NGEU: an opportunity to relaunch Spain’s real estate sector
The Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR) for the Spanish economy could be an important catalyst for the real estate sector. With the help of European funds, the government plans to recondition half a million homes between 2021 and 2023, with the aim of improving their energy efficiency and thereby helping to achieve the agreed decarbonisation targets. The General State Budget (PGE) also proposes a notable increase in the funds allocated to increase the amount of rented social housing, a policy that is crucial as rents have become even less affordable for the most vulnerable members of the population.
The European Recovery Fund (Next Generation EU) represents a unique opportunity to modernise the Spanish economy and boost its growth potential. Spain will receive 72 billion euros in non-refundable transfers (grants) between 2021 and 2026, equivalent to 5.8% of its GDP in 2019.1 Although the first instalment from the European Commission is not expected until mid-2021,2 the government plans to advance funds to speed up investments and expects to spend over 26 billion euros in 2021, according to the preliminary proposal for the General State Budget. As we shall see, a significant proportion of these funds will be used to support the real estate sector’s ecological and digital transition.
- 1. This amount could total 140 billion euros if loans are included. For more details, see «Next Generation EU: a golden opportunity for the Spanish economy», available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/public-sector/next-generation-eu-golden-opportunity-spanish-economy?index=
- 2. The EU is expected to pay out the first tranche of the funds, 6.4 billion euros, in Q3 2021.
In the area of housing, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan presented by the Spanish government to channel European NGEU3 funds focuses especially on the plan to renovate housing and urban regeneration. This policy is well aligned with the goals set by the Commission as renovating Europe’s buildings is one of its key priorities.4 The PRTR emphasises the importance of improving housing quality and boosting the construction industry both sustainably (by increasing energy efficiency, promoting green infrastructure and deploying solar roofs) and digitally (through smart applications in buildings). Specifically, the PRTR plans to recondition 500,000 homes between 2021 and 2023. This is an ambitious target which, if achieved, would be very positive for the sector as well as for the environment given the current state of housing, as we will see below.
- 3. In October, the government presented an outline of the Plan with the main proposals. The final plan must be submitted to the European Commission by 30 April 2021 and is expected to be approved by the European Council in June 2021.
- 4. See the article «The Recovery Plan for Europe: a green wave for the real estate sector»" in this Sector Report.
will be allocated to renovating housing, tripling public investment in this area.
According to the Ministry of Territorial Policy, 4.5 billion euros of the NGEU (6.25% of all transfers) will be allocated to renovating housing over the next few years. In 2021, as stated in the PGE, around 1.65 billion euros will be channelled from the NGEU to finance housing and development policies. If this comes about, the amount alone would represent more than three times the housing items included in the country’s budgets on average over the past five years, ranging from 460 to 510 million euros per year. Furthermore, this amount represents 73% of the total allocation in the 2021 Budget for housing policies (2,253 million euros) and 6.2% of the aforementioned 26,634 million euros of the European NGEU funds that are expected to be paid out in 2021.
of which 1,651 million euros come from the European funds and will be used to recondition housing, while 569 million euros will be invested in social housing policies.
The 1.65 billion euros from the NGEU funds in 2021 will be used by three programmes: one to renovate residential environments (housing and neighbourhoods), managed mainly by the autonomous regions via agreements and totalling 1.55 billion euros; another focusing on the digital and sustainable reconditioning of public buildings, worth 81 million, and another programme with a budget of 20 million to renew the country’s architectural heritage. Consequently, although European funds will not directly finance social housing programmes, they will enable funds to be released and thereby increase the budget for this area in the 2021 General State Budget: the total allocation of 2,253 million euros for housing includes 569 million euros for social housing, 20% more than in previous budgets. This allocation will be used mainly to subsidise rent for vulnerable households and for the plan to provide 20,000 homes under the social rent scheme.
The PGE includes 500 million euros from the NGEU funds for the circular economy, which should help to improve the efficient use of resources as well as the competitiveness of various strategic sectors. However, details of whether some of this budget will be devoted specifically to the construction industry have not been disclosed.
The plan to renovate housing is a unique opportunity to promote the decarbonisation of the real estate sector but also to alleviate some of the problems faced by housing at present. Especially, in addition to the age of housing (50% of homes in Spain are 40 years old or more), there is also a great deal of variability regarding their characteristics and performance in terms of energy efficiency, habitability and access.
and much of it was built with little attention paid to energy efficiency
In some cases these differences are the result of the technical regulations in force at the time they were built. For example, and as the following chart shows, half of Spain’s housing was built before the first basic building regulations came into force in 1980. In other words, around 12.8 million homes were built according to standards that regulated the safety of the structure but did not consider issues related to thermal insulation or energy consumption.5 Likewise, an additional 44% of homes (some 11.4 million) were built between 1981 and 2007, before the First Technical Building Code came into force which established minimum requirements for safety, habitability and energy efficiency.6 The result is that Spanish homes are largely inefficient from an energy point of view and require a thorough renovation to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets the country has undertaken to achieve.
- 5. From 1960 onwards, several provincial ordinances were introduced which regulated the thermal insulation of social housing, albeit to a limited extent.
- 6. However, as they were built after the Basic Building Regulations CT/79, these homes have a certain degree of thermal insulation (façades and roofs), which guarantees a minimum of thermal comfort. In addition, this period saw an increasing use of aluminium and double glazing in both doors and windows, also helping to improve a home’s thermal insulation.
Segmentation of housing in Spain according to year of construction and technical regulations
Part of Spain’s housing also suffers from various problems related to its habitability and quality. One of these problems is the small size of some housing. Specifically, 13% of homes in Spain are less than 60 m2 in size, while 46% are between 61 m2 and 90 m2. Renovation aimed at improving the use of space (such as enclosing terraces) can be of great help in increasing the net surface area of such homes.
Another problem that affects some housing is its poor state of conservation. Specifically, nearly 1.8 million homes in Spain (7% of the total) are in a state of repair that can be classed as dilapidated, bad or deficient,7 placing Spain slightly below the EU average in relative terms: 15% of Spain’s population lives in a property with conservation problems compared with 13% in the EU.8
Architectural barriers and poor means of access, which affects 13.2% of the residential stock, are other major shortcomings of housing in Spain. About 3.4 million homes are in buildings of four storeys or more without a lift.
Partly due to the climate, the energy demand of Spain’s residential sector is lower than that of the EU, both in absolute9 and relative terms.10 This lower energy consumption necessarily results in a lower savings potential than in other European countries. This is an important aspect, since one of the arguments in favour of energy reconditioning is that future energy savings (especially in HVAC) can be higher than the cost of the investment/work carried out.11
If we look at how the energy consumed by Spanish households is used, most is for heating (see the chart below). However, Spain’s share of energy consumption is much lower than that of the EU: 42% in Spain compared with 64% in the EU.12
Lighting and household appliances also account for a large part of the energy consumed by households, but in this case the proportion of energy consumed is higher than in the EU: 14% in the EU compared with 32% in Spain. This is important, since households have more and more equipment and appliances, so these need to be increasingly energy efficient to avoid a parallel increase in electricity consumption.
- 9. The average annual consumption per household in Spain is 9,224.1 KWh per dwelling, while the average consumption in the EU is 16,526 KWh per dwelling. A similar conclusion is reached when we compare the energy consumption in residential buildings per m2.
- 10. The residential sector accounts for approximately 17% of energy consumption in Spain compared with 26% in the EU, according to data from IDAE-MITECO (2018).
- 11. Another aspect that may make it difficult to capitalise on energy savings within a reasonable period of time is the energy tariff structure, which in Spain consists of a high proportion of fixed costs related to the power under contract and taxes.
- 12. The unit consumption per m2 for heating is also much lower than in the EU.
Final energy consumption of the Spanish residential sector broken down by use (2018)
As already mentioned, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan for the Spanish economy proposes to recondition 500,000 homes between 2021 and 2023. This provides a significant boost for the goals set out in the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC 2021-2030),13 which includes the renovation of the thermal envelope (façades and roofs) of 1,200,000 homes by 2030, starting with 30,000 homes per year in 2021 and ending with 300,000 homes per year in 2030.14
- 13. The National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC 2021-2030) is a strategic document drawn up by the government (at the request of the EU) which sets out the strategy for decarbonising the Spanish economy.
- 14. The PNIEC also proposes the renovation of heating and hot water installations in an average of 300,000 homes per year.
but there are certain limitations that may hinder the rate proposed.
The European funds should therefore considerably help to speed up the rate at which Spanish housing is renovated. However, there are certain aspects that could hinder the plan’s complete implementation. Firstly, the ambition of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan contrasts with the current rate of housing renovation (close to 25,000 homes per year); in fact, achieving the target of 500,000 homes in three years entails multiplying the current rate of renovation by six by 2023.
Secondly, the investment to improve the energy efficiency of housing ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 euros for the building’s envelope and from 12,000 to 40,000 euros for complete projects,15 a high cost for many households. It will be crucial for renovation support to also reach the hardest hit and most vulnerable households, as well as zones with the greatest needs in terms of reconditioning.
Thirdly, in general the population is relatively unwilling to carry out building work. According to the Housing Barometer (CIS, 2018), 87% of those surveyed did not plan to carry out any improvements or reforms to their homes in the following year (most because they did not think their homes needed them). Moreover, among those who did plan to carry out work, decorative reforms (such as in the kitchen or bathroom) were clearly prioritised over those related to energy efficiency (such as replacing doors and windows).
We should also note the predominant type of housing in Spain, mostly multi-family buildings of three or more storeys, these accounting for 67% of the total housing. It tends to be more difficult to make decisions in communities of several owners and this can present an additional barrier to some of the work required being carried out.
And, finally, the extent of public concern or awareness regarding energy efficiency is relatively lower than other housing-related issues. According to the latest housing barometer (CIS, 2018), concern about thermal comfort (35%) is similar to other concerns such as noise and security against burglary, and lower than other issues such as the lack
of a lift in some buildings.
- 15. Includes changing HVAC and hot water installations. Estimates from the «Estrategia a largo plazo para la rehabilitación energética en el sector de la edificación en España», Ministry of Economy (2020).
Percentage of households that are little or not at all satisfied with the following aspects of the building in which their home is located
In short, the reconditioning of housing is key to reducing energy consumption and thereby greenhouse gas emissions. However, in order to encourage such building works, it is also important to convince people that renovating their dwelling is a great opportunity to improve the comfort and interior habitability of their homes (an issue that lockdown has made even more evident), as well as to increase the property’s value. It is therefore essential to direct the available public resources appropriately in order to address the main problems of Spain’s housing together with its citizens.
In addition to renovation, another priority for housing policy over the coming years is to increase the amount of public housing aimed at social or affordable rents. Spain is one of the European countries with the highest percentage of tenants who spend more than 40% of their income on rent, a sign of the extra effort many households have to make to meet their housing costs. This extra effort is also disproportionately high for low-income households and young people. Moreover, the coronavirus crisis has aggravated the existing problems of affordable rented accommodation, especially among the most vulnerable people, as pointed out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest report on the Spanish economy.16 The IMF recommends increasing the number of homes allocated for social rented accommodation as Spain has one of the lowest figures in Europe: social housing accounts for 2.5% of the total number of primary residences in Spain compared with a European average of 9.3%, according to Eurostat data. To reach the European average, 1.2 million additional social housing units would be needed, a figure that would be difficult to achieve without public-private partnerships.
- 16. IMF Country Report no. 20/299. Spain. Selected Issues. Available at https://www.imf.org/-/media/Files/Publications/CR/2020/English/ 1ESPEA2020002.ashx
most of them intended for ownership, not rent. As a result, there is very little rented social housing, approximately 290,000 homes.
This lack of rented social housing is the result of housing policies that have historically been aimed at developing social housing via ownership. Between 1981 and 2019, almost 11 million homes were completed in Spain, 21.6% of which were social housing. During this same period, households grew by just under 8 million, so we can conclude that social housing has covered the accommodation needs of approximately 30% of Spanish households in the past four decades, a highly significant figure. However, most of the social housing built in Spain has been destined for ownership (see the chart below). Consequently, after a few years these properties have now acquired the status of free housing on the market, thereby losing their original social purpose.
The development of social housing for rent has been very limited in Spain
Very little social housing has been developed since 2010, affecting rented accommodation to a greater extent. In fact, between 2013 and 2016 the development of this kind of property has been almost zero (368 homes per year on average), increasing the prevalence of social housing under ownership. However, since 2017 rental accommodation seems to have regained some of its relative weight. Specifically, 12,496 social homes were built in Spain in 2019, of which 2,585 (20.7%) were for rent. Nevertheless, these figures are clearly not enough to significantly increase the stock of rented social housing.
According to recent estimates by the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda,17 Spain’s stock of publicly-owned social housing for rent totals about 290,000 homes. Of these, around 180,000 are owned by the autonomous region and 110,000 by the local council. These 290,000 rented social homes cover 1.6% of the 18.6 million households in Spain (data from the «Cuestionario sobre vivienda social», 2019).
- 17. «Boletín especial vivienda social», 2020, Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda.
The European funds represent a historic opportunity to recondition Spain’s old, poorly energy-efficient housing, renovations that will also contribute, simultaneously, to the two European goals of ecological transition and digitalisation of the economy, for instance through more energy-efficient «smart» buildings. Similarly, the strong economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to create a large amount of public housing available for rent in order to resolve the current shortage and be able to provide a housing solution for the most vulnerable in society. These policies should drive a green, social and digital recovery.