Non-year round occupied housing (4) Germany

vacias alemania


Vacant housing in Germany concentrates mainly in the Eastern states (former Democratic Republic) and in some western rural areas. According to data from the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR), but for some exceptions the vacant homes ratio is under 10%, and the most often under 5%; the ratio is under 2,5% in Hamburg, and under 5% in Berlin. But the notes joining the map make me suspect that these ratios are not fully comparable to those used in other countries due to methodological issues. Anyway, demographics make for a future increase in the ratio.

Non-year round occupied housing (3) Seasonal

Seasonal housing ratio in Spanish municipalities with population over 2.000 in 2011

Seasonal housing ratio in Spanish municipalities with population over 2.000 in 2011

San Javier, in the Murcia region, is the Spanish municipality with the higher seasonal housing ratio. In a grand total of 39.554 housing units, in 2011 up to 23.365 were counted as seasonal. In fact, along most of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, out of the large metropolitan areas, it would be difficult (were it not by the census bureau rules) to tell which homes are vacant and which are seasonal; taking into account the travelling habits and the personal life paths of many north Europeans living in the area for long periods during the year, the idea of permanent residence itself could be a little fuzzy.

Seasonal housing ratio in French communeswith population over 2.000 in 2009

Seasonal housing ratio in French communeswith population over 2.000 in 2009

In France the municipality over 20.000 with the highest share of seasonal housing is Agde (population 24.000), which has 44.311 housing units overall, of which 30.606 (69%) are seasonal. Again a summer holidays area, with dynamics somehow similar to those in San Javier, but for a relevant difference: the large seaside resort of Cap d’Agde, part of the large regional planning for the tourism development of the Languedoc Coast, began in the 1960s. Tourism activity is concentrated in that resort.

Non-year round occupied housing (2) Vacant

Percentage of vacant housing units over the whole residential stock in Spanish municipalities with population over 2.000 (2011)

Percentage of vacant housing units over the whole residential stock in Spanish municipalities with population over 2.000 (2011). The higher ratios are in smaller municipalities, in which a limited number of development projects can have an enormous impact.

Percentage of vacant housing units over the whole residential stock in French municipalities with population over 2.000 (2009)

Percentage of vacant housing units over the whole residential stock in French municipalities with population over 2.000 (2009). The demographic crisis in rural areas is clear

The Spanish municipality over 20.000 with the highest ratio of vacant housing units was in 2011 Torre-Pacheco, with a grand total of 20.386 units, of which 7.326 vacant units. The presence of large tourism subdivisions built during the last decade, with problems to get a first buyer, explains this partially. 

In France, Vichy (pop 25.100) had a total of 20.319 housing units, including 1.233 seasonal homes and 4.408 vacant units (22%).  A real estate market moved by spa tourism seems to be at least partially the reason.

Non-year round occupied housing (1) Lowest vacant ratio

Housing is, by principle, the main urban function, but a set of housing units does not imply, in itself, an urban reality; so, in the next articles the focus will be on municipalities with populations over 20.000, a size beyond which realities of a certain complexity should become apparent and you get rid of some extreme cases as 100% rural communities or municipalities that are just a ski resort.

According to the 2011 census the Spanish municipality with the smallest vacant housing units ratio was Moguer (close to 21.000 residents), with 8.068 overall homes, of which only 105 vacant (1,3%) and 199 seasonal homes. It is a municipality which is linked to the metropolitan dynamics of Huelva, the provincial capital; the municipal economy depends partially on the coastal tourism village of Mazagón (shared with the neighboring municipality of Palos, which owns the littoral strip), but also in a large part on an irrigation agriculture (strawberries, among other crops) which attracts a relevant number of foreign seasonal workers, which have had in the past specific housing problems. Attention, the google image only shows the central urban zone.

Just to compare, in France the commune with the lowest vacant housing ratio in 2012 was Colomiers (pop. 34.300), with an overall stock of 14.813 housing units, including 174 seasonal homes and 148 vacant units (1%). Located west of Toulouse, in its metropolitan area, its growth began in the 1960s and its economy is linked to aerospace (Airbus) and office spaces.

On both cases, the communities are integrated in wider metropolitan scale dynamics.

Biblio (39) Spanish housing census 2011

Percentage of vacant housing units in Spain in 2011, by province

Percentage of vacant housing units in Spain in 2011, by province

On april 19 the data on housing of the 2011 census have been published by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (demographic data were published prior, with a total population of 46,815 millions). The main figures are:

  • 25,208 millions housing units (a rise of 4,26 millions for the last decade)
  • 18,083 million permanently occupied units (a rise of 3,89 millions)
  • 3,681 million seasonal units (a rise of 28.602 units)
  • 3,443 million vacant units (a rise of 336.943 units)

The general dynamic for the last century has been:

  • +14,6% population
  • +27,5% permanently occupied homes (equal to family units)
  • +20,3% overall housing units.

Spain is a big country, in geography and in population, so these numbers summarize quite diverse local conditions. By regions, the highest rise in overall units has been in Murcia (an area subject to tourism demand) with 31,1%, and the lowest in the Basque country (the region with the most stringent growth control and regional planning system), with 14,4%.

What do these figures mean when compared to other contexts?

According to the INSEE data, in France there were in 2012 (for 65,6 millions residents) a grand total of 33,192 million housing units, of which 27,680 mill. were permanently occupied, 3,153 mill. seasonally occupied, and 2,359 mill. vacant.

The US Census Bureau shows for 2011 (for 311 million people) 132,419 million units overall, of which 114,907 mill. year round occupied, 4,133 mill. seasonal, and 13,379 mill. vacant.

Comparing the data from the three countries, the average household size (persons per permanent housing unit) is rather similar, with 2,5 in Spain, 2,4 in France and 2,7 in the US. The main difference is in the vacancy rate (vacant units in the overall housing stock): 13,7% in Spain, 7% in France, 10,1% in the US (a large market with higher local values, as 14% in metro Phoenix). Seasonal housing rate is also different: 14,6% in Spain, 9,% in France, 3,1% in the US; the effect of the “northeuropean drem” of a house under the sun are important.

The census shows the relevance of history: the region with the highest ratio of seasonal housing (Castilla y Leon) and the region with the highest percentage of vacant housing (Galicia) owe these results mainly to the intense depopulation in the rural areas during the XXth century.

While the vacant units built during the last decade were over 700.000 in 2011, there were also over a million units built between 1961 and 1980, in worse conditions and with more problems to reintegrate the market.These are two different kinds of problem: the first is a banking and general economy problem, as often these homes were still held by the developer, and they have been also often repossessed by the lending banks due to payment defaults, while the second implies much more diffuse economic losses, but a potentially harder urban problem: decay.

Biblio (37) Renovating Madrid

Biblio 37-Barómetro35

And again a text I have co-authored (there is also an abstract in english). The Economic Barometer of the City of Madrid presents a vision of the city economy, with an analysis of the current situation based on structural elements and a vision of the city rank as related to other metropolitan areas. Our text appears on the first issue in 2013.

The question asked by the City of Madrid, which led to writing this article, is to which extent  the renovation of the built stock can contribute to re-start the building industry? As the current economic crisis in Spain is largely tied to the real estate crisis, the issue is really complex.

The article must not be read as a forecast; in urban planning, as in almost any matter linked to the real world and not only that of the ideas, a prevision of the future is not possible, even more for a distant future, but you can at least define an idea on where you want to go to at least orient your actions, that will forcibly be to adapt to the unknown.

But it is an analysis of the current situation of the housing stock in the city (with the limitations deriving from an article of 40 pages), of what is being made in other similar contexts, and of what could happen if the European directives on energy efficiency are really enforced.  Because, as much of the XXth century city was defined by the car, the XXIst century could be, at least in Europe and according to the rules that are being configured, be defined by energy and environmental quality requisites; I can see the skeptic smiles of some, but in fact this would only be an evolution of a previous idea of modernity enclosed in the hygienism of the late XIXth century.

The building renovation sector can become important in Madrid as there is a need to renovate a residential stock with problems and there is a set of new government measures; but for this there is a need to orient clearly the current revision of the General Plan to that end, and to have families understand the benefit of renovating their current homes instead of moving towards newly built homes, not forgetting the need to normalize credit markets. And improving employment, to solve the two biggest deep problems: youth unemployment and the offer-demand unbalance of the residential market.

Urban sprawl (4) Latin America


Latin America suffers from a severe housing shortage, that governments try to tackle by providing housing neighborhoods (often under the “progressive housing” model), with projects that try to use the resources in a rational way, often based in a cost analysis that covers the project stage (and not the operational costs).

So, often the least costly land is acquired, without regard to its location. The resulting new neighborhood is far away from the city in which there are jobs and services. The recent economic growth has led to increased car ownership rates by families, so in the end you either have an increased car use or longer commute times in underperforming transit systems, or even an outright project failure (recent CEPAL reports document cases in which the housing has been outright abandoned).

Urban sprawl (1) Seseña

Spain was subject to a first wave of “modern” sprawl during the 1960s and 1970s, during a period of strong economic growth and arrival to the city of rural populations, in which enormous extensions of housing developments appeared around Madrid and other big cities, with multifamily buildings from 3 to 8 storey which, in a context in which formal planning was still in its first moments, location was chosen more often than not according to the low real estate costs and nothing else. These neighborhoods differ from other built around the same moment in Europe due to their almost entire composition by owned homes (rented housing had very small share overall) and a certain lack of public facilities, and also by the fact that some took 20 years to complete streets and urban services networks. This probably had a subconscient effect on the perception, around the middle of the 2000’s of what is now described.


Seseña has become for many in Spain an example of what is wrong with the urban planning system. The municipality, 40 km south of Madrid, has suffered several irregularities in the management of private developments for housing. Those willing to know the case in more detail can read the Official Bulletin of the State (in Spanish). Maybe the most curious thing, having witnessed how the polemic grew in Madrid, is that the origin of the case was not sprawl, but landscape. On the limit between the provinces of Madrid and Toledo there is already a clear trend towards a low density sprawl, usually around the traditional villages.

Here the polemic comes from an urban growth separated from the village with seven storey buildings, that can be seen from the surrounding freeways; with 13.508 homes to be built between 2007 and 2017 according to the enacted plan, and a density over 70 homes per hectare (over 140 per acre), some sprawl problems can seem solved, but the location and the land use mix (nearly all apartments) make the thing problematic. This led to critics to the planning model in the regional law, and to further investigation that showed that there were also mismanagement issues in other developments in the municipality.

In 2011 (year in which the parliament report is published) there were already permits issued for 5.096 homes, and in 2012 the national statistics show that there were already 3.589 people living in the area. With the real estate crisis the home prices have gone down, and sales continue.


See it on google maps

Housing (11) 100.000 euros in the Madrid area

viv valdemoro

100.000 euros, that magic number that has grabbed everyone’s attention thanks to the Cypriot crisis. What does this money means in a large european metropolitan area like Madrid? with that, you can buy  a very small appartment in central Madrid whose conservation condition should be verified, or in one of the areas hastily developed during the 1960s. But if you want to buy something larger, new, to go live with your family, this could be an example of what you could get: 106 sq m of built up area (comprising ancillary elements, garage and a storage) in Valdemoro. The appartment would be some 600 m away from the regional train station, and from there you would have a 41 min ride to Sol, considered usually the central core of Madrid. Besides, the building has a swiming pool (far from irrelevant with summers over 40 degrees celsius…). Data obtained from idealista.com this week. Valdemoro 3

viv valdemoro2

Housing (10) RIVP


Building at ZAC Claude Bernard, by V.Brossy, architect


The Régie Immobilière de la Ville de Paris is a mixed-economy corporation that focuses on social housing into Paris (91% of its assets) and its outskirts (9%). The apartments are rented under different schemes.

Fiscal incomes that are used to decide who is entitled to a social housing unite go from 22.113 euros for a single person under PLUS to 90.025 for six persons or a single person with 4 dependent people.

The corporation introduces sustainable development innovation in its buildings, but a substantial part of its budget goes to conservation works in the existing buildings.


Geographical distribution of RIVP’s assets. The north and the east, areas with lesser revenues, have higher shares of social housing. Out of the Peripherique beltway most of the social housing is provided for by other agencies