A green, social and digital recovery

At this point in the pandemic, no-one is in any doubt that the economic scenario largely depends on how the health situation will develop. After a period of relative normality during the summer, a large number of European countries have had to step up restrictions on people’s movements and business activity. The economic impact of this second wave is considerable, although clearly less than the effect of the strict lockdowns imposed in Q2. This situation has worsened the economic outlook for the beginning of 2021, although the outlook for the spring is more promising with hopes being placed on the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine and other measures to help strengthen the health strategy (such as the low-cost, rapid testing of large numbers of the population).

Activity in Spain’s real estate market is recovering from its extraordinary slump during the first lockdown. In Q3 2020, house sales and new building permits recovered much of the ground lost, a positive trend we expect to consolidate in 2021. Moreover, the impact of the crisis on house prices has been relatively moderate so far, although we expect these will continue to adjust in the latter part of 2020 and the first half of 2021. In particular, CaixaBank Research’s new house price forecasting models at the level of province, based on large amounts of information (big data) and applying machine learning techniques, predict that house prices will fall in 7 out of 10 Spanish provinces in 2021 and grow very moderately in the rest.

However, it is important to remember that the economic impact of COVID-19 is huge and the effects of the pandemic on the sector will take time to disappear completely. The Recovery Plan for Europe, or Next Generation EU (NGEU), allocated a substantial sum of 750 billion euros, will be decisive in helping to boost the recovery. One of the EU’s main targets, which this recovery plan aims to support significantly, is the ecological transition to become climate-neutral by 2050. In the EU, buildings are responsible for emitting about 40% of the gases that cause global warming. The involvement and commitment of the construction industry is therefore essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the agreed targets, while more energy-efficient «smart» buildings also support another of the Commission’s key targets: digital transition.

These European funds represent a unique opportunity to modernise Spain’s economy, which will receive around 72 billion euros in non-refundable transfers between 2021 and 2026, equivalent to 5.8% of its GDP in 2019. About 6% of the European NGEU funds will be aimed at renovating housing, tripling public investment in this area. In particular, the government plans to recondition 500,000 homes between 2021 and 2023. This target, if achieved, would be very positive for the sector but it is highly ambitious since it requires multiplying the current reconditioning rate by six in just three years.

In addition to renovations, another priority for housing policy over the coming years is the improvement of social housing. The severe economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to provide a large number of rented social housing to resolve the current shortage and be able to ensure the most vulnerable sections of the population have somewhere to live. Policies that should drive a green, social and digital recovery.

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