RESEARCH GROUP ON ACCESS TO HOUSING
The Housing Research Group of Rovira i Virgili University provides the Chair with scientific support. The group aims to perform an inter-disciplinary examination of the phenomenon of housing, particularly a legal analysis of the legal-private structures of Catalonian, Spanish and European judicial frameworks affecting the issue.
HOUSING AS A SUBJECT FOR ANALYSIS
It has traditionally been felt that housing as a subject to be studied is not an autonomous discipline. Housing is a field of activity, an area of policy and practice, a multi-faceted phenomenon. Several different authors have focused their study of housing on a multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approach. That is precisely what was proposed by authors like Kemeny, Bengtsson, Gibb and Clapham, who are in favour of the existence of a theory of housing, one that allows us to integrate the different disciplines and apply them to resolve a common problem. Clapham takes as his starting point King’s ideas about locating the epicentre of the housing issue in the relationship between people and the houses where they live. Thus, said relationship can be seen in different ways; for example, psychologists analyse the meaning that housing has for individuals, while lawyers will look at what rights are inherent to it. Basically, we feel that housing is a complex phenomenon that deserves to be studied on a a multi-disciplinary level, this being the basic premise adopted by the Housing Chair.
RESEARCH INTO HOUSING BY THE CHAIR
The Chair aims to study housing from a comparative perspective, i.e. an international one. In this regard, a comparative analysis of housing first came about in the 1960′s and 1970′s. The main models for comparative study of the phenomenon of housing first came about in economic sciences and sociology, even if other disciplines, such as law or political science, have have also dealt with the issue. It could be said that an inter-disciplinary study of housing has been becoming more widespread in recent decades. This is evident from the significant increase in both the number of international bodies looking at this phenomenon from a comparative and multi-disciplinary perspective (for example, CECODHAS Housing Europe or FEANTSA, specialising on homelessness) and the number of existing research networks (for example, the European Network for Housing Research – ENHR- and the Asia Pacific Network for Housing Research – APNHR). Also notable is the increase in international journals specialising in this area, such as the European Journal of Housing Policy.
To conclude, housing can be analysed from different perspectives and disciplines at the same time. Thus, the Housing Chair has set itself the objective of promoting research in this area from a multi-disciplinary approach by means of activities focusing on education, research, technological transfers and dissemination, in a scenario (such as the present reality since 2007) in which housing has become the central point of the international financial crisis.
Below we look at some of the different aspects of the housing phenomenon, then going on to consider the challenges facing us in the future, which will be the main areas to be studied by the Housing Chair:
a) First of all, it is in their home that people feel free to express themselves and thrive both as individuals and as families, in other words: the home is a place that guarantees the free development of a person’s personality. This right is expressly recognised in article 10 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and is intended to help safeguard a person’s dignity and respect. It is, therefore, important at this point to consider housing as something that an individual has a right to, which is vital for the individual to be able to develop in society.
To this end, several international texts have recognised the right to a home, for example, article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as part of the right to a suitable quality of life, and the European Social Charter, revised in 1996. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has protected the right to housing given its link to other classic civil rights, such as the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment (art. 3) and to a private family life (art. 8). As for Spanish legislation, the right to suitable housing is not considered a fundamental right (art. 47 of the Spanish Constitution).
Thus, having legal regulations that govern housing is important for a person’s development, not only as regards whether it should be considered a fundamental human right, but also as regards different kinds of property possession, which are precisely the way that citizens can gain access to housing. Nonetheless, the reality of Spanish society has shown that the property ownership/rental dichotomy (over 80% of the population own their home, while only 17% rent) has not responded well to these needs, quite on the contrary. Our economy’s dependence on selling property as an almost exclusive way to access housing (by means of mortgages), has led to significant levels of family debt never before seen in our country, as well as liquidity problems for lending institutions. This situation has been made worse by the ineffective running of our rental market, both social and free market rental, which according to Eurostat (2012) only accounts for 15% of all homes, well below the European average.
These needs have to be resolved by means of positive rights, but also using other legal disciplines. In this regard, the public authorities have to promote access to different kinds of property possession (buying, renting, intermediate possession, etc.) based on the potential demand and the specific needs of different areas. This, therefore, implies prior territorial planning that needs to be carried out by those specialising in geography as a discipline.
c) Housing as a consumer and investment good: housing has traditionally been invested in to obtain a, more or less stable, profit in the long term. It is also an area of investment in which consumers have at times found themselves unprotected, which is corroborated, for example, by the existence (verified by the Supreme Court) of abusive clauses in mortgage contracts. In this regard, there are currently different policies being implemented as regards access to housing and the protection of consumers and users. In any case, there are tensions evident between the idea of a home as a fundamental right and a home as a financial asset.
d) Housing as a subject for study and for public policies of varying origins. Thus, in housing we find the following activities, by way of example:
- Legislation of official protection and public housing. In this regard, we should point out the Housing Plans at both a Spanish and regional level. These plans establish the priorities in terms of the most desirable types of property possession (owning, renting, etc.) and the renovation of existing homes. Furthermore, housing policies, seen from a social point of view, entailing support and help in accessing housing for the population as a whole, play an important role in a city’s social fabric.
- Territorial and urban planning. The general and partial territorial plans (in Catalonia there is one dating back to 1995) are especially relevant in this regard, as are the major urban plans and the municipal urban planning programmes. These instruments allow us to address the territory’s needs and plan the use of the same, such as by deciding whether or not to reserve public land for residential use.
- Analysis of population distribution and the existing stock of housing. This analysis is vital in order to implement a coherent housing policy, and it is, therefore, important to establish when and where it will be necessary to build again, as well as the social need for housing (young people and the elderly, the population at risk of social exclusion, situations of housing where there is under-use or where there is overcrowding, among other factors).
- Implementing regulations and protection for the territory, for example the planning instruments provided by the Law on the right to housing, such as the sector-wide territorial housing plan and other regulations, like the coastal building law.
Several disciplines come together in this point, such as law, economics, geography, anthropology, architecture, sociology and urban planning.
e) Finally, housing also makes up the city, i.e. it has gone from being something on the periphery to being integrated in the city. Housing is, in effect, a special asset, immovable, which is why it is relevant in the territorial and social context. Several disciplines come together in this point, such as law, geography, architecture, sociology and urban planning.
Rovira i Virgili University
University education in the Tarragona area goes back to the 16th century, when cardinal Gaspar Cervantes de Gatea founded a university in the city of Tarragona to teach Grammar, the Arts and Theology. This Universitas Tarraconensis was practically wiped out by the reprisals of Philip V after the War of the Spanish Succession. One school did remain, however: the Estudi Literari, which depended on the new University of Cervera until the middle of the 19th century, when university education was discontinued. Only the Escola de Mestres, which had been founded shortly before, was to survive, and it continued to provide non-university education until it became a part of the University in 1972. From the end of the 19th century to the 1930s, the Ecclesiastical University in Tarragona taught further education courses in Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law. University education did not return to the Tarragona area until the second half of
the 20th century, when three different roads converged to form the Rovira i Virgili University: The Universitat Laboral (Technical College), created by the Ministry of Employment in 1956, started to teach technical courses for the first time in 1961-62, with specialities in mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering. It depended on the Terrassa School of Engineering. Later, in 1972, the title of “Engineer” was changed to “Technical Engineer”, and the Universitat Laboral ceased to depend on Terrassa and dropped its mechanical and engineering courses.
When the university reform bill was passed in 1984 the university sector was restructured, and the institutions in Tarragona were not exempt from the process. The University of Barcelona set up the Divisió VII to bring together all the institutions in the Tarragona area: the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, the Faculty of Chemical Sciences,
the Faculty of Medicine and the Teacher Training School (which had become part of the University of Barcelona in 1972). Subsequently, new centres were created within this Division: in 1988, the School of Oenology in Tarragona and the University School of Business Studies in Reus, and in 1990 the University School of Information Technology in Tarragona. Finally, in 1991 the School of Nursing became part of the University.
There are also a number of other institutions that teach courses in the south of Catalonia and which were affiliated to the University of Barcelona through the Divisió VII: the “Verge de la Cinta” University School in Tortosa, the “Sant Fructuós” University School of Social Work in Tarragona and the Social School, also in Tarragona.
In 1973, the so-called University School of Industrial Engineering became part of the Polytechnical University of Catalonia. In 1971, the University of Barcelona set up local branches of the f
aculties of Philosophy and Arts, and Sciences in the city of Tarragona. From the very beginning, the aim was for these new courses to achieve the highest possible university recognition. As early as 1972, a request was made to convert these branches into a university college so that they could provide complete first-cycle courses. In 1977, medical courses began in Reus, and in 1983 the Spanish parliament established the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts and the Faculty of Chemistry in Tarragona.
On 30th December 1991, the Catalan Government passed Law 36/1991 and created the Rovira i Virgili University (published in the Catalan Government’s official gazette on 15th January 1992). This law stipulates that “the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) must integrate and order the university studies that are at present being taught in the south of Catalonia as well as any new subjects, so forming the base for the development of a new University with a character all of its own”. And it goes on: “The aims are, among others, to improve the territorial organisation, the quality and potential of the public service of further education to make it possible for people to exercise their right to education established in article 27.5 of the Spanish Constitution, and to increase and improve the structure of the p
rovision of university places throughout Catalonia.”
The same law states: “The name of the University is in honour of the illustrious Catalan, Antoni Rovira i Virgili, writer, historian and politician and one of the most important theorisers and champions of Catalonia’s national cause, who was president of the parliament of Catalonia and an example of public-spiritedness, hard work and esteem for the values of our people.”