Science and Tech

Spain has more than three million empty homes. The problem is that they are not where people demand them.


The Government wants to increase the supply of housing. And that involves, among other issues, promoting the construction of new houses. During a meeting with representatives of the sector, the minister of the sector, Isabel Rodríguez, announced yesterday a regulatory change to “streamline urban management” and give quick licenses to the promoters. The big question that the proposal leaves behind is… Is new construction really a solution for access to housing in a country that has more than 3.5 million of empty apartments? Where exactly is that bag of unused flats located? Can new construction help lower prices?

In short, is new work the answer? Is the argument that the key to facilitating access to housing is already within our reach, in the stock of empty houses, a myth? Is there more demand for apartments than wasted apartments?

More housing offer. That is what the Government proposes: increasing the supply of housing in Spain, which involves both reinforcing the stock of a rental market at a minimum, with 28% less housing available than four years ago; as well as making it easier for promoters with licenses.

“We agree on the objective of increasing the supply to guarantee the right to affordable housing,” recognized yesterday Rodríguez after meeting with representatives of the real estate sector. To achieve this, the Government proposes speed up building permits or facilitating the financing of new industrialized constructions.


But… Isn't there an empty house? That's how it is. Latest housing census from the INE, which provides a “photo” of how the national park was in 2021, shows that in Spain there are 3.8 million homes empty, almost 14% of the total. Furthermore, the INE estimates that there are 2.5 million temporary use. With that data on the table, there are groups and parties – and it is not something exclusive to Spain – who have seen in this stock of unused houses a tool to facilitate access to housing.

And where are those homes? The key to the debate. Although in 2021 the INE identified between three and four million empty homes, these constructions are not distributed evenly throughout the country. What's more, a good part of that bag of 3.8 million residences that are not used were concentrated in small municipalities, with real estate markets that have very little to do with those of the most stressed cities, such as Madrid, Barcelona or Malaga.

The INE itself reflects that around 45% of these homes are located in municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants. Or put another way, 45% is concentrated in localities where only 20% of the total population resides. Photography is the opposite in the most populous town halls. Only 10.5% of empty homes are in large cities, with a census of more than 250,000 inhabitants, the same cities where 24% of the country's population resides.


Percentage of empty homes















Palma de Mallorca


The Gran Canarian palms




Housing in Tías or Mos, not in Madrid. INE data They allow us to go a little further and appreciate, at the municipal level, the imbalance in the availability of empty housing. Its 2021 study reflected, for example, that while small towns, such as Tías, in Las Palmas; Mos, in Pontevedra; or Monforte de Lemos; In Lugo, they had 40% or even a higher percentage of their homes empty, in the country's large metropolises, with more tense markets and difficulties in accessing housing, this availability was minimal, standing well below 10%. The percentage of unused houses in Madrid was, for example, only 6.3%, in Barcelona 9.3%, in Malaga 6.4% and in Zaragoza 4.6%.

What is the Government proposing? To boost the housing supply, Rodríguez advocated on Thursday for “strengthening” public-private collaboration and “streamlining processes to increase affordable housing.” To be more precise, he announced that the Government will update Order ECO/805/2003, a rule on real estate valuation and financing. In Moncloa they have already activated the administrative machinery to adapt the regulations and thus comply with two well-defined purposes: first, “streamline management”; second, add new construction techniques to the order , like that of industrialized homes.

More agility for the sector. With the change, the Government wants to introduce into the norm formulas that are already being used in the councils, including “abbreviated licenses”, precise The Economist. “These types of licenses, which are more agile, were not incorporated into the standard and this creates a problem for promoters when it comes to accessing financing. That is why a clarification of this standard is needed, in which we have also included industrialization and the new sustainability criteria”, Rodríguez clarified after the sector summit.

No bottlenecks. The Government's purpose is to modify the regulations to speed up the granting of urban planning licenses, put an end to bottleneck with which developers and construction companies now deal and make it easier for the sector when seeking financing. With the changes in the 2003 order, the Executive will “clarify” aspects that can now slow down management.

The measure is added to others that Moncloa has already activated, such as the modification of the Land Law. Yesterday Rodríguez also guaranteed that the Executive wants to “provide certainty, legal security and guarantees” to private landlords so that “they can make more homes available for affordable rental.”

Images | Andrew Bezuhlyi and INE

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