Son Busquets in Palma, which has been a focus for conversion into housing for years. | Archive

It was originally a plan of Marc Pons. He was the Balearic housing minister before the Sánchez administration in Madrid discovered a prime vacancy in the ministry for ecological transition. Off went Marc and in came Josep Marí, a fellow from Ibiza who, or so some claimed, was being given a touch of public-consciousness awareness-raising in advance of the 2023 elections. The PSOE chosen one to run as president of the Council of Ibiza, the awareness-raising failed.

The portfolio that Marc handed over to Josep contained one of the grand schemes that governments present with great hullabaloo but which all too often turn out to be dismal failures. Had Marc stayed in situ, we will never know whether this scheme wouldn't have been the flop it manifestly was by the time the voters went to the polls. The government was all for expropriating empty homes from large property owners. The devils of the piece were primarily banks and what the government never tired of referring to as vulture funds.

Stick a vulture in and funds are portrayed as unashamedly ravenous. Stripping the carcass of badly needed affordable housing, the Pons (later Marí) solution was to clip their wings, expropriate properties for a period of seven years and make apartments available to a suffering population crying out for social renting.

Out with the old government and in with the new. Marta Vidal received the battered housing briefcase from Josep. Digging around among the reports, she unearthed the one that had been marked grand scheme but which now had its pages torn at the edges and figures that had been crossed out. Thirty-six. This was the number at the end of the report. Thirty-six homes that had been expropriated for social renting.

Marta crunched it up and chucked the report into the ministerial bin for paper recycling. No more of this nonsense, she didn't actually say but might have. Not that it was total nonsense. There was some merit. But a problem was that the vultures and their equally gluttonous banking friends had ways of not revealing all their empty homes or decided to get shot of them so as to prevent the government getting its hands on them. This was only a problem. There was also, for example, the condition of some of these homes.

Thirty-six. It wasn't as though the PSOE housing ministry or PSOE as a whole had been agitating for restrictions on foreigners buying properties in the Balearics. But when government partners and an opposition group, El Pi, started to do just that, the foundations of another grand scheme were being laid, one to divert attention from the vultures gliding contentedly over urban centres.

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A grand scheme, as was admitted, which had no legs unless Brussels decided to grow some, the grandness lay more with the messaging than with practicalities. Something was being done, even if the something wasn't about to turn old properties in the Tramuntana, for which Mallorcan owners could no longer afford the maintenance and were thus grateful to foreigners bearing seven-figure gifts, into homes fit for the Mallorcan working and middle classes.

There'll be no more of that nonsense either, huffed Marta, as she showed Josep the ministerial door. Certainly not. She was hurriedly placing her feet under the table and starting the draft for the emergency housing decree. No one denied that there was a housing emergency, but this wasn't to be a housing emergency decree. It was an emergency housing decree. The word order was crucial. Emergency, urgent, the government's timetable was to decree before it had been in office for 100 days. We're doing something. It's a grand scheme.

There is some potential with this decree (once it is actually approved). It has more legs than a foreign-buyer ban ever did. It isn't as futile as taking on bankers and vultures. But some of it? Try this one. Someone from the housing ministry turns up at a community of owners meeting and says it would be a good idea to add a couple of floors. Building up! Just think about it. No need for precious land to be devoured. The meeting as one turns to the ministry representative and asks - "You want to do what?"

Who the hell is going to agree to this, to all the noise and the disruption? Communities of owners are to be allowed to have their say. Damn right they are.

The ideas for conversion into smaller apartments shouldn't be dismissed, even if opposition parties have criticised a lack of dialogue on the government's behalf and have argued that the decree's measures will treat housing as a marketable rather than a social good and be open to the avarice of speculators. But what of some of this conversion? It's not all about dividing houses up, as we're back on the hotel conversion trail, the very one that has run dry on more than one occasion before the legislative ink has had a chance to dry.

The government is proud that its emergency activity won't cost it a cent. But shouldn't the government actually be planning public investment in housing? Instead, it has a grand scheme. We'll see. Developers reckon that the measures could mean some 3,000 new apartments. A welcome number, if they genuinely stick to the affordable housing guidelines. There again, the last government eyed up 2,000 homes from the banks and the vultures. What might we end up with from this grand scheme? 54?