In this session, matters such as the definition of the right to housing and which groups should benefit from it were discussed. They also spoke about the limit in the sale price and the responsibility of regional and local administrations in this matter.
The first speech was given by Tomas Venckevicius, of the Social Policies Service, General DIrection for Social Cohesion, Council of Europe. This speaker raised the following questions: Is the right to housing a social or a human right? Why should this right exist? His answer to the first question was that this right is becoming recognised as a fundamental human right and to the second question was that if housing is left in the hands of the market, there will be a group of people excluded, therefore, it should be part of the social contract. It is important that the governments commit themselves so that this right reaches the whole world, but this is difficult to achieve as it is one of the most expensive rights. Complaints should not be individual, but should be done through the institutional organisations.
It has also been shown that, strangely, and according to the survey of the Council of Europe, the definition of this right is stronger, the poorer the social situation of a country is; therefore, there are more definitions of this right in Russia than in Western Europe. He also pointed out that it is difficult to define general guidelines, as the politics in each country are different; there are countries in which there are housing councils, such as Great Britain or the Netherlands. He concluded that there is a trend to recognising the right to housing and that this is promoted by most countries. He finally proposed different questions to the auditorium: Should national legislation guarantee this right? How should it go about it? What is dignified housing? Which groups have the right to it? What kind of help needs to be given? The following speaker was Guadalupe Pulido Bermejo, Psychologist and Head of the Office for "Non-Discrimination" of Barcelona City Council, a service that acts to correct discrimination in the city. She commented on the decrease in housing to rent and the fact that there is tax relief for buying, but not for renting. Another of the matters she dealt with was that it is increasingly harder to purchase, because there is more demand than offer this brings with it problems such as shantytowns (both horizontally as well as vertically), abusive clauses in rental contracts or property speculation. As far as the latter problem is concerned, she posed the question about whether restrictions should be introduced in the market. The final speaker was Rafael Runco, Assistant to the Housing Ombudsman in England. His country is one of those with the greatest percentage of homeowners, 70%. In this country, this right is very well known and it is considered a fundamental right of the human being, in addition, there are laws that protect against eviction. The rights of the tenant are taken into account and all families with limited resources should be able to pay the rent. As far as owned properties are concerned, the sector has been liberalised and the market laws govern. There is also the right to the repair housing and laws to protect the tenant from the antisocial behaviour of neighbours. There is a policy of transferring council homes to other organisations through the right to purchase. When things go badly, the local ombudsman responsible for social housing matters steps in, the financing of which is met by the homes under his jurisdiction; in this way, it is independent of the politicians. The Ombudsmen do not only deal with complaints, but also formulate recommendations and orders, although they do not have the authority to enforce them. This speaker finished his intervention with a series of questions aimed at the auditorium: Which social groups should seek aid? What negative effects could the measures for favouring help with housing have? How can we control that the rental price should be accessible?
During the debate, someone asked who this right should be aimed at and pointed out the forming of ghettos. Venckenvicius answered that the fact that this right exists does not mean that there are no homeless people because this right needs to be made effective. Re. the question about who this right should be aimed at, he pointed out that it is different in each country.
A representative from Russia mentioned one of the problems that occurs in her country: the law protects private interests and in addition there is the urbanisation and eviction of inhabitants in rural areas to be able to knock down the houses and speculate with the land.
Another participant from Italy stated that the authorities of the ombudsmen are social ones and that they cannot intervene in a political way and that the attempt to guarantee the right to housing through buying the tenant leads to an impoverishment of the public patrimony of properties and limits the need of needy people.
Another Italian participant mentioned that the ombudsman should also carry out political actions, but without depending on a political party. They should look beyond the parties to do a common good.