Housing not for all. The lack of universal accessibility to housing in multi-unit buildings in Spain, Sweden and Germany

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/JPPEL-05-2019-0028
Pages35-54
Publication Date21 Nov 2019
AuthorSergio Nasarre-Aznar,Héctor Simón-Moreno
SubjectProperty management & built environment,Building & construction,Building & construction law,Real estate & property,Property law
Housing not for all
The lack of universal accessibility to housing
in multi-unit buildings in Spain, Sweden
and Germany
Sergio Nasarre-Aznar and Héctor Sim
on-Moreno
UNESCO Housing Chair, Rovira i Virgili University, Tarragona, Spain
Abstract
Purpose This study aims to explorethe current situation of universal accessibility to multi-unitbuildings
in three European countries(Spain, Germany and Sweden), in view of the lack of effective European rules on
this topic, withthe aim to identify which legal frameworks and policies may be useful to favour it.
Design/methodology/approach The results presented in this work are based on empirical data
gathered from three surveysconducted in three representative countries of different housingmodels (Spain,
Germany and Sweden). These surveys addressedthe grade of accessibility at each point of the route that a
person with mobility diff‌iculties,with a physical def‌iciency or aged þ70, has to do to access to their home
from a public streetor road.
Findings The current paper shows that, in the end, there is still a long way to go in termsof universal
accessibility to multi-unit buildings in, at least, three European Union Member States as, according to this
studysf‌indings, the percentage of universally accessible multi-unit buildings is limited to 0.6 per cent in
Spain, 2.5 per cent in Sweden and 1.5 per cent in Germany. The study also identif‌ies successful legal
frameworks and policies among the studied countries that may be useful to achieve a true universal
accessibilityto f‌lats located in multi-unit buildings.
Research limitations/implications The legal frameworks and policies identif‌ied in this paper in
terms of promotinguniversal accessibility to housing locatedin multi-unit buildings may provide guidanceto
other researchersand policymakers when addressing this topic, thus helpingthem to reach an egalitarian and
inclusivesociety.
Originality/value This paper goes one step further than previous works as it is based on up to date
empirical data concerning accessibility and it identif‌ies successful legal frameworks and policies in a
comparativeperspective.
Keywords Disabled, Elderly, Housing, Condominiums, Multi-unit buildings, Universal accessibility
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 (CRPD)[1]
contains accessibility obligations regarding the identif‌ication and elimination of obstacles and
barriers to accessibility in buildings (Article 9). Even though the CRPD formulates
accessibilityas a general principle and identif‌ies general obligations for the State Parties,
This paper has been possible thanks to the project of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and
Competitiveness Collaborative housing(2018-20; DER2017-84726-C3-1-P) and the research award
ICREA (2016-20) awarded to Professor Nasarre-Aznar. The authors would like to thank Santi Ariste
and Irene Suau for their involvement in the data gathering and processing that sustains this work, as
well as Sandra Gerdes and Valerie Müller (University of Bremen) and Dr Elisabeth Ahlinder
(University of Stockholm) for their valuable insight into the interpretation of the results of the survey
conducted in Germany and Sweden. All responsibility, though, remains of the authors.
Housing not
for all
35
Received31 May 2019
Revised17 September 2019
Accepted14 October 2019
Journalof Property, Planning and
EnvironmentalLaw
Vol.12 No. 1, 2020
pp. 35-54
© Emerald Publishing Limited
2514-9407
DOI 10.1108/JPPEL-05-2019-0028
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
https://www.emerald.com/insight/2514-9407.htm
e.g. they should protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities, authors even
advocate that the CRPD has created self-standing rights imposing obligations of a positive
nature, i.e. a new human right, the right to accessibility, is contained in Article 9 CRPD
(Broderick, 2019). In the same vein, accessible housing is also included within the elements the
right to housing is comprised as enshrined in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights 1966[2]. The promotion and integration of the rights of persons with
disabilities is also provided for in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 26), which is
in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 10 (reduce inequality within and among
countries) of the UN declaration on Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development(Fundamental Rights Agency, 2019b).
Even though the European Union (EU) acceded the UN Convention in December 2010,
the Commissions proposal for a European Accessibility Act (2015)[3], which aims to
improve the functioningof the internal market for accessible products and services pursuant
to the priorities set out in the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020[4], housing is not
included within the scope of the Act. The lack of binding rules concerning the built
environment at the EU level has been the object of some criticism on the part of the
Fundamental Rights Agency (2019a), the European Disability Forum[5] and the European
Association for the Coordination of Consumer Representation in Standardisation (ANEC,
2019). The lack of EU rules on housing accessibilitymeans that this issue remains mainly a
matter that falls underthe jurisdiction of national governments.
In this vein, evidence from the Fundamental Rights Agency shows that EU Member
States have adopted mandatoryaccessibility standards for the construction and alterationof
national and local authority buildings (Fundamental Rights Agency, 2015), and the
European Federation for Living[6] has produced a comparison leaf‌let concerning accessible
housing in different European countries.Nevertheless, the cross-border study conducted by
the Academic Network of European DisabilityExperts (2013)[7] noted that the existence of
specif‌ic accessibility requirements (and general obligations) are far from universal for
private housing, by comparisonwith public buildings, and with less coverage than for work
places, the Eurobarometeron accessibility of 2012[8] showed that 38 per cent of the citizens
interviewed or a member of their familieshad at some time experienced diff‌iculties entering
into a building or an open public space, and the EU Project Free Movements and Equal
Opportunities for All(LivingAll)concluded that little has changed in terms of accessibility
(in a broad sense) in some EU Member States in recent decades (Kerbler, 2012). There are
also some studies (albeit few) undertaken at national level showing the existence of
environmental barriers in housing[9]. As a result, the lack of accessibility in the built
environment seems to be a European problem, whichis in breach of the duties enshrined in
the CRPD.
The lack of housing accessibility could be considered to constitute a discriminatory act
(Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2014) as it increases the risk of a
lower degree of social participation, which can ultimately lead to poorer self-management,
isolation and higher health-care needs (Slaug et al., 2017). An accessible built environment
plays a key role in achieving a society based on equal rights, as it provides citizens with
autonomy and the means for buildingan active social and economic life (Kerbler, 2012). The
link between accessible housing (i.e. homemodif‌ication) and health-related quality of life in
terms of increased safety and conf‌idence, improved mobility at home, increased
independence, supportedcare-giving role, increased social participation and ability to return
home from hospital, has alreadybeen measured (Carnemolla and Bridge, 2016). In a similar
vein, Eurostat[10] conf‌irmed that people with an activity limitation seem more likely to
experience problems associated with housing deprivation (e.g. no bath or shower in the
JPPEL
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