Image by Lutz Hirschmann

Action on Empty Homes research volunteer Frank Gavurin argues that the Balearic Islands may be showing us what a progressive use of existing stock might look like.

Frank writes,

In a country in which tens of thousands are homeless, and yet over three million homes are unoccupied, local and regional Spanish authorities have been thinking of creative ways to bring the nation’s surplus of housing into use.

The Balearic Islands are one of the regions to have taken action on this issue.

Regional legislation introduced in 2018 created official definitions of both empty homes and ‘large-scale owners’.

Empty homes are defined as ones which have been unoccupied for two or more years without justification.

‘Large-scale owner’ refers to a property owner with 10 or more properties, many of which are banks which have repossessed homes.

These two steps were viewed as a prerequisite for policy-making in this area, and are something that other Spanish regions still lack.

The legislation forced large-scale owners to list their vacant properties in an official register, with penalties for non-compliance.

The regional government then passed a decree the following year which allowed the temporary expropriation of these empty homes.

This measure is not taken in the first instance; initially, the government attempts to come to an agreement on a price with the owner/s of the property in question. If the negotiations do not bear fruit, the government may expropriate the use of the property, at a legally fixed price, for a period of seven years.

These dwellings are then made available at affordable rents to those in need of housing; a long list in a region whose capital city saw rents rise by more than 50% between 2014 and 2019.

The new laws, and the government’s willingness to punish non-compliance with fines, have begun to pay off. In January, it was reported that these large owners have started to rent or sell these properties, rather than facing sanctions for leaving them empty.

With the regional government also looking to create more social housing and cap rents, the Balearic Islands may be showing us what a progressive housing policy, which makes full use of existing stock, looks like.