One of the major problems in the municipality of Vila Real de Santo António (VRSA) is housing, whether social or for the middle class. It is not, as is known, a problem exclusive to this municipality, not even to the Algarve, but here, for reasons that have to do with the social structure, the lack of houses is even more serious.
In such a way that the Local Housing Strategy, within the scope of the «Program to Support Access to Housing – 1st Right», already unanimously approved by the Municipal Assembly and in the process of being ratified by the Secretary of State for Housing and by the Institute of Housing and Urban Rehabilitation (IHRU), reaches the highest value in the Algarve in this municipality and one of the highest in the country: 101 million euros.
O Sul Informação interviewed Álvaro Araújo (PS), elected last October as mayor of Vila Real de Santo António, with the EHL issue being one of the main topics addressed.
Sul Informação – One of the major problems of VRSA, for many years, is Housing. A few days ago, the Municipality saw its Local Housing Strategy approved, worth 101 million euros, one of the highest amounts in the country. Does this mean that this is really a serious problem in the county?
Álvaro Araújo – Everyone understood that there was a very serious problem in terms of social housing and lack of housing for the middle class, and that the years went by and nothing was done. When this measure came out of the 1st Law and the need to draw up Local Housing Strategies, the vast majority of Chambers in the Algarve and the country were preparing their Strategy, which is nothing more than a diagnosis of the housing situation in the county. This instrument allows the Municipality and the citizens themselves to apply for support, namely the “1ºDireito” program.
This work was not done, it only started to be done during the electoral campaign, because we came to the field to denounce the very serious situation in which Vila Real found itself for not even having a strategy to be elaborated.
After we had this intervention, the then executive hired FNWay to lead the elaboration of this ELH. The only thing that was done was to hire this company.
As soon as we arrived, we met with that company, involved the Health and Social Intervention division, in collaboration with the Parish Councils and other institutions in the municipality and, finally, we managed, in record time, to put on the street a Local Strategy for Housing. The company, which has developed several Strategies throughout the country, said that this was the most demanding, but also the one that gave them the most enjoyment.
Our Strategy shows what is the reality of the municipality of VRSA: we are talking about 812 households and 2.121 people with housing shortages in the municipality, who are experiencing difficulties, because they have unhealthy, unsafe housing, which is not adequate or who don't even have housing. That's where you need to intervene.
These 101 million euros, 100% financed by the PRR, which are foreseen in our Local Housing Strategy, must be applied in our municipality, in the near future. There is already a lot of time lost, but now we have until mid-2026. We will do everything to get the money to apply.
SI – And how are you going to do it?
AA – The main priority is to take the social neighborhoods, of which we have many here in the municipality, and carry out the necessary works. All buildings will have to comply with energy efficiency. And it's not just social housing that is still owned by the Municipality, it's also apartments owned by the citizens themselves, who are in these neighborhoods, as long as people authorize, obviously. All of these are accounted for to be intervened.
SI – What other measures will advance?
AA – There is a great controversy here with three buildings, built by Unifaro, at controlled costs, already in the days of 2009, 2010, around, built on top of land owned by the municipality, financed (because it was at controlled costs). At the time, in the contract between Câmara and Unifaro, there was a reversion clause, which stipulated that, if there was a problem, what was built on top of the land reverted to the Municipality. But there was a nuance: the executive at that time gave Unifaro so that he could mortgage the municipality's land to finance himself with Caixa Geral de Depósitos. This should never have been done! The Unifaro went bankrupt, CGD said “this then reverts to our favour”, since the land was mortgaged. And we, the Municipality, were left without what was ours.
However, there were funds that acquired the three buildings from CGD and, for some time now, all the people who live in the rented houses are being ordered to abandon them, because these funds want to sell the houses as a second home. At the time of the electoral campaign, because we had the information that it was possible for the Municipality to play some role in preventing these houses from going into the hands of private people, of people who were not from here, we said that we would never release the reversal clause . The funds wanted us to release that burden, but we always said no.
Then, with the Secretary of State for Housing and the IHRU, we began to realize that it was possible for us, through the “1st Right” program, to buy these houses. This is how we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We spoke with these funds, WhiteStar and Hipogest, and it was possible to reach an agreement. As soon as our Local Housing Strategy is approved by the IHRU, we will be able to sign the agreement and start buying these apartments, to rest the people who live there. Some have lived in shock for years, because they are always being threatened that they have to leave their homes.
SI – Basically, the Municipality will buy what, if it were not for the authorization for the mortgage, would be yours…
AA – I said some time ago, at the Municipal Assembly, that it is a little strange and at the same time revolting to be acquiring some houses that were built on land owned by the Municipality and at the expense of public funding. But what really matters is that citizens are the main beneficiaries, that they can live in peace, paying their affordable rent, which goes up to 400 euros. That's what we want, that there is housing for the middle class.
SI – What other aspects are foreseen in this Strategy?
AA – In addition to acquiring these buildings, we are going to build, in the Intermarché area, ninety apartments on land owned by the Municipality. It will be a construction under our management, we will not give it to third parties, because we have already seen that it may not go well. We will have to hire a company to build it, of course, but under our management. And there will be a difficulty. The problem with the PRR and meeting its deadlines is the construction prices, which are increasing exponentially, and even the lack of companies to carry out these constructions. We hope that we are lucky and that we can carry this out.
We also have an aparthotel here in our municipality, which also went into insolvency and currently belongs to a bank. We are in the process of being able to acquire, for a value of around 2 million euros, through these support from the PRR, this aparthotel that has T0 and T1, fully equipped.
These apartments will be for emergency housing and for function houses, to accommodate doctors, nurses, teachers, people to work in high season and for the general population. It is important to have this type of housing available.
SI – And for gypsy families, is there anything in mind?
AA – We will also intervene there. Not all Roma families are able to integrate into normal solutions such as apartments. I know this is controversial, but that's how we think and that's why we're going to do the experiment. If it doesn't work out, obviously we'll give it a go.
From a perspective of positive discrimination, we found a plot of land to build model housing, with all the conditions to live there, with land for them to have their animals, but which also has a municipal structure of social support, for example for children, in supporting the study, and to accompany the management of the space.
We have many families in tents, some of them were even evicted from the places where they were, and we have an obligation to find a solution for them.
We have some illusion that this will go well.
As for these 101 million euros, there are those who do not believe these figures. But this just proves that a lot of work was done, involving the IHRU, the Secretary of State, the services of the Municipality, fieldwork with FNWay, to arrive at these amounts. The money exists, there is engineering to use it on time.
A VRSA Local Housing Strategy identified a total of 812 households (2.121 people) in need of housing, 76 of which (227 people) in the parish of Monte Gordo, 71 (136 people) in the parish of Vila Nova de Cacela and 665 (1.758 people) in Vila Real de Santo António.