The Intermediation Service for People in the Process of Evictions and Occupancies (SIPHO) is the last phase in an intervention by the Unit Against Residential Exclusion under Barcelona Municipality's 2016-25 Right to Housing Plan. Its objective is to coordinate relevant actors and resources for urgent, integral intervention.
The service intervenes in cases where eviction orders are being executed, and debt settlement arrangements and income continuance have either not been explored or not been accepted. Its functions include:
• Mediation between landlords and tenants, and between lenders and mortgagees;
• Options to assume the existing debt and arrears and allow occupants to remain in place;
• Arrangements for legal aid;
• Advice and assistance;
• And competency to allocate alternative housing where evictions are unavoidable.
In 2016 the service helped more than 1,570 families, representing 80% of the total cases in the city.
Traditionally, homelessness has been addressed as a social services issue. It is evolving from a “staircase” model, where the person has to meet certain conditions in order to gradually have access to better and more stable housing, toward the “housing first” model, based on direct access to long-term housing together with social support. This latter has proved more cost-effective and with better results.
The SIPHO programme takes this same logic but applied to preventive measures deriving from housing policies. If “housing first” puts housing at the centre of social integration, this same principle should remain when evictions take place in case of vulnerability and exclusion.
This programme is the last resource against homelessness. Its objective is to coordinate all the actors and resources involved through an integral intervention on urgent cases.
The functions include: mediation, options for assuming debt and allowing occupants to remain, arrangements for legal aid, advice and assistance, and authority to allocate alternative housing.
The interventions involve cases where eviction is underway and debt settlements and income continuance have not been explored or were rejected. This practice belongs to the Unit Against Residential Exclusion of the Right to Housing Plan wider plan of Barcelona.
The practice presented by Barcelona Municipality embraces the URBACT principles of sustainable urban living. The objective of this practice is to reduce homelessness through preventive measures on eviction processes, therein linked with poverty and social exclusion.
Homelessness is often the outcome of the complex interplay of a series of vulnerability factors. However, unemployment and household over-indebtedness remain major risks across Europe, according to the 2016 European Commission Research project “Homeless prevention in the context of evictions”.
The SIPHO practice is also a relevant example of the integrated and participative approach principles. Its objective is to reduce eviction through effective interventions that often include the coordination of a wide array of services, both horizontally (social services, housing offices, emergency services, health services, educational services at the local level) and vertically, with metropolitan, provincial and regional organisations.
The coordination with other civil society organisations is equally essential. In the case of Barcelona it constitutes a key element at different stages: at the time of identifying the cases, when neighbourhood associations or the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) report cases, and also while finding solutions, when non-governmental organisations provide emergency housing alternatives or emergency aid funds.
To a great extent, interventions in urgent evictions were previously carried out by civil society organisations, like the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages and other NGOs. However, the profile of the evicted people has changed since then, now mostly affecting rental and social housing and precarious occupancies. In this regard, Barcelona has now joined the most common profile of evictions in most EU cities.
Despite this, the structures, procedures and lessons learned from the large number of evictions due to foreclosures have greatly contributed to developing this local practice. Their participation has been essential in both the design and the implementation of the practice.
Participatory bodies like the Housing Advisory Board (Conseill d´Habitatge), the Local Eviction Network (Taula de Desonaments), the District Housing Meetings or the Local Social Emergency Network (Mesa de Emergencia Social) have been set up to assess cases and prioritise access to alternative accommodation. These bodies have a watchdog role in implementation and accountability processes.
According to the Unit Against Residential Exclusion (UCER) of the Housing Department, where the SIPHO operates, 679 families were assisted in 2014, 1,020 families in 2015 and 1,574 families in 2016. That means an annual increase of almost 50%. This number does not correspond to an increase of eviction cases, quite the contrary. In 2016, the number of evictions decreased by 8%. However, it remains extraordinary high, with 30 evictions a week just in Barcelona. Nonetheless, this last data should be read with caution, as they are not disaggregated between first homes and other kinds of real estate.
The increase of families assisted by this homelessness prevention project corresponds to the local administration’s firm commitment to strengthen this service. Today, 80% of eviction processes involve this service.
It should be noted that data on eviction is extremely hard to collect as it is frequently dispersed, not disaggregated or is even non-existent. Due to the extraordinary number of evictions in Spain since the beginning of the economic crisis, Spain has some of the most accurate data in the EU, according to the experts that coordinated the European Commission report, “Homeless prevention in the context of evictions”.
A large share of the population cannot access adequate housing, especially low- and lower-income households. Housing affordability is becoming a great concern in urban contexts across the EU, with more than 17.3% of the population facing risks of poverty, 11.4% of the population living with burdensome housing costs and with dropping investment in social housing (EUROSTAT). The widespread increase of homelessness is one of the outcomes of these factors (FEANTSA).
Homelessness carries an enormous human cost for the individual or the family affected, but it also carries a large cost for public budgets. Keeping a family in their home is a much more cost-effective approach than paying for inappropriate emergency housing. According to European Commission research mentioned in former sections, in countries like Austria and Germany, it has been estimated that each €1 spent on prevention services may save €7 of costs for temporary accommodations and rehabilitation for homeless households.
In addition, a number of national experts have identified deficits in the availability and accessibility of eviction prevention services, according to the EU report, and cities are best equipped to conduct this preventive intervention. Finally, in order to meet the priorities of the Urban Agenda of the EU, the New Urban Agenda of the UN Habitat World Conference as well as the forthcoming European Pillar of Social Rights, this practice should be incorporated.