Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU

EU Housing and Urban Development Ministers sign the Gijón Declaration to ensure access to decent and affordable housing

News - 2023.11.14

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The declaration reflects a commitment to continue working towards a common goal: ensuring access to decent and affordable housing for all, promoting more sustainable, healthy and inclusive built environments, and recognising the transformative role of high-quality architecture.

The adopted declaration reflects the success of the initiative of the ministry and the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU to put housing and urban development on the European agenda at the highest level. "The importance of this meeting in itself is that the EU Council is addressing the issues of housing and urban development, two issues of the first order for our citizens and a priority for the Government of Spain", said the acting Minister for Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Raquel Sánchez, during the press conference. There is no specific training in the Council of the EU on these issues.

In this regard, the Gijón Declaration, signed in the framework of the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU, recognises the current challenges in housing and urban development in Europe, and underlines the need to strengthen the promotion and implementation of coordinated public policies to address all these challenges from a comprehensive perspective, improving governance and collaboration between member states.

The minister welcomed the positive reception of this declaration, which is a first step towards the creation and consolidation of a network of experts, both from the member states and the European Commission, to promote the exchange of experiences and good practices. These initiatives thereby underline the "commitment to improving social and territorial cohesion, a key aspect for achieving true integration in Europe", he said.

On this point, Raquel Sánchez applauded the fact that Belgium will be taking up Spain's baton and initiative and will also hold a meeting to discuss housing during its presidency of the Council of the EU, which begins in January 2024.

The inter-ministerial meeting organised by Spain consisted of two working sessions: Affordable, Inclusive and Quality Housing for All and National Urban Policies for Sustainable and Inclusive Built Environments. In the first, in addition to analysing the challenges of access to housing in a context of rising prices and a lack of affordable supply, the problem of short-term rentals was addressed. In the second session, the importance of aligning urban policies with sustainability, energy efficiency and the principles of the New European Bauhaus was discussed.

Young people at the centre of European housing policies

Entitled Housing for all in Sustainable, Healthy and Inclusive Built Environments, the Gijón Declaration puts on the table the need to adapt housing policies to different urban or rural areas and contexts, paying special attention to the most vulnerable groups of people and also to middle-income groups. In this regard, it stresses the importance of promoting action measures specifically aimed at young people, one of the groups with the greatest difficulties in accessing housing throughout Europe.

Although this is an issue that affects the EU as a whole, problems of access to housing for young people occur in a particular way in certain countries. In the case of Spain, the average age of emancipation is 29.8 years, more than three years above the EU average (26.5).

For this reason, and in line with the commitments made in the declaration, the ministry has already implemented a series of measures to help facilitate access to housing for the new generations. The minister shared these initiatives with her European counterparts during the working sessions of the meeting.

For example, she cited as a success story the recently approved Housing Law, a pioneering regulation in the current democratic term, which offers the competent territorial administrations instruments to increase the supply of housing at affordable prices, especially for those with greater difficulties, such as young people, and with a particular focus on the areas where there is greater tension between supply and demand, something that is also included in the declaration.

She also explained the State Plan for Access to Housing 2022-2025, the Bono Alquiler Joven (Youth Rental Voucher) and the Housing Plan for Affordable Renting. The latter aims to bring 184,000 affordable rental homes onto the market through different schemes and formulas that encourage public-private collaboration in operations. Of these, according to Raquel Sánchez, more than 70,000 homes are already under construction.

She also mentioned the new line of ICO-Mitma guarantees, which will allow young people up to 35 years of age and families with dependent minors of any age to partially cover the mortgage on their primary residence.

European funds, key to housing rehabilitation

In the current context of climate change, it is essential to include sustainability criteria in the new housing and urban development policies of the EU. The building stock must be adapted to meet future demands in terms of functionality, accessibility, energy efficiency and conservation.

Therefore, and following the path set by the European Green Pact, the Gijón Declaration recognises the importance of continuing to promote the rehabilitation and improvement of the existing housing stock and encourages taking advantage of the opportunities offered by EU funding, via the multiannual financial framework and the NextGenerationEU (NRF) funds, to promote public housing and residential rehabilitation programmes.

"Something that is already being done by the ministry", the minister pointed out. Notably, Mitma is earmarking €1 billion from the Recovery Plan for the construction of 20,000 social and affordable rental homes in energy efficient buildings, and it will also have a further €4 billion from the Addendum to continue promoting affordable, decent and sustainable housing stock. Also through the Recovery Plan, the ministry is putting together a programme to finance with €3.42 million the integral rehabilitation of residential buildings and housing, which among its objectives includes reducing non-renewable energy consumption by at least 30%.

Addressing housing from a holistic perspective

The Declaration also includes among its objectives ensuring healthy, inclusive and environmentally sustainable urban development, identifying as essential the strengthening of the territorial dimension of housing policies.

"Homes are not isolated, but are part of a complex network of towns and cities that must have a quality, sustainable and inclusive environment," explained Raquel Sánchez.

The document thereby recognises the need to address the challenge of housing and urban development from an integrated, place-based approach. Furthermore, it identifies as tools to achieve this the urban policies based on the UN's New Urban Agenda and the EU's Urban Agenda, two international strategies that propose a common and coordinated response to global problems such as climate change, social inequality and migratory movements.

"It is in our towns and cities that we face the consequences of major global challenges. Challenges that require policies that respond to the global from the local level", stressed the head of Mitma.

The acting minister presented the Spanish Urban Agenda as a pioneering example of national policy among the countries of the EU, which is being applied with resounding success by local authorities and which "represents a new social contract with citizens to build coexistence and promote gender equality and social and employment inclusion", she said.

Advancing the Urban Agenda for the EU

In addition, at the meeting, the member states approved the agreements reached during the meeting of directors general held last October in Granada, which established the steps to continue advancing in the development of the Urban Agenda for the EU.

In this regard, the themes of "Water-sensitive city" and "Local plans for decarbonising housing, heating and cooling" have been selected to launch two possible new partnerships in the coming year, and it has been agreed to propose the following themes as possible priority urban themes: urban planning and sprawl, health, cultural heritage, skills for urban transitions and inclusive and socially resilient cities, towns and neighbourhoods.

Including these agreements on the agenda is a sign of the priority interest of this ministry, within the framework of the Spanish presidency for the Council of the EU, to promote better legislation, facilitate funding and promote a greater exchange of knowledge on issues relevant to cities.

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