This program provides urgent, coordinated support for people at risk of becoming homeless in the city of Barcelona.
SIPHO’s objective is to coordinate relevant actors and resources for urgent and integral intervention to avoid eviction. 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.
This project was awarded the 'URBACT Good Practice Label' in 2017. Learn more about the award.
Background and objectives
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”. 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 uses 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.
The objective of this practice is to reduce homelessness through preventive measures on eviction processes, therein linked with poverty and social exclusion.
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 Housing Plan. The SIPHO practice is a relevant example of 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 large extent, interventions in urgent evictions were previously carried out by civil society organisations, such as 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.
Financing and resources
The lead agency for the project is the Barcelona City Council, Unit Against Residential Exclusion.
The budget to date is:
Results and impacts
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”.
Barriers and challenges
The main challenges for the 2016-2-25 Right to Housing Plan are:
- Boosting mediation and help with rent payments, to enable housing access and maintenance.
- Preventing the replacement of housing and protecting residents.
- Increasing the public housing stock.
- Mobilising the private stock towards affordable housing.
- Developing an active redevelopment policy that boosts the city's more vulnerable environments.
- Helping to ensure the social function of housing and to prevent anomalies in its uses.
- Preparing the city for an ageing population.
Lessons learned and transferability
A large percentage 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.
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.
URBACT case study: intermediation service for people in the process of evictions and occupancies Urgent, coordinated support for people at risk of becoming homeless: http://urbact.eu/intermediation-service-people-process-evictions-and-occupancies