Miloon Kothari, United Nations Expert on Adequate Housing concludes visit to Spain

Geneva, 13 December 2006

During the course of the mission, the Special Rapporteur visited Madrid, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Almeria, El Ejido, Roquetas de Mar, Seville, Barcelona and Zaragoza. Throughout his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with high level representatives from the State, autonomous regions and local authorities. He also met with a large number of representatives of civil society, including social movements, non-governmental organizations, academics, independent human right investigators, women’s groups and representatives of minorities, and received testimonies from people directly affected by the shortcomings in the implementation of the human right to adequate housing.

On the last day of his mission, the Special Rapporteur shared his preliminary observations with the Central authorities. The Special Rapporteur acknowledged the efforts that have been made by the Spanish authorities at all levels to address issues related to the realization of the right to adequate housing. He welcomed the creation of a Ministry of housing at State level and the subsequent efforts deployed by this Ministry to ensure decentralized responsibilities for housing and land within different levels of government. He also welcomed a number of positive developments on housing and land policies at regional and local levels, such as those in the Basque and Catalan regions.

The Special Rapporteur noted with satisfaction that Spain has legal provisions to protect the right to adequate housing, in particular the constitutional provisions recognizing the right to adequate housing. Article 47 of the Spanish Constitution states: “All Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing. The public authorities shall promote the necessary conditions and establish appropriate standards in order to make this right effective, regulating land use in accordance with the general interest in order to prevent speculation. The community shall have a share in the benefits accruing from the town-planning policies of public bodies”. The Special Rapporteur also welcomed progress made in developing and submitting draft legislations with regard to the implementation of the right to adequate housing and land. Nevertheless, he considered that these legislations and policies might prove ineffective as long as speculation continues to drive urban policies and planning and as long as public policy does not address the consequences of a totally unregulated market.

At the end of his mission, the Special Rapporteur has come to the conclusion that Spain is facing a housing crisis due to several factors.

Whether in terms of renting or purchasing houses, affordability is a major problem faced by a vast number of people living in Spain. The Special Rapporteur notes that a large proportion of people is paying a high percentage of their income on mortgages. The Special Rapporteur received a number of testimonies from persons that are defaulting their payments because of the increases. The situation does not seem to be sustainable in the long-term, and the Special Rapporteur fears that more people will experience payment problems in the future, affecting their right to adequate housing.

Spain seriously lacks public housing. The current housing programmes do not address the needs of the bottom 20-25% of the population. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that this is a conservative estimate given that Spain is the third poorest of the original fifteen States of the European Union and, according to the National Statistic Institute, figures on income distribution, released on 1 December 2006, 20% of Spaniards live below the poverty line. Virtually all of the very low proportion of rental housing is in the private sector with only 2% of dwellings classified as social compared to 10-30% in other countries of the European Union. Moreover, although around 18% less than in the private market, the prices of public rental housing tend to be too high for some sectors of the population. Paradoxically, Spain possesses the largest number of vacant houses of the European Union (3 to 4 million).

This situation has been aggravated by land and property speculation that has benefited large developers. For instance, in the Basque country, from 1995 to 2005, the prices of houses went up by 250% while the building costs went up by 35%. During the same period, mortgages rose from €650 million to €6,000 million.

The situation of housing has generated many problems. Among others, testimonies and information received by the Special Rapporteur indicates various discriminatory factors with regard to access to housing including gentrification of cities and resulting segregation and forced evictions. The Special Rapporteur was particularly troubled by testimonies and information received on physical and psychological violence that has been used to force people out of their homes for speculation purposes, a phenomenon known as “mobbing”.

Speculation and the benefits generated by housing have led to wide scale corruption. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that scandals, such as the one in Marbella, constitute only the tip of the iceberg. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the nomination of the Special Prosecutors to look into these practices but is of the view that more rigorous investigations and prosecution of those responsible in these land scandals, including developers, is necessary.

Although the difficult situation of housing affects all sectors of the population, some sections, such as the homeless, children and youth, the elderly, people with disabilities and health problems, persons with low incomes, refugees and asylum-seekers, migrants, minorities such as the Roma (Gypsy communities) and women (including women facing domestic violence and single mothers), have been more affected.

The Spanish Institute of Statistics estimated at the end of 2005 that there were 21,900 homeless persons.

Youth in Spain has been particularly affected by the current housing crisis. The average age of “housing emancipation” (leaving parents home) has risen to 34 years. According to the Youth Council of Spain, in average, 60.8% of a young person’s salary is needed to access private market housing, leading to long term debts.

The Special Rapporteur received first hand testimonies of migrant workers that live in informal dwellings, in building construction sites, overcrowded houses, facing discrimination to access housing or forced to rent beds by the hour (“hot beds”). He is puzzled that while the economy of some regions have largely benefited from migrants work force, little has been done to accommodate the housing needs of these persons.

The Special Rapporteur visited slums where Roma (Gypsy communities) have been living for decades. He also visited other communities living in housing estates experiencing poor housing and living conditions, overcrowding and discrimination. According to the 2001 Census, in Spain, 112,824 people resided in housing with no running water, 13,002 lived in run-down buildings, 13,660 persons lived in poor conditions and 25,839 in substandard housing. Given the negative impact of current speculation, these numbers may well have increased.

The Special Rapporteur believes that a fundamental reconsideration of economic and social policy is necessary. Policies and laws that flow from such a reconsideration should be underpinned by a human rights approach to housing and land. The legal basis of this approach already exists in the Spanish constitution and the international human rights instruments that Spain has ratified.

Housing should be recognized as a basic human right and not as is currently the case, a mere commodity, to be bought and sold. The Government in all its law and policies needs to acknowledge the right to housing and the social function of property. All sectors of society, including developers, constructors, real estate agents, civil society groups and other public and private actors, must play a role in the realization of this basic human right.

At this preliminary stage, the Special Rapporteur made several preliminary recommendations, including:

· To avail of means of justiciability and efficient complaint mechanisms to permit the implementation of the right to adequate housing contained in the Spanish Constitution and international instruments.
· To heavily penalize practices such as real estate “mobbing”, corruption, discrimination and other unethical behaviour in the real estate sector. Proper mechanisms to investigate, sanction and redress should be made fully available to the citizen.
· To adopt a comprehensive and coordinated national housing policy based on human rights and the protection of the most vulnerable. The Special Rapporteur calls for an indivisibility of human rights approach while articulating policies on adequate housing. There is also a need to integrate social dimension in all housing and urban planning policies.
· The Special Rapporteur also calls for a moratorium on the reclassification of lands in until the new Land Law, with stronger implementation strategies on the rights to housing and land than is reflected in the current draft, comes into force.
· To urgently address the adverse situation of the lack of housing and social services including for people with low-incomes, homeless, migrants and Roma communities, at all levels of Government.
· To provide various types of accommodation to include shelters, emergency housing, boarding houses and transitional housing.
· To increase the availability of rental housing, through more efficient utilization of vacant buildings, but also through the building of a publicly managed stock of rental housing targeted at meeting the demands of the low-income population and guaranteeing security of tenure for tenants which under the current law does not exist for more than a five-year period.
· To seriously reflect upon the functioning of the market, the current home-ownership model, including subsidies targeted to the higher end of the housing market, and its possible negative impact on low-income housing options.
· To engage in a genuine and wide consultation with civil society on designing policies, strategies and planning in housing and urbanization by all level of state authorities.

The final mission report including recommendations of the Special Rapporteur will be presented over the course of next year to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The document will be made publicly available on the Internet.

For information on the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, please consult the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at: