October 22, 2020

from pending subject to opportunity



The plan of Recovery, Transformation and Resilience of the Spanish Economy, presented a few days ago by Pedro Sánchez, includes as the fourth political action by budgetary weight, the “Urban and rural agenda, fight against depopulation and development of agriculture”. One of the projects it includes is a “Housing rehabilitation and urban regeneration plan”, which was part of the coalition agreement between PSOE and United We Can in December 2019 and that was already previously announced, but that in this new context is reinforced with more ambitious objectives, until reach 500,000 homes to be rehabilitated in the next three years. To achieve them, it will be necessary to implement processes that require time, resources, a lot of management and citizen participation, especially in a country with 79% of the homes owned and 69% -17.2 million homes- located in buildings multi-family.

At this point, there is a general consensus: the rehabilitation of the building contributes to reducing energy consumption and with it, the emission of greenhouse gases. It is also an opportunity to improve the accessibility of buildings, installing lifts, and the comfort and interior habitability of homes, a critical issue that the confinement has highlighted.

After years of regulatory push for rehabilitation, such as the so-called “3R Law” of 2013, from the real estate crisis that began in 2008, the truth is that the rate of homes rehabilitated annually in Spain is still much lower than from nearby countries such as France and Germany, reaching about 25,000 homes a year according to studies by the 3R City Observatory. Inevitably, the question arises: how is it intended to achieve the rehabilitation of 500,000 homes in three years that the announced Recovery Plan marks?

In Spain we have a very elaborate strategic framework that is well aligned with the objectives of the European Green Deal, which calls on Member States to promote a “Wave of Renewal” (Renovation Wave) that allows to achieve the global objective of having a decarbonized built park by 2050. This framework includes the recently awarded “Long-term strategy for energy rehabilitation in the building sector in Spain“, aligned in turn with the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC), which marks a rate of 120,000 homes rehabilitated per year, five times higher than the current rate in our country. However, recent experience tells us that something is wrong when it comes to carrying out plans, when moving from paper to action.

In order to achieve the ambitious state objectives of housing rehabilitation, it will be necessary, in addition to coordination between departments at the state level (IDAE, MITMA, MITECO, Treasury), that these objectives are specified at the regional and local scales, and specific strategies of deployment at the municipal level, within the framework of the urban regeneration needs of each locality. Therefore, as already indicated in 2018 by the independent experts gathered in the Working Group on Rehabilitation (GTR), the municipalities are presented as key pieces of action in a new institutional cooperation framework, which would allow coordinating and focusing the strategic efforts and the public investment effort, currently disaggregated in various sources, such as the State Housing Plan, the aid from IDAE, FEDER-EDUSI funds, local grants, etc.

Thus, it would be advisable for the General Administration of the State and the Autonomous Communities to promote the drafting of Local Regeneration and Rehabilitation Strategies, through aid for their drafting and their obligation to access subsidies and available funds. It could start with the municipalities with the greatest rehabilitation needs, measured in a simple way by the percentage of residential buildings prior to 1980: according to INE data, the 50 municipalities with the highest concentration of dwellings prior to 1980 add up to a total of 4,633,030 , and represent 60% of the total volume of homes of that age in Spain. For this, it would be necessary to establish a shared reference methodology throughout the country, with common indicators of progress and impact that allow evaluating its implementation.

In addition, given that rehabilitation and regeneration require a significant management effort in the processes, it is important to provide municipalities with resources to establish support offices, which include technical, social and administrative profiles, for the deployment of strategies and its concretion in concrete plans by neighborhood or homogeneous area. In this sense, the experiences in Navarra (led by Nasuvinsa and the Housing and Building Rehabilitation Offices, with the figure of the Global Intervention Projects), Catalonia (with the Neighborhood Plans) and the Basque Country (with the figure of the Municipal Urban Rehabilitation Societies, and pilot projects such as SmartEnCity, AGREE Y Opengela) can serve as a reference.

On the other hand, the investment effort necessary to achieve the rehabilitation of 500,000 homes in three years, and the complete decarbonization of the residential stock in 2050 that the EU requests, will not be able to be covered with public subsidies. It is therefore necessary to facilitate the financing for rehabilitation through credits or other formulas to those owners who may have them, and to focus public aid on situations of greatest need.

But the most important thing to start home renovation processes is to understand that they represent an important alteration in the lives of the people who inhabit these homes and neighborhoods. They are processes that generate discomfort and uncertainty, since they concern such an important element of daily life as housing; Furthermore, they involve a significant investment for families, which in many cases they cannot undertake without help. For this reason, Public Administrations must contribute to creating an environment of trust, vital for the proper development of the process. This includes close, transparent and fluid communication, a stable and easy-to-manage aid framework, an adequate financing system, and attention to the diversity of family and personal situations.

Until now, rehabilitation has been carried out from a general approach (“coffee for all”): rehabilitation aid is published, which is requested by those communities of more organized owners with greater resources to finance the part not covered by these aid. This has made it possible to rehabilitate part of the residential buildings, mainly those located in the Ensanche neighborhoods built in the 19th century such as the Salamanca, Abando or Eixample neighborhoods, with a medium-high income profile. However, in the neighborhoods where there is a greater need for housing rehabilitation, mainly built between 1940 and 1979 (the year in which the regulations requiring the inclusion of thermal insulation in the facades were published), there is still a majority of buildings to be rehabilitated.

Specifically, according to the reports of the aforementioned GTR, 10 million main houses should be rehabilitated in the next 30 years, with an average annual investment of 7,500 million euros / year, which represents approximately 0.6% of the country’s GDP , generating an average of 100,000 jobs per year. No other activity related to the Green Deal it is capable of generating so much employment. Quality employment, not relocatable, and innovative.

There is the great challenge and the great opportunity. Hopefully, in addition to setting ambitious goals, we will be able to direct resources appropriately to achieve them.

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