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Interview with Marta Vidal, Housing, Land and Transport Regional Minister

Interview carried out on 11/9/2023 by Paula Serra

Marta Vidal bravely leads one of the most challenging ministries in the Government of the Balearic Islands: housing, urban development and transport. She welcomes us freshly landed from Menorca; She has three children and today is an important day, as school is starting.

As a law graduate, she is specialised in administrative, property, urban planning and tourism law. This is her first foray into high-level regional politics and she wants to do a good job. She is currently preparing for her first appearance in Parliament. While she appears to be sure of herself, she clearly has great respect for her position. It is down to her to resolve the complex issue of the lack of housing.

LLAD: After your first few weeks at the Regional Ministry of Housing, Land and Transport, what were the main challenges that you think you will face?

Marta Vidal: It is a ministry with an extraordinarily broad scope, as it encompasses many areas with different problems, and there are a large number of issues that need immediate solutions. Housing, architecture, public works, the Balearic Environmental Commission, roads and transport are just some of the departments, but we have accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. I’m not a politician, but I’m happy to be tackling the issues faced by this Ministry.

LLAD: Much has been written about the housing crisis and the lack of affordable accommodation. The first measures were recently introduced, with a decree-law due for approval in September, which aims to put more apartments on the market. Could you outline the key elements of this decree?

M. V.: We have put a lot of work into this over the summer. We’re very proud of this decree-law that is due for approval. We have dedicated a lot of time and energy into obtaining a consensus among all the territorial administrations that will be affected by it, along with the various associations and groups involved. We want the measures to be immediate and effective, but we always want them to be properly implemented. The key elements to the decree are no land consumption, zero costs to the government, immediate implementation and respect of municipal autonomy. These tools will provide an urgent resolution to the housing crisis. We need to create new housing through changes of use and changes of density, and by adjusting off-plan regimes. The infamous half-finished building skeleton frames we see throughout many towns will be taken back and put onto the market.

LLAD: Is housing renovation one of the pillars of your housing policy?

M. V.: Renovation is essential, beginning with the government’s own assets. There are tools to persuade owners of unoccupied homes—of which the Balearic Islands has a much higher percentage than any other autonomous community—that they need not fear renting their properties. We will provide safe rental procedures. We are not looking to change the Spanish Rental Law (LAU), that is beyond our capabilities, but in my opinion, the minimum rental period is excessive as it forces property owners to commit to leases of over five years.

LLAD: How can we help young people, who are facing a particularly challenging situation? What solutions will you provide to enable them to access housing?

M. V.: The main problem for young people is the cost of housing and the fact that they also have to make a down payment of 30%, as the bank will not finance more than 80% of the total cost. And to this you also need to add around 10% for taxes. Margalida Prohens’s government has implemented a range of fiscal policies, with the most notable being that transfer tax will no longer be applied to buyers under 30, and will be substantially reduced for those under under 35. The government will also support young people who are also unable to make a down payment.

LLAD: In her investiture speech, President Margalida Prohens announced that the Spanish Housing Law would no longer apply on the Balearic Islands. What is the legal situation for investors, developers, owners, etc.?

M. V.: The situation is very complicated, but can be resolved. My motto is “if I don’t know it’s impossible, then I can achieve it”. I think there are solutions to everything. The state’s housing law clearly infringes upon autonomous jurisdiction, and we are one of four autonomous communities that have already taken it to the Constitutional Court. It is neither an ideological nor a political issue. We are going to enforce our jurisdiction in terms of housing and draw up our own autonomous law. So, what will happen during the transition? We will put together a bilateral committee and it will be debated from a legal perspective, so we can come to agreements. We are not afraid of the state law, we will draw up our own.

LLAD: The sector is asking for a 20-year agreement. Do you think this is doable?

M. V.: Yes, provided that we work together like adults. As for us, we have extended our hand to all the parties and groups that are affected.

The real estate sector is being affected by rises in interest rates and there has been a fall in property transactions. Is the government implementing any measures to remedy this situation?

M. V.: We are not able to intervene when it comes to interest rates, but we can provide other solutions, such as rental assistance, regulation of more affordable homes and guarantees to help people access property.

LLAD: Luxury housing has been a great source of income for the government in recent years. Do you plan to implement any measures within this sector?

M. V.: This sector is not a priority for us as it self-regulates. It is a market that is inaccessible to 99% of the population. The intention of the decree-law is to convert city-centre properties into homes for everyday people. The decree-law will enable us to convert them into 60 m2 apartments.

LLAD: There has been debate regarding the purchase of properties by foreigners. What is the government’s position on this?

M. V.: We are not an interventionist government and we do not use propaganda or impose limits; we are not like previous governments. We have no intention to limit foreign purchases. The problem is not that foreigners are purchasing homes, the problem is that local people are unable to. We intend to resolve this issue with our new housing policies.