Nearly 37,000 people are homeless in Spain. Although the new housing law will help improve their situation, there is still room for improvement in the fight against homelessness.
The passage of the first housing law in Spain, the 2023 Housing Act, has been one of the most talked about topics in recent days. The main goal of this law, passed in April, is to establish a general and homogeneous framework to create a housing policy that can prevent and solve inequality in the country, especially among the most vulnerable groups. After several years of debate and negotiation, the law is expected to have a significant impact on the Spanish housing market.
Having a national housing law establishes certain basic standards and criteria at the national level, although how they are implemented in each region through different public policies may differ. This national regulatory framework will facilitate the coordination of the various regions’ housing policies and make it easier to address issues such as prevention and interventions with homeless people in terms of the right to decent housing.
Housing is an essential and fundamental good for social welfare, given that it is where private and family life take place. It also plays a vital role in how cities are structured. From this perspective, a housing law must have a real and significant impact on the homeless, guaranteeing the right to housing and addressing the structural barriers that contribute to residential exclusion.
Homelessness figures in Spain
Homelessness is a problem that ends up dehumanizing people and affecting their dignity. Not defending the right to decent housing can thus be understood as a government failure.
In Spain alone, the records show that 28,552 homeless people spent the night in different shelter services (hostels or temporary residential resources) in 2022, according to a survey conducted by the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE).
However, according to data from organizations such as HOGAR SÍ or Cáritas, this figure increases to nearly 37,000 when people who sleep rough, without going to a homeless facility, are included. Thus, one of the keys to tackling this problem is guaranteeing the right to housing.
Advances and shortcomings of the new law
The 2023 Housing Act has some positive aspects when it comes to prevention and intervention in situations of residential exclusion. For example, it includes measures to protect and promote the public housing stock (in Spain, only 2.5% of housing is public compared to the EU average of 9.3%), implement rent control, delay evictions, and reform the Land and Urban Renewal Act.
Additionally, Article 14 refers to homeless people, requiring authorities to implement specific measures to promote the inclusion of these people in their housing policy programs. However, this mention is insufficient when it comes to guaranteeing the right to housing for a homeless person.
In this sense, the law falls short. A housing law should focus on eradicating homelessness by proposing effective solutions for those who need it most, whether through public housing (i.e., housing managed by government services) or through the provision of financial aid to enable the person to access the private housing market, as urged by the United Nations.
Another aspect of the law with room for improvement is the taxation of social housing providers, which are currently considered to be at a disadvantage compared to for-profit providers. Previously, two pioneering organizations in the fight against homelessness in Spain, HOGAR SÍ and Provivienda, had already proposed amendments to improve the law, focusing on tax issues.
Social housing providers are at a disadvantage compared to for-profit providers
In this regard, implementing a favorable tax system would make it easier for these organizations to attract housing to be used in their leasing programs. This, in turn, could facilitate the development of housing associations (associations that provide low-cost social housing) in Spain, an increasingly common mechanism in Europe.
Housing associations promote access to housing for people in situations of high residential vulnerability or homelessness through the provision of social housing and assistance programs. Tax benefits could also enable such associations and other social organizations to allocate more resources to providing a greater number of affordable housing units.
A multifaceted problem
It is essential to address the problem of homelessness from a broad perspective, recognizing the different forms it can take. Without a thorough understanding of the phenomenon, it is impossible to find mechanisms or public policies that can offer an effective response to a problem affecting around 37,000 people in Spain.
We need a broad perspective that recognizes the different forms homelessness can take
That is why it would be appropriate to include additional definitions in the law, such as those proposed by HOGAR SÍ and Provivienda. “Chronic homelessness” (i.e., long-term homelessness), “social housing providers” and “overcrowding” (when too many people live in a single dwelling) are examples.
This last definition leads us to “hidden homelessness” (situations of substandard housing, settlements, sublet rooms without any type of security, etc.), a situation that is hard to identify, but which requires specific strategies to detect and intervene in. To this end, it would be highly advisable to include it in the law.
Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that this law will not work on its own, but rather is simply one more tool at the national level. For it to succeed, the coordination and complementarity of the public housing policies of each Spanish region with social, employment, and other policies will be vital. Only then can homelessness be effectively addressed. Public policies must place housing and the right to decent housing at the center of the fight against homelessness.
In short, although other improvements or proposals could be incorporated to address this issue, the passage of the 2023 Housing Act in Spain is a major step forward in the search for solutions to inequality in access to housing and is expected to have a positive effect on the current Spanish housing market and the most excluded groups, including the homeless.
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