Hotels being converted into Social Housing. | JOSEP BAGUR GOMILA

It was and remains one of the stranger of policy announcements. The Balearic government’s budget for 2023 was to include an item of ten million euros to buy up “low-category” hotels and places of “tourism of excess” in Mallorca and Ibiza.

This was stated in October last year, since when we haven’t heard anything about it, other than for the Spanish Association of Hotel Managers and Directors (AEDH) having suggested that this “political decision” will result in hotels being “expropriated for ridiculous ‘fair prices’ “. Which assumes that there can actually be justification for expropriation.

This initiative cropped up during President Armengol’s speech on the first day of parliament’s general policy debate. The context was discussion of tourism. The purchase of obsolete tourism businesses, stated the president, would be a measure that “sets an example” of a path the government wishes to follow, namely a reduction in the number of accommodation places “without affecting employment or social cohesion”.

Fine, but what did the president intend doing with these obsolete premises once (if) the government gets its hands on them? There was no explanation, just as there was none to explain what the process might be for obtaining them. All one could conclude was that rather than sitting on empty premises, the government would convert them, the most logical conversion - in the case of hotels - being to residential accommodation.

Perhaps this vague policy was a response to the utter failure to encourage hotel owners to willingly step forward and offer their establishments for conversion. But whatever its purpose, if it was indeed intended for eventual conversion, the results would be miniscule. Even if “ridiculous fair prices” were paid, how many premises could ten million euros stretch to? How many converted homes would there therefore be?

A drop in the ocean, it was nonetheless indicative of the depths of these islands’ housing issues - a proposal of such negligibility when placed in the framework of a part of society which day by day seems to shed just a bit more of any sense of social justice, that panders to the jarring shallowness of wealth and of celebrity, that smugly congratulates itself on its own self-interests.

Francina Armengol did provide an explanation, meaningless though it was, as the ten million would be for the regeneration of spaces in Mallorca and Ibiza and thus part of the “most complex challenge” that the Balearics as a society faces - diversification of the economic model. A complex challenge it most definitely is, but then so also is that of decent and affordable housing.

It speaks, the ten million, that is, to an apparent impotence when it comes to serious initiatives. When the College of Architects in the Balearics recently pointed out that only 237 new social housing properties were built last year, this deflated the euphoria of new tenants of nineteen newly built social housing homes in Palma. Nineteen. Rather more positive were the 99 VPO social housing properties that Calvia town hall has been building in Santa Ponsa.

Referring to the Palma homes, Armengol said that “never has so much been invested in social housing”. “Once the machinery has started, it cannot be stopped.” Yes, there is investment, but as the College highlights, it is insufficient. Governments must take the lead with “adequate budgets”. And while there is more spending on housing, there are also the odd items in budgets for unexplained projects to do with obsolete hotels.

For the president, however, the machinery can be stopped, and dead in its tracks. Her party, PSOE, was one to have supported a Balearic parliament motion for capping rents. But this had to be presented to Congress, and Congress said no, which provoked a wave of criticisms of Armengol’s party and indeed of her. She had failed to impress upon PSOE in Congress the need for Balearic legislation.

The two PSOE deputies for the Balearics in Congress were among those who voted the proposal down. One of them, Pere Joan Pons, explained that this was because the Balearic proposal clashed with the Spanish government’s own housing law (currently being processed) and that it was in conflict with state powers on housing matters.

Fury was directed at Pons by the likes of Més and Podemos, but unfortunately he had a point, and it was a point which spoke even more loudly to the impotence in the Balearics. Powerless to effect specific legislation for a burning social issue, the Balearics have to wait for Madrid, and Madrid, thanks to the PSOE and Podemos government partners constantly arguing, has been dragging its heels.

Consideration for autonomy in housing matters really needs to be given. A national picture is alien to the regional, and especially the Balearics. While there are areas of Spain that have experienced depopulation, the Balearics are overpopulated, and the islands, moreover, are ill-equipped to confront this greatest challenge. The more one thinks about the ten million euros policy, if it is intended for conversion, the less strange it becomes, but only because of the powerlessness.