Expert article

Yes We Rent! - Leveraging vacant private property to build up a cooperative affordable housing scheme Mataró, Spain Housing

Edit 16 January 2020 by Nils Scheffler

Mataró has kicked off its project for a larger audience: The Learning event!

"Yes, we rent" project picture
Short description
Mataró faces the problem of “people without flats and flats without people”.

Lloguem is Catalan and stands for “Yes, we rent!”. Because Mataró, a city of 127,000 inhabitants 34 km north-east of Barcelona at the Costa del Maresme, faces the problem of a low number of rental flats affordable to people who both, do not receive social support to rent and cannot afford to buy one, as is typical in Spain. At the same time there are more than 3.500 vacant flats in the city. So what is not easier than making the vacant flats available to these people for a reasonable rent? For an owner, a rent is better than none.

Unfortunately, the situation is not as simple as that. Properties are left empty because owners do not have the resources to renovate them for the rental market or are afraid of tenants not paying their rents (as it is very difficult and takes a long time to evict “rental nomads”). Speculation may also be a reason leaving flats empty.

This is where the city of Mataró would like to kick in with the UIA project "Yes, we rent!": To activate vacant rental flats for the rental housing market and make them available at an affordable price to people who have difficulties on the rental housing market.

And not only that. The city wants to use the renovation of the flats to train troubled adolescents and provide them with better starting opportunities on the labour market (Spain has a high youth unemployment rate). In the medium term, a housing cooperative will be established, which will continue the project autonomously, based on a financially self-sustaining model (Mataró has a long-standing history of cooperatism). Thus, in the long term, sufficiently affordable rental housing in the city will be secured and vacancies reduced. This is all to be driven and implemented by the UIA project!

 

The Learning event of “Lloguem“: learning from experts and similar experiences

The Learning event of “Lloguem“: learning from experts and similar experiences 

So far the project has been discussed in a rather smaller circle. In order to make it known to a larger audience of experts and interested parties and to gain supporters, a ‘Learning event’ was organised.

On 12. December 2019, around 100 people gathered in the auditorium of the TecnoCampus in Mataró to share and discuss how public administrations can foster social renting housing. The event was organized by TecnoCampus, part of the Pompeu Fabra University and institution of knowledge generation, training, business and innovation development in the Maresme region and project partner of ‘Yes, we rent!’.

Starting with a presentation about the ‘Yes, we rent!’ project by Albert Terrones Ribas, Head of the Housing Department at Mataró City Council [presentation]. Salvador Milà, Director of the Department of the Presidency at Barcelona Metropolitan presented tools to implement affordable housing renting policies [presentation].

This was followed by two international examples:

  • The Quebec renting cooperatives and the German and French rent regulation, presented by Max Gigling, researcher in social housing policies [presentation];

  • The experience of Community Land Trusts as an example of cooperation between public administrations and civil society to promote affordable housing and community empowerment by Joaquín de Santos, European Projects Officer at Community Land Trust Brussels [presentation].

The input for the ‘Learning event’ was rounded up by a presentation from Chris Foye, Researcher at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence about “Ethically-speaking, how should we evaluate housing outcomes?” [presentation].

 

Workshop session

 

After a plenum discussion with the speakers the participants had sufficient food for thought for the three afternoon workshops:

  1. The role of public administration in fostering affordable housing in the rental market

  2. Rental housing cooperative

  3. Evaluation: measuring impact and methodology

 

Laia Carbonell, coordinator of the ‘Yes, we rent!’ project took the following finding from the workshops:

“The most important issue tackled was the need to define the beneficiaries of the project – tenants, members of the cooperative, etc. – to be able to evaluate the impact of the project on them. This is confronted with the difficulty to define them precisely at the moment, as the project envisages that the cooperative itself, as bottom-up movement, is the one to define the criteria to select the beneficiaries and its internal regulations. The process of formation of the cooperative will be extremely important for the project as it will define the rules of the cooperative. It demands a complex deliberation process amongst the different people confronted with similar but also different interests. Hence, this needs to be closely, but also flexible monitored by the evaluation team.”

 

Daniel Molina from Fundació Unió de Cooperadors, responsible for facilitating the set-up of the rental housing cooperative in Mataró, took the following insight from the workshops:

“The members of the housing cooperative will be the core of the cooperative and, hence, they must be placed at the centre of our work, founding the cooperative. Also it is important to devote all efforts and care in the creation of the cooperative, as we are creating a "community" – the community for our ‘Yes, we rent!’ approach.”

 

Albert Terrones Ribas, Head of the Housing Department at Mataró City Council, pointed out as a result of the workshops:

“Community-lead initiatives need to be grounded on a strong and sound social basis and public administrations need to adapt to the tempos and dynamics of the community to ensure the maturity and sustainability of these initiatives. In this regard, projects of this kind as ‘Yes, we rent!’ represent a change in policy-making and imply innovating towards co-responsibility in the management of the common goods.”

 

The high number of participants from different backgrounds and their active participation demonstrated that the ‘Yes, we rent!’ project and the topic of affordable housing and how public administration can foster new approaches to it, are highly relevant and of foremost importance.

However, the Learning Event revealed that the long-term approach and structures to be able to upscale the 'Yes, we rent approach!’ after the 3 year testing phase need already to be discussed and developed with the involved stakeholders now! Further, the discussions in the workshops have shown that there are a number of topics that need to be discussed and clarified in order to get the project off the ground. However, the lively participation in the event has shown that the participants are very interested in the successful implementation of the 'Yes, we rent!' project and to start a renting cooperative in Mataró.

 

Further information

To follow the project the city of Mataró has set up a project website. Further information in English can be retrieved from the UIA project homepage.

In February there will be a first complete overview of the project and its challenges in implementation. In June we will report about the experience with the owners and housing activation. In between you will receive further interesting news and milestones of the project implementation. So stay tuned!

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