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It’s time to take action, it’s time for change

By Hans Lenz

On May 28th, the residents of the Balearic Islands voted, leaving it completely clear that our Autonomous Community demands change and is not holding back with their demands. The housing sector is where we can see the clearest evidence of the delicate situation that the islands find themselves in. Although the islands are drowning in attractions and are capable of producing housing of the highest quality, they fail spectacularly when it comes to thinking about their own people and creating affordable spaces for their residents.

Housing and territory have been and will continue to be two of the main points of debate and ideological tension in the Balearic Islands. It is perfectly understandable when there is limited space and such high international demand. However, the community is demanding better management and solutions; they want to put an end to the never-ending ideological discussions that have got us into this agonising and unsustainable situation. We must stand up to our worst enemy for the wellbeing of the residents of the Balearic Islands. Social housing is unaffordable and practically nonexistent, which is unfairly forcing people to pay unacceptable prices.

There is no magic solution when looking for answers to such complex, longstanding issues. The ballot boxes made it clear that society no longer believes in the miraculous and implausible formulas that were announced during the electoral campaign. We prefer to study management models that actually work. Sometimes all we have to do is stop burying our heads in the sand, look up and see what is happening around us. The problem that we are experiencing here exists in many other places and we should simply spend some time taking a serious and objective look at them to understand which formulas are the ones that work and then apply them to our own situation. The Netherlands, Manhattan, Vienna, and many other places manage urban planning with models that we can use as a reference. We have exported a tourism model to the rest of the world and now it’s time to import efficient and modern housing models to solve the problem.

The Partido Popular has distanced itself from the simplistic shortcuts that are not without a certain populism that has marked the formulas of the “Pacte de Govern”: limiting purchases by non-resident foreigners, intervention in the rental market via the Housing Law approved just before the elections, and the ongoing restrictions on growth with the universal argument of environmental protection. The new proposal that the residents of the Balearic Islands have opted for is the management model that makes us believe we will soon see tensions relax with regard to housing access in the autonomous community.

It will be hard work because there are many obstacles in the way that could revert the situation in which we find ourselves. The support for putting empty housing on the market using tax incentives, reconverting spaces that aren’t being used like empty commercial units into housing and matching the skyline of Palma, will undoubtedly be a huge relief. But it won’t be enough. We need to demand more.

The Bank of Spain has just warned us that if we don’t move quickly with the scheduled development of land, we won’t be able to tackle the current lack of housing, nor the increase indicated by the INE (National Statistics Institute). Whether we like it or not, in the next 15 years, the population of the Balearics will be one of the populations with most growth in Spain. We will go from 1.2 million people to 1.5.

The chronic lack of affordable housing for residents will drastically increase and we won’t have – by any means – the productive capacity to handle it. The current production of housing would have to double from 3,500 homes per year to 7,000, as calculated by the Balearic Islands Government’s ex Directorate General of Housing, Eduardo Robsy. Undoubtedly, within that figure, multi-family housing has to increase exponentially and so-called ‘luxury’ housing will decrease.

According to the data from The College of Architects of the Balearic Islands, in the 90´s we built 3.6 homes per new resident, and for the last 10 years or more, it has been only 0.3 new homes. Even if it is unpopular, we have to urgently approve the scheduled developments in the Balearics so that they can move forward. Palma is hiding up to 60% of social housing that will come to the surface in a period of two to three years if we get to work quickly. It will be impossible to accomplish such a huge goal without brave and forceful measures. The main raw material used to build housing is the land and we need to make it available urgently.

An Emergency Housing Decree could resolve the problem of equation and speed required by such a tremendous challenge. We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of waiting another two years to move forward with these developments. It will also be an opportunity to regulate the types of housing required by modern society in the 21st century: student housing, senior living, professional housing, etc. It will be a time to reassess our densities, increase in building height and significantly improve efficiency in managing the few resources we have. Everything needs to be aimed at building housing at prices that Balearics resident can comfortably afford.

All the know-how of a very competitive sector when building luxury housing, all the capacity of a financial sector that is highly sensitised to the Balearics problem and now a clear political change, have all established the objective of solving this problem. There won’t be any miracles; it will take hard work that will bring unpopular decisions with it, but the social wellbeing and a better future for the generations to come deserve these sacrifices. It’s time to take action, it’s time to make a change.