"In Spain housing has long been conceived as an investment rather than a right of citizens"
“In Spain housing has long been conceived as an investment rather than a right of citizens”, says José Luis Arroyo, responsible for housing at the Spanish Youth Council (Consejo de la Juventud de España). Compared to other European countries, Spain has experienced one of the most profound increases in housing prices in recent years. This dramatic rise has especially affected young people, who often find themselves unable to obtain an affordable home. Many would have to allocate around 85 percent of their income to buy or rent a house on the free market. The fact that young people in Spain suffer a high degree of job insecurity restricts their ability to access the housing market even further. As a result, a lot of young people are financially unable to leave their parents’ home. In Madrid for example, only 13 per cent of people between the age of 18 and 24 have been able to move out of their parental home. Only for the segment of the population aged 30-34 this number reaches a 71 percent rate. This delay in emancipation, as the Spanish like to call it, has been linked with many social and psychological problems such as family dependence, lack of space for personal development, lack of self-esteem and personal frustration. The Spanish Youth Council is actively involved in the country’s housing issue.
What should be the role of the administration in
tackling the housing problems of young people in
“The Spanish Youth Council believes the government should coordinate and promote a public housing rental pool as happens in other EU member states. In the short-term, the government should promote strategies to take vacant houses to the rental housing market, hereby increasing the supply of housing. The different governments, both regional and national have undertaken several initiatives to increase the offer of rental housing, such as incentives directed at the owners of vacant houses. The CJE considers that if such measures are not effective enough, punitive measures should be taken.”
Recently, the Spanish government set up a subsidy scheme to support young people to pay their rent. Persons between 22 and 30 years old who do not earn more than 22.000 Euros a year may apply for state assistance. The rent support is a fixed amount of 210 Euros per month. Even though this subsidy may at least be seen as a temporary solution, it has produced rather adverse effects.
What is your opinion on the ‘rent subsidy’? What are
its main positive and negatives sides?
We believe it is a positive measure aimed at helping young people in paying their rent. However, this measure could have an inflationary effect if the demand of rental housing exceeds the housing offer. This is why the CJE thinks it is necessary set up a coordinated strategy among all public administration bodies. This strategy should take the large number of vacant houses back to the housing market in Spain.
The Spanish government has only recently started (4
years ago) to become active in the field of housing. What explains
this relatively ‘late’interest in housing policy?
Housing in Spain has long been conceived as an investment rather than a right of citizens. Different governments, especially the conservatives, have taken decisions aimed at promoting the free market in property, giving fiscal benefits for buying rather than renting, liberalizing land, constructing less subsidized housing and promoting credit, which has had a strong effect on the indebtedness of families buying their houses.
Before winning the election, President José Luis Rodríguez
Zapatero expressed the need to create a Ministry of Housing and
facilitate access to the housing market for young people and all
others who have been excluded from the housing market because of
the rising prices. However, despite developing an Emergency Plan
and a Housing Plan to substantially increase public spending in the
field of housing, the Spanish Government, which only has limited
competencies in this area, cannot cope with the housing needs of
young people in Spain. Moreover, the construction of housing with
the consequently disproportionate increase in prices has been an
attractive investment for small savers and investors. The
importance of the sector in creating jobs also prevents government
authorities and economic powers to undertake the necessary reforms
in this area.
The high prices on the housing market prevent young people from leaving their parents’ house. This fact is apparently linked to all kinds of psychological and social problems. How do you see these negative ‘emancipation effects’ reflected in society?
The result of late emancipation, is the lengthening of teenage life and a lack of the assumption of responsibilities. This is one of the most damaging effects, which is reflected in the fact that Spain has the lowest birth rates in the developed world and lower worker mobility. Late emancipation also has negative effects on the productivity of our economy and development of our Welfare State, because the latter’s role is often fulfilled by the family. I believe particularly, that high housing prices hamper the resolution of social conflicts and have a very negative effect on achieving equality of women and their full autonomy in decision-making. Because there are still significant disparities on the labour market, women often remain economically dependent on their partner. Many victims of male violence argue that they did not leave their partner earlier because of their inability to cope with the costs of housing.
Many young people in Spain continue to live with
their parents for a long time. Financially, this must actually be
rather attractive for them because it should allow them to save a
lot of money. For the parents however, it must be quite a financial
burden. What could or should be the role of parents in encouraging
young people to live alone?
The family has played a vital role in Spain. In relation to various social problems, is has become the main social ‘cushion’. Because of the absence of social and economic welfare under the fascist dictatorship of Franco, the family has become very important..
Our democracy has faced major challenges, such as the need to ensure health, education and infrastructure. High unemployment and a low activity rate have also been important challenges in Spain. Meanwhile, access to housing and emancipation has been forgotten by the government. The Catholic importance o fthe family and the importance of home ownership as opposed to renting mean that many people do not develop their emancipatory project until they purchase a home.
What does the Spanish Youth Council do to tackle the
problem? Is action restricted to lobbying or are there other
activities as well? In how far can the Youth Council influence the
policy making process in this field?
The CJE plays an important role in the dialogue with the administration. It promotes networks that work on the problem of emancipation. On the other hand, the Youth Council provides training and organizes debates among its member organizations. The CJE has also undertaken some initiatives such as the creation of a Web Portal, http://www.ayudasviviendajoven.es/.The website aims at facilitating access to information about housing, such as renting, legislation and housing support. We also publish a weekly newsletter that provides information on the latest developments in housing policy. Moreover, the CJE analyses the development of the emancipation rates and the accessibility to housing for young people. The results of this analysis are published quarterly.
© EUKN, Simone Pekelsma
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