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How foreigners can access social housing in Spain

Which foreigners can apply for social housing in Spain? What are the requirements in the different regions and how do you go about applying for this benefit?

How foreigners can access social housing in Spain
There are slightly different ways to apply for social housing in Spain depending on the region you live in. Photo: CometoCatalonia/Unsplash

Social housing or Vivienda de Protección Oficial (VPO) as it’s called in Spain is a type of housing benefit for low earners, allowing you to access subsidised apartments or houses to rent or buy.

But are foreigners able to apply for these or is it only for Spanish nationals?

Can foreigners apply?

Yes, as long as you are legally resident in Spain, have all the necessary residency documents such as TIE or green residency certificate and meet all the specific requirements, such as low income. 

In fact, according to the stats for 2018, 25 percent of people who applied for social housing in Spain were foreigners. 

However, each region in Spain has slightly different requirements and some have established a minimum residency period, so all foreigners may not be able to apply in all regions. It will depend on your individual circumstances.

How much does social housing cost in Spain?

The price discount for VPO housing isn’t fixed and is adjusted regularly by Spain’s regional governments but the following table by the Spanish General Council of Notaries reflects the difference in price per square metre between vivienda libre (VL, free housing) and vivienda de protección oficial (VPO, social housing). 

The difference in prices between free and social housing across Spain’s regions from November 2020 to November 2021. Source: Spain’s General Council of Notaries

What are the requirements?

As mentioned above, each region in Spain has slightly different requirements, but in general, they are:

  • You must be of legal age
  • You must be legally registered in your region
  • You cannot already own your own home 
  • Your income as a family must not exceed 5.5 times the IPREM

The IPREM for 2022 is €579.02 per month, so for example, in order to qualify, your household income cannot exceed €3,181.61 per month.

You must be able to prove your income with a certificate from the tax agency, as well as the income of all members of your family unit.

apartments in Spain

People with a high income will generally not be able to access social housing in Spain. Photo: Daniel Álvasd / Unsplash

How do I apply?

There are slightly different ways to apply depending on the region you live in. Here, we’ll cover some of the main regions popular with foreign residents. 

Andalusia

In Andalusia, if you want to buy social housing your income as a family must not exceed 5.5 times the IPREM. However, if you want to rent social housing, your income must not exceed 2.5 times the IPREM. And if you want rent housing with the option of buying it later, it cannot exceed 3.5 times the IPREM. 

In order to apply for social housing in Andalusia, you must first register in the Municipal Register of Protected Housing Claimants. You can do this through your local municipality by visiting your Ayuntamiento or Town Hall. If you don’t want to physically go into your Ayuntamiento, you can also apply through the website of your local one. 

Your registration will last three years with the possibility of renewing it. Any changes to your circumstances must be communicated within a maximum period of three months.

Balearic Islands

In order to be eligible to apply in the Balearic Islands, you must have been a resident there for at least one year. 

First, you need to inscribe yourself on the Public Register of Protected Housing Claimants and will need to be able to prove your marital status, residency, income or employment status.

You can either apply online here using your Digital Certificate or you can print out the form, fill it in and send it to the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, located on Calle La Palma, 4, Palma de Mallorca, or to any of the other IBAVI offices.

Canary Islands 

As well as the general requisites, in the Canary Islands, your family income cannot exceed 1.5 times the IPREM for homes for rent and up to 2.5 times the IPREM for those for sale. 

In order to apply, you must register on the Public Registry of Claimants of Protected Homes of the Canary Islands here

Catalonia

Besides the general requisites, the Housing Agency of Catalonia says that applicants also have to prove their need for social housing, as well as show that they are able to fulfill their contract.

You can simply apply online here.  

Madrid

The Community of Madrid has several types of social housing and depending on which you want, the requirements vary.

In the case of Housing with Basic Public Protection (VPPB), your family income cannot exceed 5.5 times the IPREM; while in the case of leasing a house with purchase option (VPPL), your family income cannot exceed 7.5 times the IPREM.

You must also be disabled or have a large family if you want to access housing dedicated to those groups. 

In order to rent social housing, you can apply online here and in order to be able to buy social housing, you can apply here

Murcia 

In the Region of Murcia, to access social housing you must register in the Registry of Housing Claimants. Your family income must not exceed 6.5 times the IPREM and you must use the property as your habitual and permanent residence.

Like in some other regions, you cannot own your own home, unless it is inadequate for your needs or has been damaged in some way. 

You can apply online here

Valencia

The Valencian region distinguishes between public social housing, those that are newly built through private initiatives, and public promotion housing which is aimed at families, individuals and groups with limited economic resources.

In order to qualify for public social housing, you are allowed to own another property, but only if it does not meet the minimum conditions of habitability or if it needs to be adapted for disabilities. Your family income cannot exceed 4.5 times the IPREM.   

In the case of publicly promoted housing, you cannot have a family income greater than 2.5 times the IPREM, except in the case of contract renewal, when the maximum limit will be 3.5 times this amount. 

You can register for it here.

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PROPERTY

How to turn a bar, office or shop into a residential property in Spain

Commercial properties in Spain can be a lot cheaper than residential ones, but it’s not as straightforward as buying a former restaurant, office or shop and moving in. Here are the steps to follow and what you need to be aware of.

How to turn a bar, office or shop into a residential property in Spain

One of the tricks budget property hunters in Spain have been using in recent years is buying a local (commercial property), oficina (office) or nave (industrial unit) and transforming it into a vivienda (residential property) to live in or let out. 

It’s a trend that’s roughly doubled in big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona in the last five years. 

Buying a commercial property can work out to be 50 percent cheaper than a flat or house in Spain and there can be other advantages such as it being more open plan than Spain’s typical corridor-themed apartments as well having more money to invest in the renovation. 

Is it possible to turn a commercial property into a residential property in Spain?

Yes, in theory it is, but it’s not always possible. The rules relating to a change of property’s usage from commercial to residential or vice versa are determined by each municipality in Spain, so before you rush to buy un local, you have to do your homework first and be aware of some of the most common pitfalls.

It could be that the limit of residential properties per hectare has been surpassed already, or that without some major changes the property doesn’t meet the standards of size, rooms, space, height, layout, ventilation, air extraction or light of the town or city hall. 

It isn’t the most straightforward process and depending on the property and the individual municipal rules in place, it might just not be possible to live in the property or rent it out to others.

Living in a commercial property is illegal and may cause you problems such as not being able to activate water and electricity or register your padrón at the town hall.

Despite all the paperwork needed, flipping a bar or office and turning it into a home usually works out cheaper than buying a residential property in Spain. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Don’t be discouraged however, as in many cases it is possible to change the use of a property from commercial to residential and in regions such as Galicia authorities are currently facilitating the process to address the matter of empty abandoned stores and the lack of well-priced accommodation for young homeowners.

What are the steps to follow in Spain to change a property from commercial to residential?

Check the statutes of the community of owners: In order to make any changes within the community of neighbours, permission must be requested in advance. Beforehand, you can ask the comunidad president for a copy of the community statutes to see if the change of use from commercial to residential is mentioned.

READ ALSO: ‘La comunidad’ -What property owners in Spain need to know about homeowners’ associations

Request permission from the town hall: After getting the green light from la comunidad, you have to go to the ayuntamiento (town hall) of the town where the property is to find out if it’s possible to add another residential property to the finca (building). 

Even if this is confirmed, it doesn’t certify that the change of usage from commercial to residential is allowed, for which the town hall will ask you to provide an architect’s proyecto técnico or feasibility report based on municipal urban laws. You will only be allowed to swap from commercial to residential if the project meets the safety and habitability requirements of the Technical Building Code (Código Técnico de la Edificación).

Get the Building Licence: Known as licencia urbanística or permiso de construcción in Spanish, this is an official document required by the town hall for you to carry out a construction or renovation project. In other words, you’ll need this municipal authorisation to begin work on your future residential property, whether it’s major work or minor . 

Get the Certificate of Habitability: Once the renovation work is complete, you’ll need the cédula de habitabilidad to be able to move in or let the property out . The conditions for this are regulated by each regional government and again it’s an architect who must prepare a technical report in order for a town council technician to issue the certificate of habitability.

The certificate we need for the change of use is that of primera ocupación (first residential occupation), which has to include the usable surface area of ​​the home, rooms, address, location, maximum inhabitants etc.

How much does it cost to transform a commercial property into a residential one in Spain?

If for example it’s a 80m2 property with two rooms, the total would be about €50,000, according to property websites Idealista and Habitissimo, with the bulk covering renovation costs (€500/m2= €40,000) and the rest going to cover permits, architecture costs and taxes.

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