Controversial ‘beehive’ housing arrives in Barcelona on the sly

For the past few weeks Harry Kajevic has been sleeping in a 2.4-square-metre capsule flat in a clandestine location.

Controversial 'beehive' housing arrives in Barcelona on the sly
Photos: AFP

He is one of the first residents of a “beehive”-style housing project, inspired by those in Japan or Hong Kong, which has opened in Barcelona despite not having a permit from the city authorities.

The initiative by the Spanish start-up company Haibu is made up of around 20 tiny living pods, which include a bed and nightstand.

They are housed side by side in a building with a shared kitchen, bathroom and terrace — all for 200 euros ($225) a month, at least in Kajevic's case.

Furniture is sparse, limited in the communal area to a few tables, chairs and a wardrobe for each resident which is too big for the rooms.

Haibu, which means beehive in Japanese, argues that the project is a solution to a shortage of affordable housing in the Spanish city.

But Barcelona's left-wing city hall says that such tiny accommodation is unfit for humans and violates local building laws.

“For me, this is decent housing. I go out into the streets clean and fed, I rest when I sleep,” said Kajevic, a 42-year-old burly Austrian truck driver, who just moved back to Barcelona after a previous period in the city.

Faced with the opposition of city hall, which forced Haibu to close its showroom, the project's promoters are cautious.

For fear of being spotted, entry to Haibu's first “beehive” is through a shop. The blinds of the building, which is still undergoing work, are drawn to hide the tenants' presence.

And promoters of the housing project switch their mobile phones to flight mode when they go to the building because they are afraid of being tracked.

'Better than the streets' 

“It's alright for a while, until I find something better,” said Hector Cabanol, boiling water in a microwave in the communal kitchen to prepare an instant coffee for lack of a stove.

The 36-year-old electrician, who got divorced last year, earns 800 euros per month at his part-time job.

Almost all his salary, 600 euros ($900), goes to pay child support for his daughters and a mortgage he still shares with his ex-wife.

“If it wasn't for this, I don't know what I would do. I survived by dipping into my savings, but they ran out. This is better than being on the streets,” said Cabanol.

At the end of last year, the average rent in Barcelona was 954.29 euros, a 40-percent jump over the end of 2013, according to figures from the regional government of Catalonia.

Real-estate websites rarely list rooms for rent in a shared apartment for less than 300 euros a month.

But 30 percent of all workers in Spain earn less than 1,230 euros a month, making it hard for many to find a place to live even if they work full-time.

Last year, more than 37,000 evictions were carried out in Spain due to unpaid rent, nine percent more than two years ago, according to court figures.

Several charities in Barcelona say that the city's homeless figures have risen since 2015 as rents have soared.

– 'Not dignified' –

But the capsules violate the law, which states that a person must live in at least five square metres (54 square feet).

Not even the largest pods aimed for couples are that size.

The smallest are two metres long, 1.2 metres wide and just 1.2 metres in height, meaning an adult cannot stand up in them.

The monthly rent varies between 125 and 325 euros depending on the size, number of residents and location.

“They are slums, they are not dignified housing,” said Barcelona's councillor in charge of urban planning, Janet Sanz.

“We agree that there must be affordable housing but there are limits,” she added.

Haibu presents the project as a social initiative. The company says it will offer residents professional counselling and that it will not exceed a five-percent profit.

“The goal is for people to come for just a brief period, get on their feet financially and move on,” said Marc Oliver, one of Haibu's founders.

The company cannot sign rental contracts, so instead it sells a monthly membership fee in a legal association which gives people the right to live in the housing.

Haibu is registered as a foundation in the Netherlands. It says it has 1.2 million euros to invest and employs 40 people.

Despite the risk of legal action, Oliver said the company was “charging ahead”.

“We have opened this beehive and we are going to open 17 beehives in total in Barcelona.

“As they close them, we will open more,” said Oliver, who plans to set up similar projects in Paris, Washington or Copenhagen.

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What to do about insects and other pests in your home in Spain?

Bugs and insects can sometimes be a problem in Spanish homes, particularly during the summer months. Here's what to do if you get an infestation and how to prevent them from happening.

What to do about insects and other pests in your home in Spain?

Fruit flies buzzing around the bins, cockroaches in the kitchen and ants invading your food cupboards can be a common sight in your Spanish home, more often than not in summer.

But what can you do when insects invade your home? 

What types of pests are common in Spain?

Bugs and insects that commonly invade homes in Spain include fruit flies, ants, stink bugs, cockroaches, pantry moths, plaster bagworms and mosquitoes.

Those who have pets may also have a problem with your animals bringing fleas and ticks into the home too.

READ ALSO: Ticks are proliferating in Spain: How to avoid them and protect yourself

These can cause a nuisance, not only flying around your home and biting you (in the case of mosquitoes, fleas and ticks), but they can get into your food and lay eggs in your cupboards.

How can I get rid of bugs in my home?

One of the most important ways you can keep insects and other bugs out of your home is to eliminate food sources.

This means always doing the washing up as soon as you’ve finished eating so there are no scraps laying around, sweeping kitchens and dining rooms regularly and putting opened food items in the fridge instead of the cupboards.

You also need to make sure you regularly empty your rubbish bin and that there are no gaps between the lid and the bin that flies can get in through.

Dusting, hoovering and general regular cleaning will also keep other insects at bay such as plaster bagworms and moths that lay larvae on your walls and ceiling.

Those with pets should make sure that animals are treated with flea and tick protection and combed through with special flea combs to make sure bugs are not stuck in their fur.

Summer can of course be very hot in Spain, with temperatures regularly in the high 30°Cs or even low 40°Cs in some parts of Andalusia and other regions, meaning that windows and doors are often left open to ensure a breeze. Unfortunately, this means that your home is more accessible to insects too.

If you can, get a fly screen for your doors and windows, so you can leave them open, but no bugs can get in. These fine mesh screens can be bought from hardware or home stores such as Leroy Merlin and can simply be lifted into place when you need them.

If you can’t get screens installed, then consider planting certain plants on windowsills or balconies. Lavender, basil, lemongrass and mint are all natural insect repellents.

Electric fly swats, ant traps and sticky paper can also all help eliminate pests in your home. 

READ ALSO: What venomous species are there in Spain?


When the situation becomes worse, simple everyday cleaning won’t suffice and you may need to use insecticides to kill the infestation. There are many different brands in Spain. Both Protect Home and Compo have several different products you can use.

If you don’t want to use chemical insecticides, natural ones made from white vinegar, citrus plants, or peppermint oil can also work.

Pest control

If the situation becomes completely out of control and you find that insects are not only entering your home but that they are breeding there too, it’s time to call in the professionals. Pest control services are available across Spain.

The first step is to check your home insurance to see if they will cover this service. If they won’t, they may be able to suggest a company that can help.

Otherwise, a quick Google search for ‘Control de plagas’ (pest control) and then your area should provide you with plenty of options.

According to the home website Habitissimo, pest control services in Spain can range from €80 up to €2,000 depending on the type of infestation you have, how serious the problem is and how big your property is. On average it will cost you around €267.