Raúl Robert
Ashoka Fellow desde 2010   |   Spain

Raúl Robert

Raúl Robert is addressing Spain’s chronic challenges for housing solutions by offering a new affordable housing model. Through a form of limited equity cooperative-based on relinquished usage rights…
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This description of Raúl Robert's work was prepared when Raúl Robert was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.


Raúl Robert is addressing Spain’s chronic challenges for housing solutions by offering a new affordable housing model. Through a form of limited equity cooperative-based on relinquished usage rights that stop price speculation, he creates a larger permanent pool of affordable housing.

La idea nueva

Raúl is introducing a new, non-speculative, housing cooperative model in Spain that combines characteristics from both ownership and renting regimes, allowing cheaper access to housing without reducing a sense of home ownership and responsibility. Raúl’s model differs from others, such as traditional building cooperatives, in that it stops speculation over prices in the long-term, preventing unreasonable price increases that put houses out of reach for most people. Although traditional construction cooperatives coincide with Raúl’s model, by making building costs affordable for cooperative members, they do not create a permanent pool of affordable housing, since, after construction the property goes on to become part of the speculative housing market.

The main characteristic of a relinquished usage cooperative, the model Raúl proposes, is that the cooperative itself perpetually holds the actual rights of property. Each cooperative member pays an entrance fee for his home (i.e. 9 times less than they would normally pay when buying a property) and then pays a monthly fee throughout the time the individual lives in the property. The fee tends to be less than a monthly rental fee at market price (i.e. 90 percent of a regular rent and 70 percent of a mortgage fee). Once the construction fees have been covered (by members of the cooperative), this monthly payment becomes a fund to cover improvements and loans to spread and disseminate the idea. The members of the cooperative have the right to use the property and are involved from the beginning in the design and management of the building. However, when an individual wishes to move, he returns the usage rights to the cooperative (i.e. recovering their entrance fee plus the improvement investments made as well as the increased appreciation). The cooperative, according to its statutes, will resell those rights to a new cooperative member.

Raúl’s model prevents many of the speculative practices that rule traditional markets and place home ownership out of reach for most people, and instead builds a permanent and larger pool of fairly priced housing. Raúl’s aim is to bring more flexibility to the housing market by offering an alternative model that adapts better to the population’s needs, such as lower entry costs, long-term rights, and work-related mobility.

Raúl also intends to influence the housing policy at-large, including access to land. By launching pilot projects with this new affordable housing model, making already available legislative and financial tools applicable to the model, he is changing key aspects of legislation and spreading awareness of the model’s benefits. Spain in particular is at a historic moment for a change in mentality concerning home ownership, which has been made explicit through the construction crisis. In a country where the age of first-time homeowners averages 30 years and work-related mobility is one of the lowest in Europe, there is a vast pool of young adults in need of affordable housing.

Additionally, due to the explosion of the construction bubble that had been growing since the mid 1970s, there is a large pool of half constructed buildings that cannot be sold in the regular market but could easily be converted into housing under Raúl’s model. Local governments and companies have shown immense interest in Raúl’s work as a solution to a housing crisis that Spain has been suffering from for years.

El problema

Historically, Spain’s housing policy has led to ownership. Only 15 percent of housing stock is available under the rental scheme (i.e. of which only 2 percent is public or subsidized). The tax system has favored home purchases and policies aimed to protect tenants and has discouraged owners to rent their empty property, intimidated by threats of deterioration of the building, non-payments, and longer lease contracts. Although measures have been introduced to encourage renting, they have proved insufficient to reverse the trend in Spain toward home ownership.

Consequently, housing in Spain is perceived narrowly as a speculative good rather than an asset with broad value beyond its speculative price. This narrow view results in a progressive increase in home value. In Spain, an average of 42 percent of a family’s available income is dedicated to the acquisition or rental of housing. The impoverishment of families, caused by accumulated debts and heightened rent, reduces their ability to spend their income on other basic needs like health care, education and so forth. This reality is especially important for young people at the age of independence (between 25 to 34), whose low poverty rates hide under economic dependence on their parents. For example, 60 percent of young people in Spain aged 25 to 29 still live with their parents compared to 20 to 22 percent in France, the U.K., or the Netherlands.

On the other hand, the supply of public housing is inadequate. In Spain, the social rental housing stock comprises 2 percent of total available housing (versus the 18 percent European average, which is as high as 35 percent in the Netherlands). Additionally, the current measures for public housing subsidized by the government do not create a permanent number of available housing because the subsidized properties re-enter the regular speculative housing market after a certain period of time. This leads to a misallocation of public funds to private flows (i.e. since the initial purchase of housing was already subsidized in different ways: Access to credits and subsidies). On top of this, the costs of governance for public housing are very high and the administration tends to outsource this managerial task to private service agencies without any social ambition.

Different ways to make housing more accessible have developed in the private sector, such as construction cooperatives that provide access to housing at cost price. However, these models do not break the speculative dynamics in the sale, which can take place once the construction phase is over.

Economically, an unbalanced housing policy has negative long-term consequences. For example, the inflexibility of the housing market reduces the mobility of the labor seeking population and reduces their ability to better avail of offers of employment. This brings about greater labor market rigidities in the current context of alarming levels of unemployment.

La estrategia

Raúl’s goal is to change the governmental housing policy to include more flexible housing solutions based on a home’s broader measure of utility rather than its narrower speculative market value. To achieve this he is working at different levels to influence public policy, making different legislative and financial tools available for its implementation, developing pilot projects to prove the models effectiveness, and carrying out communication efforts to spread the model. From a policy perspective, Raúl is working at local, regional, and national levels to create an enabling environment for this model to be developed. On the one hand, he works with local municipalities to include the model in local housing plans, while influencing regional regulations that make subsidies and other financial tools available for this model to compete in equal conditions with other models, such as renting. One of his achievements, for instance, has been to have his model included in the Master Plan for Housing of the Catalonian government, thereby making it eligible for all subsidies and support mechanisms already available for rental homes. In other cases, such as one of his projects under negotiation, the city council has made land available for construction under this model. The government lends the land for a long period of time without losing its ownership, and therefore without losing assets in the long run. One of Raúl’s objectives is to promote legislative change at a national level as well, so that more municipalities implement this form of access to land.

Raúl is also working on creating financial tools and products to finance the cooperatives’ projects. At the moment, Raúl is aiming toward the next two-year housing fund agreement, which will be signed by banks and the government ministry. His goal is for this agreement to include ethical banking institutions such as FIARE, which are willing to finance projects in the form of relinquished usage rights. Beyond the support mechanisms, Raúl is working through other platforms and regional governments to promote improvement in tax schemes for this model in order to make it more competitive with sale or rental regimes.

Raúl is launching a series of pilot projects with the goal of proving the models feasibility and offering successful showcase units. He has already launched a project with 9 families and 2 others that will accommodate 33 families are in the final negotiation stages. These experiences are causing a viral effect in other municipalities that have shown interest and are looking for new models that suit the housing needs while reducing public expenditure in administrating social housing.

In addition to influencing public policy and creating financial tools, to ensure that the model of relinquished usage rights will have a widespread impact—and therefore contribute to balancing the structure of rent and property in Spain in the long-term—an awareness spreading effort is needed to explain the concept and show successful experiences that are underway. To achieve this, Raúl is launching an intense dissemination strategy through forums and platforms specialized in housing. Unlike other more activist movements, Raúl is using concrete proposals and pilot projects to talk with municipal councils so that they can test the model and share the results. Once these types of projects are approved, existing cooperative and cooperative managing entities can be used as channels as they adopt this model as another product in their range of promotions. In fact, larger players like traditional cooperatives, who were at first not very supportive, are showing interest in his model, as a new product to incorporate into their portfolio.

In order to achieve this broad impact, Raúl is integrating experts from many different fields—lawyers, urban planners, psychologists, and sociologists—to work in specialized and multidisciplinary teams. Working from a multidisciplinary perspective has been crucial in order to adapt the model to the complexity of Spanish context with a very rigid housing policy history, and where local, regional, and national administrations have legislative and implementation competencies.

La persona

Besides his passion for building things as an engineer, Raúl has been interested from childhood in building a society where more people have the opportunity to live in better conditions. This has led him to undertake a series of projects. For example, at university, along with some friends, Raúl launched a series of initiatives including a consumer cooperative (i.e. later replicated in another city) and an association supporting innovative cooperation initiatives in other countries.

After leaving university with a specialization in housing and construction, Raúl collided with a problem that—he soon discovered—many young people face: The impossibility of obtaining affordable housing in the city where he worked. To temporarily solve the problem he resolved to live in a farmhouse in a community with professionals from other sectors just outside Barcelona, where they commuted. During this time of constant interaction with people from other specialties, Raúl discovered the power of synergy of multidisciplinary work. Still, the experiment did not leave Raúl satisfied as he met more and more people looking for a solution to live near their place of work without having to deal with the insecurity of renting a home or the discomfort of living with parents.

During this time, Raúl began to travel with his work to Northern European countries (e.g. Germany, Denmark, England, and so on) where he found alternatives that did not fall into the category of rent or speculative buying and selling. With this in mind, he began to design an alternative housing model absorbing foreign experiences and adapting them to the reality of Spain. Once Raúl had an idea, he began to talk with others from different fields but with similar concerns; who later became the core team of Sostre Civic (Civic Roof)—the organization that designs and carries out the implementation of relinquished usage cooperatives.

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