About the Affordable Cities blog series and #BetterUrbanHousing
People living in cities across the world are facing the effects of the housing affordability and cost-of-living crisis. OECD Champion Mayors recently endorsed the new “OECD Brussels Blueprint for Affordable cities and Housing for All” at the Brussels Urban Summit where they shared innovative solutions to tackle these challenges and drive more inclusive economic growth. They continue to drive efforts that shape a more affordable, equitable and resilient urban future. www.oecd-inclusive.com/champion-mayors/
The city of Braga, in the North of Portugal, is facing a housing crisis unprecedented in its recent history. Braga emerged as the third-largest city in Portugal in the 1970s and one of its competitive appeals was the low prices of housing.
The last decade turned that on its head. While Portugal as a whole saw its population decrease by 2.1% between 2011-21, the city of Braga saw its resident population increase by 6.5%. This pushed up rents and prices and left many families struggling to find affordable housing. Now, after the construction crisis of the last decade, they are facing a perfect storm of rising interest rates and high inflation.
Even though the Municipality has issued the most construction or rehabilitation permits for three of the past five years, the city is struggling to provide access to housing, especially for low-income families, young couples and even middle-class residents.
Lending a hand
The municipality decided it was time for a reset. Together with the municipal company for housing, BragaHabit we have implemented several measures to tackle the crisis, including:
- Expanding the eligibility for rental support.
- Supported Rental – houses owned by the municipality are rented directly to low-income families. The rent is calculated according to the income of the families.
- Sublease – a programme that assigns housing rented by BragaHabit to citizens in economic and financial vulnerability.
- Direct Rental Support Regime (RADA) – provides a subsidy to support rents in the private market.
- Shared Residence – assigns rooms within a shared home under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Braga or BragaHabit. This regime is accompanied by permanent social support.
- Direct Loan Support Regime – created in 2022, this initiative provides a subsidy contributing to monthly mortgage payments contracted signed before the end of 2021, for the acquisition of permanent and owner-occupied housing. The access is granted to applicants registered in the city and residing there for more than three years and aged 18 or over.
- Accessible Rental – created in 2022, the Municipality assigns housing rented by BragaHabit to citizens in economic and financial vulnerability, subject to the same rules as the supported rental regime, and the owners who place these properties under this regime benefit from tax incentives from the city.
- Municipal Program to Tackle Energy Poverty – created in 2022, this initiative supports families in a situation of economic and financial vulnerability and potential energy poverty, who do not reside in social housing, to improve the condition and the energy performance of their homes.
Getting Braga building
The city of Braga is now updating its Municipal Master Plan to unlock more urban land for housing, to boost supply and attract investment. At same time, the city has reviewed its Local Housing Strategy, with a planned investment of 123 million euros (the largest concerted investment ever in housing in Braga). These actions will not only offer more homes but also better housing at prices that are fairer and more suitable for individuals and families.
The plan has increased the Urban Rehabilitation Area of the city from 140 to 255 hectares and merged three other former external areas into one, the City Expansion Urban Rehabilitation Area. This almost doubled its area from 1,400 hectares to 2,500 hectares. In these areas, we have focussed on achieving regeneration through new housing investment, while also planning a significant investment in municipal public spaces.
Finally, Braga is making efforts to simplify and streamline procedures through legislative simplification, digitisation and innovations in areas such as sustainable building licensing.
I believe we are making all the right moves to banish Braga’s housing crisis over the next decade. Let’s talk again in 2030?
About the OECD Champion Mayors Initiative
Created in 2016, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative is a global coalition of mayors who meet on a regular basis to share their experience in the pursuit of inclusive growth in cities. Since its inception, over 100 different mayors from around the world have joined the Initiative, contributing their voice to the global debate, and making major strides in their cities toward youth empowerment, sustainable climate policy and support for SMEs. The Champion Mayors will meet at the Brussels Urban Summit on 13 June to drive change on improving housing affordability and cost of living for residents in their cities.
Ricardo Rio is the Mayor of Braga since 2013, the third largest city of Portugal. Besides being a proud member of the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative, is an Executive Committee Member of EUROCITIES, Member of board of the Global Parliament of Mayors and a member of the European Committee of the Regions (where he is the Vice-Chairman of SEDEC Commission). He was the winner of the World Mayor Prize for Sustainability 2021, attributed by The City Mayors Foundation. Under Mayor Rio’s leadership, Braga is a founder member of the Global StartUp Cities initiative, member of the EUROCITIES Green City Accord and member of the European Commission and European Committee of the Regions’ Chamber of National Ambassadors of the Covenant of Mayors for Portugal.