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Barcelona one step closer to scrapping social-housing quota for new developments

The new team running the city have approved a proposal to reform the 30pc social-housing quota for new developments that led to a collapse in new home building in the Catalan capital.

Back in 2018 the hard-left party then in charge of the city, Barcelona en Comù, headed by Mayoress Ada Colau, introduced a social-housing quota of 30pc on all new developments and renovations above 600 sqm that they promised would lead to 400 affordable new homes every year. As was predicted by the policy’s critics at the time, it led over time to a collapse in all new home building, with planning applications down 80% this year. 

Colau was ousted after municipal elections in May, and Jaume Collboni, the new Mayor of Barcelona, from the centre-left Socialist party, knows the policy has been a disaster but, for political reasons, is moving slowly to change it. Shortly after taking office he said he would review the social-housing quota in the autumn because it “has not delivered the promised results.”

Now we are heading into autumn Collboni appears to have taken a step closer towards neutering Colau’s social-housing quota by approving a proposal by the main opposition party Trias per Barcelona to reform the quota to make it more “flexible.” 

The idea is to replace a fixed quota of 30pc of all new developments and renovations above 600 sqm dedicated to so-called affordable / social housing with a formula that takes account of other variables like the district’s housing situation, the location of the development, and the residential density allowed.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea that developers should contribute to affordable housing in return for public licences that they profit from, but Colau’s policy was typically counter-productive. The only thing in its favour was simplicity (all developments of 600sqm and above). 

We will have to wait and see how the city government ends up changing a policy that both spectacularly failed to deliver social housing and caused a collapse in the supply of all new housing in Barcelona. I suspect Collboni will go for a complicated fudge with lots of loop-holes allowing developers to get building again whilst protecting him from the inevitable attacks of selling out to speculators, greedy capitalists and fascists that will rain down on him from the hard left. But Barcelona desperately needs new homes, so any step in the right direction is welcome.