The whole of Europe is wondering what has the Spanish government been doing wrong with pandemic management. But much of it was bad beforehand. Life is expensive, the metropolises overcrowded and real virus spreaders.
When the 40-year-old Pablo Cerda from Santiago de Chile came to Madrid to study, he was amazed: “People live in a very small space.” After looking for an apartment on his own, the filmmaker realized that it was mainly due to the high rents, but also to the construction: many small rooms, some without windows, on many floors. Then there were – he realized after a while – precarious working conditions and people without a residence permit. According to Eurostat, the net annual salaries for a Spanish family with two children are on average more than 20,000 euros lower than in Germany. A study by Wohn-Magazin Warehouses shows, however, that a suitable apartment is only slightly cheaper on average.
When he arrived in September 2019, a one-room studio in the center of the Spanish capital cost between 650 and 900 euros per month. The current economic situation has not changed that much. Cerda was initially stranded in Madrid’s working-class district of Vallecas, where prices had also risen by 21 percent in the past four years, according to the Immopartals Fotocasa: “But I was interested in the atmosphere there.” Here he experienced lockdown from March to May in a six-square-meter room, which still cost 350 euros a month.
When living together becomes dangerous
“These living conditions change people, especially in times of pandemic,” he believes. The restrictions were – and are now again – particularly strong in Spain. The number of infections remains at a high level, as the metropolitan areas turn out to be virus spreaders. Because there are only a few people at home at home, but work in hospitals, care for the elderly, in restaurants or as a cleaning lady. Many work black. They cannot afford to test positive and proper isolation is difficult in shared apartments. Catalonia has now introduced a rule for this. A few years ago, Barcelona, which had around 30 million foreign visitors last year, like Berlin, drastically reduced the number of tourist apartments in order to free up living space. Rent increases have now also been capped.
However, the regional government there distinguishes between institutional and private investors and sets the Rent cover not in all cities. However, it is particularly important in Barcelona, where the housing problem was also a multiplier during the pandemic, believes the Dutchman Jasper van Dorrestein, who lives there: “It is not only the relatively high rents, but also the conditions that many tenants demand are like several months’ rent as a guarantee that you won’t get back when you want to move out. ” The central government also changed that last year and reduced the financial burden on tenants. But there are still a lot of non-legal rental agreements in place where different rules apply.
However, none of this is currently helping against Corona: Catalonia also decided on new measures on Wednesday (October 14th): Hotels are no longer allowed to receive guests, bars and restaurants are closed for 15 days.
error in the system
“There is simply a problem with our system,” admits Pedro Abella, real estate expert at IE University in Madrid. The urban land has become too expensive in the past few decades: “Because of this, more social housing must be built on publicly owned free land that is available en masse outside of it.” According to various estimates, however, several million apartments in Spain are empty or not available for sale. This also includes remaining stocks at the banks from the past financial crisis – more will probably be added in the coming months.
These vacant bank-owned buildings are being occupied more and more frequently because foreigners without an employment contract or Spaniards with low incomes see no other way of getting housing. Hundreds of thousands of foreigners also do not have a valid residence permit. “When renting out, there is always someone who has an employment contract. He has to make sure that he gets the rent from the others,” says 50-year-old Bulgarian Ivanka Ivanova from her own experience.
Spain’s zoning plans are out of date
In addition, according to Eurostat, the cost of living in Spain is only slightly lower than in Germany. In the cities in particular, there is a gap between living costs and salary levels: “Madrid is expensive compared to metropolises like Paris or Moscow,” says cosmopolitan Cerda, who has worked and lived in many parts of the world. Spain is safer than most of the other countries where he has been. But here too he sees homeless people and beggars and many ugly high-rise buildings and huge hospitals built right next to each other. Spain has one of the lowest population densities in Europe and could expand: “Especially when we actually have a problem of depopulation in the countryside,” notes Abella.
The Spanish film composer Manuel Villalta explains the fact that people are crammed into high-rise buildings and companies into commercial areas with a cultural difference: “We concentrate everything and love gatherings. Owning a house like me is rather the exception for a Spaniard In the pandemic, however, I’m glad that I live alone in the country. “
But most of the around 300 hospital beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Spain – Germany comes 800 according to Eurostat – are in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia, Seville and not in the Sierra where Villalta lives. “At least one advantage that we have here in Madrid,” jokes Cerda. But the risk of infection is particularly high there. A vicious circle.
Author: Stefanie Claudia Müller (Madrid)