Country Listing

Spain Table of Contents



Housing was another area in which Spaniards had to respond to the challenges of dramatic change. During the late 1950s and the 1960s, about 14 percent of the total population changed residence permanently from one part of the country to another, and most of these people lacked suitable housing. One of the most pressing challenges of the government and of the private sector was to find or to build housing for these millions of uprooted people. The government became involved in housing policy relatively late and then only as a source of subsidy for the private sector. The government's 1961 National Housing Plan called for the construction of 4 million new dwellings by 1976. In the hope that home ownership would help dilute the working class radicalism that had fueled the economic crises of the 1930s, most of these dwellings were to be for sale, not for rent. About half of these residences were built and were financed through the unsubsidized private sector; for most of the remainder, the government subsidized only the lending institution. Thus, government-owned housing accounted for only a very small percentage of the total number of dwellings.

The private construction sector surpassed the target of 4 million new dwellings. In every major city of Spain, slums were replaced by high-rise apartment buildings that ringed the older town centers. Despite this building boom, however, by the time the wave of urban migration had subsided in the 1970s, there were still about 1.5 million people without homes, and the figure was about 230,000 as of the 1981 census. The government's housing policy had produced millions of new homes, but, by relying entirely on the private sector to produce them, the government ensured that new construction would be directed principally toward the growing middle class because there were greater profits to be made on large, expensive dwellings than there were on small, modest ones. The government attempted to offset these market forces by placing ceilings on sale prices and on the size of units to be subsidized, but the limits they imposed were so high that they did little to enlarge the market for cheap working-class housing. Not only was housing scarce, but much of it was in poor condition. According to the 1980 housing census, of the 6.5 million buildings tallied, one-fifth (1.3 million) had been built before 1900 and another one-fifth, between 1900 and 1940. Only 37 percent could be considered to be relatively modern, having been constructed since 1961. About 70 percent of the available buildings were classified as being in good condition, but nearly 10 percent were categorized as being seriously run down and in need of repair. Some 90 percent of the buildings had running water and indoor toilets, and 94 percent had electricity; but only 20 percent had central hot water service and only 4 percent had central heating.

The Socialist government elected in 1982 estimated that the country's housing stock must be increased by between 250,000 and 310,000 units each year, if all citizens were to have their own homes by the early 1990s. Still, only about 10 percent of the new dwellings were to be government-built; 200,000 units would continue to be built, financed, and sold, annually, through the private sector. Nevertheless, by the late 1980s many believed that the housing crisis was substantially over, and that Spaniards were within a decade of achieving their goal of minimally acceptable dwellings for all. In terms of quality, however, the people had to continue to live with the legacy of the 1960's construction boom--huge, impersonal apartment complexes; shoddy construction and high maintenance costs; and high purchase costs--for the foreseeable future.

Data as of December 1988