The islands launch a housing offensive to win social rental housing

There was a time when the Canary Islands had one of the highest public housing parks in Spain. Today, it is one of the communities most affected by housing problems, for various reasons. Among them, the pressure exerted on rental prices by its tourist status, with the proliferation of holiday homes in the days before the pandemic.

But, in addition, this autonomous community allowed a long decade to pass without a public housing policy, and this has meant a gap between the demand of a part of the population impoverished by the two crises and the supply of affordable housing. Now, the autonomous government that supports the so-called Pact of Flowers (PSOE, United We Can, Nueva Canarias and the Gomera Socialist Association) wants to close the legislature marking a before and after in the housing policy of the Canary Islands. And it has launched a Pact for Housing, which includes a plan for the construction of 6,000 new sheltered houses for rent; as well as some 10,000 rehabilitated units and the occupation of up to 600 empty homes.

Canarias already faced a similar challenge decades ago, but with very different characteristics. If the current crisis is promoting public rental aid, and the previous recession caused a significant social mobilization against evictions; the one that took place as a result of the fall in the price of oil in 1973 gave rise to the so-called housing movement.

In that decade there was a social and political battle for the construction of official housing (VPO), which then received the name of cheap houses, due to the low quality of the materials used in its construction. In reality, this type of construction was started by the housing councils at the end of the Franco regime to put an end to the shanty towns of the Archipelago. And it was the Economic Command of the Canary Islands that built popular neighborhoods: Generalissimo Franco and Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria or General García Escámez in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Movement for housing

That social action of the 70s was promoted, however, by Izquierda Unida Canaria (ICU) and came together in the creation of the Coordinadora de la Vivienda, which remained alive until the mid-90s. It was a political-social movement that played a significant role. role both in Gran Canaria and in Tenerife and La Palma, islands in which a real pulse was thrown to the administrations, first for the acquisition of the property of the house through the deferred access; then to negotiate a price in accordance with the low purchasing power of the successful bidders and, finally, by occupying some blocks of flats due to the impossibility of the majority of delivering 3% of the value of the house to receive the keys.

But this public commitment was stopped short by the excessive construction of private housing. And since the mid-90s, VPO promotion policies gave way to uncontrolled developmentalism of free housing, through an economic model based on construction. Also in the exorbitant increase in private bank indebtedness, which led to the housing emergency caused by the recession five years later. In fact, evictions were one of the symbols of the 2009-2014 crisis, as a result of which the housing model in Spain came into question, even by the European courts.

In pre-covid times, not a few experts already warned of the urgency of a change in the real estate culture of our country and to refine the measures to once again facilitate access to housing for vulnerable groups. Now, the challenge is to guarantee access to decent housing for people with less purchasing power or groups in special difficulties:

“The Canary Islands is one of the most stressed communities in terms of the rental price, so we believe that if we put more homes on the market to be able to rent them as social, we will be helping to try to control the price,” says the area councilor Sebastián Franquis. Among the various options for expanding the public housing stock, the Housing Pact contemplates a combination of several. Among them, the conventional policies of promoting both new construction homes and the rehabilitation of the existing park in the Islands (it is estimated that 40% are over 30 or 50 years old).

But it is also committed to more innovative formulas, such as putting empty houses into circulation, which in the Islands amount to almost 140,000. With this policy, it actually follows the Basque model, although it remains to be seen whether the response in the Canary Islands will be as successful as in the Basque Country, and it rejects more interventionist price control formulas such as those defended by Pedro Sánchez’s partners.

Housing X-ray

More property than rent. Of the more than 46,000 public homes that exist in the Canary Islands, only 16,500 are occupied on a rental basis. 65% are owned by the successful bidders. This proportion of owners is also repeated for the free housing market: 72% of all homes are owned in the Canary Islands.

Real estate hangover. The real estate boom built an average of 5,000 / 6,000 houses a year. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of homes in the Canary Islands grew above the state average: 22.3% compared to 20.3%. There were external cases such as Candelaria or Puerto del Rosario, which were among the twenty Spanish municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants that had growth of over 60%. This was the scenario until the 2008 recession hit.

Impact of covid The sale of homes fell in 2020 in all communities, especially the most touristy such as the Canary Islands (-21.9%) and the Balearic Islands (-23.2%). This fall ended five consecutive years of annual increases, which sent property prices through the roof and far below median rents. Especially in communities like the Canary Islands with a salary much lower than the national average.

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