Safe house?

Safe house?

Neither side has pointed out the obvious: that the housing issue in Spain is inextricably tied to the problem of unemployment, especially youth unemployment

Friday, 21 April 2023, 11:53


Both Spain's left and right wings have proposed solutions to the country's housing problem this week, especially as it impacts young people. The Socialist-led coalition wants to open up 50,000 foreclosed homes as low-rent properties and build or refurbish another 43,000 with funds from the EU's Next Generation scheme; but the PP sees this move as "populist and interventionist" and instead wants to help young Spaniards purchase in the existing property market, only about 3% of which consists of public stock.

Neither side, though, has pointed out the obvious: that the housing issue in Spain is inextricably tied to the problem of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, which at 32% (for 15-25 year-olds) is the highest in the EU. Lowering rental prices is a top-down approach to increasing the age of emancipation in Spain; but it won't work unless complemented by bottom-up changes - that is, higher salaries, greater job security and more training and vocational opportunities for young Spaniards and the long-time unemployed.

There are probably some of these foreclosed homes near you. If so, you can see for yourself the problem with the government's proposal: a lot of these concrete shells, foreclosed and abandoned during the last financial crisis, are far from habitable. In fact, it's estimated that, of the 50,000 to be designated by the coalition as low-cost flats or houses, only about 9,000 are ready to live in.

PP president Alberto Feijoo, then, wasn't entirely wrong when he characterised the government's move as "insufficient and inefficient". You don't really help someone on a low salary or with no income at all by offering them a decrepit structure in a ghost neighbourhood at a fantastically low price. Who's going to pay for the house to be made habitable? What if squatters move in next door and refuse to leave, as they currently can by Spanish law? What sort of life will people living in these foreclosed homes actually have?

Feijoo's alternative proposal - giving young Spaniards 1,000 euros to help with moving out of their parents' homes - has more appeal than Pedro Sánchez's. But it also highlights the fact that rocketing rental prices are just one aspect of Spain's housing-unemployment problem. Financial assistance from the state, as a first-time renter or buyer, certainly gives you more choice than the Socialists' offer to install you in a cut-price ruin - but it doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to afford the ongoing payments.

Problematic jobless rates, low wages and prohibitively high rents (especially in tourist-orientated cities such as Malaga) are all part of the same multi-dimensional problem.

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