The severe social and economic consequences of failing to provide sufficient housing for increasing populations is at last beginning to dawn upon national and local politicians in many countries. For far too long, governments of all political shades have ignored the issue of providing sufficient numbers of high quality, low cost housing for sale, as well as for rent.
It is disturbing, inhumane and unacceptable to see people living on the streets in some of the most prosperous countries in the world. The Canary Islands and Spain are not immune from this issue, since increasing demand for both permanent, as well as holiday accommodation is a growing problem. A few interesting, as well as challenging ideas, are beginning to emerge that may help.
A company in the city of Barcelona has recently announced a plan to build an apartment that will house 15 people in tiny capsules that will cover an area of just 100 square metres. The idea for the project comes from a Japanese company called Haibu, where clients sleep in a pod that contains little more than a bed and a TV attached to the ceiling. The word ‘haibu’ means beehive in Japanese, with the company commenting that people are social creatures who were meant to live in communities that help each other out, rather like bees in a hive.
These pods are intended for permanent residents of the city and not for tourists. Each pod is 120cm wide, 120cm high and 200cm long. There is a bed and a headboard that can also be used for storage, shelves, a folding table, a wall socket and a USB charger. There are also communal areas, such as a shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. With rapidly increasing rents in the city, the company believes that its charge of 200 euros per month for each ‘room’ is an attractive proposition.
The company believes that its pods are a better option than a hostel or sleeping on the streets, and will allow clients some privacy until their financial situation improves.
City authorities are not happy with the idea, commenting that there is no room for such a project in Barcelona, and warn that any housing unit must have a surface area of at least 40 square metres, which means that this company will never obtain the necessary operating licenses. Some commentators have already made the point that there is already a range of similar accommodation available in Spain’s cemeteries, called coffins.
There are other options to consider. For instance, the Municipality of La Orotava in Tenerife has recently developed an imaginative idea that will help to ease the shortage of homes for local residents. The plan involves the renovation of over 300 barns and haylofts across the municipality that are currently abandoned. It is thought that each hayloft could provide a home for a family of up to 10 people.
Haylofts were traditional buildings that were mostly built in the higher areas of the island. They could help to solve the problems of lack of housing, and local councillors assure residents that those who used them many years ago were kept warm in winter and cool in summer. Canary Islanders know a thing or two about unusual housing, since many residents have lived and continue to live in traditional housing, such as caves, across several of the islands.
Over many years of disuse and neglect, many of these haylofts will require careful rebuilding and renovation, but will be a much a cheaper and faster alternative to building new, traditional homes. This imaginative idea of converting 300 barns will not only provide homes for local people, but will ensure that these attractive traditional buildings can be preserved for historical interest in the future.
The difficulties of earning a large enough salary to be able to purchase a property in Spain has led to another dimension within the Spanish housing market, and that is through the concept of ‘bare ownership’, which some say is macabre, yet is perfectly legal. Elderly property owners are selling their homes for half the market value to willing buyers on condition that they can live out their final days in their home.
When the elderly person dies, the new owner is then free to move in or sell the property at market value. Despite conditions attached to such a deal there appears to be no shortage of buyers tempted by the longer-term benefits of the seller’s death.
In the future, we will see many new initiatives designed to ease the shortage of housing across Europe. Some ideas will make better use of existing space through good planning and thoughtful design. Other schemes will no doubt focus mainly upon the profit motive, with little thought and compassion for those who will spend their lives there. Having a home is a basic human right and failing to provide sufficient homes demonstrates a breakdown in the traditional, embedded values of society.
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© Barrie Mahoney