What do you think is the best solution to this problem?

What do you think is the best solution to this problem?

06-01-2022TERESA AYUGA

Last week, we learned that the price of housing in the Balearics rose in 2021 by 9.3%, that future housing developments in Mallorca cannot include detached properties, and that fourteen municipalities in Mallorca will between them have 356 new public housing units in 2022 - these latter to be available for affordable social renting.

In their differing ways, these reports all dealt with the same themes of housing shortage, the scarcity of land, and affordability. One of them, the new regulations for housing development, prompted the leader of the opposition at the Council of Mallorca, Llorenç Galmés of the Partido Popular, to observe that these will do nothing for the housing shortage.

Prices, he said, will continue to rise. And if anyone doubted this, there was the 9.3% confirmation, an increase that covered both new and used homes. Meanwhile, municipalities across the island were anticipating an average of 25 to 26 new social housing dwellings.

The Council’s amended territorial plan was principally directed by protection of land rather than by housing necessity. Fully understandable though a reduction in future urban growth is, the views of Llorenç Galmés were equally understandable. For developers, who have been saying they are happy and willing to undertake affordable housing projects, the reduction and legislative bells and whistles will come as further obstacles, the chief one of which has been and remains developable land.

The Balearic government and the Council of Mallorca face a huge challenge in respect of housing. They are well aware that they do. Housing is linked to the greatest long-term challenge of the lot - the impact of climate change - and to key economic issues. The government has been calling for a rejigging of the regional financing system to take account of overpopulation in the Balearics, while it has consistently championed quality of employment (meaning permanent, well-paid jobs) within the framework of a transitioning economic model. For tourism, this implies fewer tourists but what will still be a mass of sufficient size (unspecified) that generates greater spending per head. This tourism will thus contribute to a raised quality of employment. So the theory goes.

All these factors coalesce, and they demand what island politicians like to refer to as “courageous” decisions, when they say they are making them. But they aren’t all that courageous, given that the courage can be misplaced. The fact that banks and funds have been choosing to sell or rent out empty properties rather than allow the government to perform a kind of expropriation (for a maximum of seven years) is an indication of this. There has been nothing to prevent large owners putting properties on the market that they have been sitting on for years. Hoping that they will play ball doesn’t equate to courage.

The Council of Mallorca’s territorial plan eliminates, at a stroke, the possibility of developments of, say, a few luxury standalone villas, but townhouse or apartment developments of a luxury style are just as possible. The plan therefore does nothing for the general housing situation. Galmés was quite right, even if the Council can argue that this isn’t the main purpose of the plan. Perhaps so, but this would then point to an incoherence and absence of cross-institutional policy-making.

Another report from last week confirmed the total failure of an aspect of the government’s emergency measures to kick-start a Covid-ravaged economy. This was the conversion of obsolete hotels into social housing. The deadline for presenting projects was December 31. Not a single proposal was made, and no one can be surprised. Hoteliers weren’t against the idea. They have in fact expressed their support for conversion. But to social housing?

I have been in favour of conversion for years, though not necessarily to social housing, a point about which - as has been put to me - is that it could lead to virtual ghettoes. The argument is that conversion presupposes loss of jobs, and that it then houses people who struggle to find work, with all the social ramifications this would have. I get the argument, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it would nevertheless be a further consideration in the multi-factor and interlinked challenge.

Conversion should still be an option, but it requires a far more courageous approach and one that will satisfy all parties. The emergency measures only applied to hotels in so-called mature resorts, of which there are six, e.g. Magalluf. But why have such a limit? It makes no sense. As important would be the arrangement, which is where schemes from elsewhere offer a potential way forward.

One, as I’ve referred to previously, is in New York State, where the administration will purchase hotels to then be run by non-profit organisations; the apartments created will all be for affordable rent. There are other successful initiatives in the US.

Innovative ideas are needed. Everyone is acutely aware of the challenge. In which case, have the courage to confront it.

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