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A collaborative project increasing the supply of affordable housing in Catalonia by renovating empty homes and offering them to charities working with vulnerable people has today been named a Gold Award Winner in this year’s World Habitat Awards.

Viviendas para las Entidades Sociales, run by social housing provider and manager Habitat3, renovates the homes in collaboration with local social enterprises who train socially excluded people to help them find work in the future. Habitat3 manages the homes and the charities select the tenants, providing ongoing support for issues such as mental health, drug addiction, disability, gender violence and migration.

Since the global financial crash in 2008, Spain has struggled to meet housing need. In the autonomous region of Catalonia, the shortage of affordable homes is particularly problematic. Around 450,000 homes lie empty and in Catalonia’s capital city, Barcelona, the popularity of short-term lettings has heavily impacted the supply of homes for local people.

Currently, 99 renovated homes are managed through the project, providing a home for 187 vulnerable tenants. Habitat3 is working with Barcelona City Council and the Catalan Government to ensure it can provide more homes and give more people the opportunity to build a better life.

Resident Juan Carlos, aged 70, has experienced mental health problems and alcohol abuse. He said: “I had always lived in pensions and rented rooms in the area of Raval Sur. For 10 years I lived in the Pension Lily, until the owner died and it closed. Then I had to live in a room elsewhere for five months. I had a really bad time, there was a lot of dirt and the windows were broken. I lived among cockroaches.

“When my father passed away, I was left with nothing. A lot of my problems were aggravated as a result of his death. I went to Social Services to ask for help because I was sleeping on the street and I had nowhere to go to eat either. I met my social worker who, with other professionals, helped me access a home. I find it hard to believe that I have my own flat where I’m the one who sets my rules, always respecting my flatmate. This for me has represented the end of the process of rebuilding my life.”

Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said: “So many housing conversations in cities across the globe centre on the irony of increasing numbers of vacant buildings, while homelessness and housing precarity worsens. Habitat3’s Viviendas para las Entidades Sociales is the kind of housing solution that is needed across the globe. This project is playing a critical role in one of the most challenging aspects of securing the right to housing for all, while also prioritising housing for vulnerable groups. This project is the kind of example that I hope other organisations and local governments look to in designing their own strategies for the right to housing.”

David Ireland, Chief Executive of World Habitat, said: “Cities across the world have huge housing needs and masses of empty homes. The solution may appear obvious but the reality is it’s very difficult to achieve. This project has built effective partnerships and used their knowledge and capacity expertly to negotiate with property owners to provide housing in an extremely challenging environment.”

The World Habitat Awards judging panel said: “They are clearly meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in the region, through strong partnerships. The innovation in this impressive collaboration is at so many levels – government, social enterprises, charities – this is rare. The project addresses big issues around homelessness and supported housing in Catalonia.”

Each year the World Habitat Awards are presented to the most outstanding and innovative housing projects from across the world. In 2019 almost 200 projects and programmes entered the Awards.

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