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UPV/EHU

2012/11/21

The effective exercising of the right to housing is calling for a new relationship between housing and the market

In her thesis, the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country lecturer Pilar Garrido analyses the right to housing and the material conditions of the Spanish property market

She is highly critical of the regulatory implementation of the Spanish property market. “In Spain, the right to housing is now subordinate to the understanding of the home as an economic asset, because the speculative market traditionally comes into play,” she explains. “The implementation has not been shaped with housing understood as an asset that is the object of a social right, and that it has to be protected insofar as it is a social right." These are some of the conclusions that Pilar Garrido provides in her PhD thesis entitled: "The Right to Housing: between the Constitution and the Market.”(El derecho a la vivienda: entre Constitución y mercado).

As a lecturer in Constitutional and Autonomous Community Law at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, Pilar Garrido’s thesis analyses not only the significance of the constitutional right to housing, but also its evolution and regulatory implementation in Spain, and stresses, in particular, the examination of the material conditions of the Spanish property market, which she describes as “running counter to the exercise of the right to housing”.

The analysis starts from the basis of the complexity of exercising the right to housing, caused, among other things, by the relationship between housing and the market. “For citizens to acquire a home, the public authorities must implement certain steps, which means intervening in two assets that are private: land, on one hand, and housing, on the other; and these markets are, in turn, complex. In the end, it all leads to a collision with one of the key rights, which is the right to property,” she points out. However, she does not believe that the right to property is incompatible with a social vision of the right to housing, and urges the public authorities to intervene and reform the property market.

Garrido highlights three features in her analysis of the Spanish property market: the lack of a public housing service (way behind the European average), the lack of control in the financing of the housing market, and the make-up of housing tenure. In Spain, 90% of the available housing is privately owned property.

She stresses that these features have nothing to do with Spanish idiosyncrasy. “In the 1950-1960 period, 50% of the available housing in Spain was rented. In other words, the public authorities have been the ones that have deliberately decided to encourage citizens to be property owners and to turn the residential market into an owners’ market, and that has taken place through specific, regulatory moves,” based, according to Garrido, “on the huge lie that the price of housing was never going to fall”. “Everything fitted together very well, " she adds, "until the bubble burst".

Change of paradigm

Garrido holds the view that the main social function of housing is to provide families with accommodation and that “if all the public moves were to work from that perspective, the result would be totally different.” In four words, Garrido sums up the configuration of a market that would be in line with the social function of housing: Balanced, “not to have a market that only understands privately-owned housing”; Fair “we have to ensure that each person can enjoy accommodation in accordance with his/her economic level without being forced to go into debt”; Sustainable, “which has to do with the use of unoccupied housing”: and Stable and Safe, “the person living in a house has to be guaranteed a certain stability and security for him/her to set up home there.”

As far as Garrido is concerned, these are the elements “that have to be turned upside down in the regulatory framework,” if one really wants to address the social function of housing. However, she does not believe we are heading in that direction. She rates the current situation as “diabolical” and regards the measures against eviction approved by the Spanish Government as mere "papering over the cracks". “There is no will to carry out any reform with a minimum of depth,” she stresses. “The measures are going to favour people in very extreme situations of course, but if we look at it from a more global perspective, we continue to be in the same system”. Garrido says that housing continues to be understood in terms of goods and economic profitability, leaving social profitability on one side. “If only I were wrong,” she concludes.

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