the very recent crises caused by the pandemic. 

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This brought the realisation that housing policy dimensions should also be in focus. For example the stay-at-home policy during the coronavirus pandemic, not everyone had a home where to stay.

7th June 2023 I 11:06

How to measure housing affordability? It’s a philosophical question, argues Thorsten Heitkamp. The perfect indicator doesn’t seem to exist. However, housing observatories that are being set up across Europe use interesting approaches combining a range of data as we learnt through this session bringing together an impressive body of knowledge. 

The Barcelona province observatory for instance stresses the importance of using objective and subjective indicators to understand shortfalls in housing affordability, in which area and for whom. The aspect highlighted by the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research was the importance of combining information on the costs and quality of homes.

The key point, one that is very hard to quantify, is what people can afford with the budget they have left after paying for housing costs - how housing expenses can support or hinder a bearable ‘cost of living’. Some key trends have been mentioned: Milan and Barcelona highlight increasing rents which people who work in these cities no longer can afford. North Rhine Westfalia and Emilia Romagna regions brought forward the increasing costs of construction as a major current challenge. According to Daithi Downey, 87% of the homes that are up for sale in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown (Dublin) county are out of reach for households on median income.

Marco Peverin estimates that in Milan a person on an average white-collar job salary can afford to buy between 18 and 23 square meters of residential property with a 20 year mortgage loan. Not something that could be called a bargain.

In the Basque Country, the housing observatory found that buying a home requires young households to spend 58% of their salary on a mortgage. This is part of the evidence that triggered new policy measures such as rent subsidies for young people.

Leticia Ortega Madrigal of Instituto Valenciano de la Edificacion and Jordi Bosch of the Barcelona Metropolitan Observatory emphasized the strong link with policy, their research is driven by the purpose of identifying problems and ways to solve them.

In Emilia Romagna rents in public housing are 60 to 80% lower than market rents explains Marcello Capucci of the regional observatory - managing one of the most well-developed datasets in Italy.

Data on cooperative housing which represents 18% of dwellings in Zurich indicate higher affordability than the private sector and better representation of low incomes and vulnerable households.

In Amsterdam, tenants at market prices are the ones bearing the highest housing cost burden. 

June 7th | 11:04

Montserrat Pareja, a housing researcher from the University of Barcelona led one of the cutting-edge academic research presentations on social housing - from tenants participation, to policy, retrofit, and engagement. 

Javier Gil and Lorenzo Vidal from UNED touched upon rent caps, saying that the arguments against them in Spain are that working class people worked hard to afford they're multiple properties and governments can't reduce their hard-earned income by cappings rents. Hard data based in Barcelona, however, tells a different story.  Landlords are the richest members of society and tenants are the poorest. Reducing rent by 20% will still keep landlords the richest members of society. "Landlords would remain the highest earners even if they stopped receiving rental income," UNED said.

Moving to the Belgian university, KU Leuven, Viviana d'Auria and Katya van den Broeck added we need to consider engaging tenants during the entire process of social housing retrofit. From pre-design to the after life of retrofit, we should always ask whether the environment now socially inclusive and if there is still a social housing stigma. This research project is right at conception, but a good foundation has been laid regarding the role of the tenant in retrofit. A few options have been laid out:

Option 1: the tenant as diagnostic - it elps diagnose the issue and informs architectural designs.
Option 2: the tenant as self-acting - tenants renovate themselves, however, this poses a problem to 'where does responsibility lie if something goes wrong.'
Option 3: the tenant as the expert

Some of the lessons learnt from KU Leuven were that the role of a collective housing assistant should be introduced and that the added value of a phased process is also important.

Marta Domènech from Universitat Politècnica De Catalunya, Barcelona Tech (UPC) brought another interesting topic on how they are re-habiting the rooftop of Ciutat Vella.

An architectural investgation into the participation of tenants, funded by the local municipality in La Ribera Santa Caterina found that what people want is SHADE. A number of pavilions were then designed, self-built with the residents.

Danielle Bishop, also from the University of Barcelona brought up how the lack of affordable housing is causing stress in the city.  He reported that in Catalunya, there was a 60% increase in rent between 2015-2020. The second highest hike in Spain overall. 

7th June 2023 | 10:00

‘Social Housing is key for a strong society and for municipalities to regain trust in democracy’ says the acting mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau at the opening event of ISHF. She is crystal clear that instead of legitimising speculation of housing as an asset, public administrations should set affordable housing in the center of society. Not to manage the problems of vulnerable people, but because housing is a basic right, a necessity to live to develop yourself and to contribute to society.

Therefore, since she came into power as mayor of Barcelona, her administration has worked out policies to prevent - or delay - evictions, to regulate rents of small private landlords, and to build new social housing, at least 40% in new urban development. Even though the difficulty of changing a system, it worked out. Social housing grew from 7,500 units eight years ago, to 11,500 now and will grow to 14,000, now the biggest share of social housing in any Spanish city which is a great result.

The most important thing is changing the paradigm and creating awareness about the importance of affordable housing.

7th June 2023 I 8:58

After months of preparation, seeing a very long queue of hundreds of community-led housing experts, policymakers, architects, urbanists, researchers and activists from over 80 different countries at the entrance of Palau de Congressos in Barcelona is truly motivational. Barcelona City Council and the hostesses at the entry are reporting 2,100 registrations. 

6th June 2023 | 20:26

Unofficial start of the ISHF - International Social Housing Festival 2023 for those of you who have already made it to Barcelona.

Habitat 3 set the beginning with the story of the emblematic Casa Bloc, built 90 years ago with the New European Bauhaus principles in mind and recently renovated to fight housing exclusion. The bloc was designed during the second republic by the Catalan architecture group GATCPAC as social housing to home and restore dignity to people with learning difficulties, homeless, and at risk of vulnerability. Halted during the Civil War, when the project restarted it was given to police and military, as a gift for their service. Eventually, it housed widows in the 1940s, and all (but one) of the original duplex staircases were removed by the military, changing the apartment layouts. Now, it is reviving again for good, showing what people need to live in dignity.

Today’s Casa Bloc is a roof (and a lot more) to 17 households that were previously homeless, living in inappropriate conditions, victims of domestic violence, or at the edge of eviction. The landmark project also won World Habitat’s award back in 2019. This is also why our Secretary General, Sorcha Edwards stressed the importance of films and stories which enable us to "visualise what is possible" to create secure, affordable homes by renovating empty homes. Casa Bloc now stands as a beacon of social inclusion, with one-bed and two-bed apartments for people at risk of social exclusion, with furniture, balconies, and acommitted support team aiding the transition. 

The movie is setting the tone of what we will be discussing at ISHF - what people’s needs are to live a decent life. And there will be debates about what policies we should adopt but we must keep focus on societal needs and long-term partnerships for affordability.

6th June 2023 I 10:28

Housing Europe will be behind the organisation of the two-day Affordable Housing Initiative session (Tech Camp) to discuss how technology can assist in a fair energy transition, hold an inspiring event about how housing providers and social workers are mobilising to address energy poverty.

In Barcelona, we will continue the discussion on the need to adapt homes in our sector to climate change to offset the impact on the most vulnerable with a focus on the Mediterranean region and also bring attention to vast housing topics, such as land policy, mass renovation, and innovative action to eradicate homelessness.

We will even hold a workshop ahead of the European Elections on how terms like ‘social housing’ or ‘public housing’ are used and understood in European and international contexts we can master words and communication campaigns to make an impact.

Once again, our members from different corners of Europe have mobilised to organise a series of events, ranging from conferences, to workshops, exhibitions, and study visits. Here is where you can find them in Barcelona.

6th June 2023 I 10:02

Catching quotes, typing quickly, taking photos, and tweeting from a phone are some of the main signs to recognise the ISHF live bloggers. As part of the writing team, we have Housing Europe's communications department, Diana Yordanova, and Andreea Nacu; Rose Michael who is in charge of communications at our partner, Eurhonet; Saskia Furman who is a RE-DWELL PhD researcher with an avid interest in social and environmental sustainability, and one of the most committed to ISHF housing experts, Pepijn Bakker from the social housing provider Rochdale in the Netherlands. You will also hear from more Housing Europe team members, including Alice Pittni, Dara Turnbull, Clara Mafé, and Edit Lakatos.

Say 'hello' when you see us!

6th June 2023 I 9:32

The 4th edition of the International Social Housing Festival promises to be the largest so far, with +1,800 participants coming from nearly all continents, more than 200 partnering organisations, 62 side events, 32 visits to exemplary housing, all of that spread across Barcelona in 8 different venues. As Housing Europe's Secretary General, Sorcha Edwards puts it, "ISHF is a moment to celebrate (and protest) that homes can be perceived differently. "It is an opportunity to step out of our status modus operandi of advocacy and say "Wow, this is happening, this new model is working, this project has been built" and ISHF is turning the tables."

Physically (and maybe luckily) we cannot be in more than one place at the same time. This is why we have five live bloggers and a couple of other Housing Europe members tunning in with the most essential takeaways, striking a good balance between news and the festive side of ISHF.

We could not agree more with Pepijn Bakker who was the very first Festival organiser back in 2017 that ISHF "is not just a gathering of experts and professionals in a certain industry like there are many conferences for all types of professionals. No, instead, the ISHF is a statement. We gather because we have a common goal."

It is time for social housing.