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The Making of ISHF 2023

By Eduard Cabré, International housing policy officer at the Barcelona Housing Department and ISHF 2023 Curator





ISHF 2023 in Barcelona has been a 3-day event gathering over 2,000 housing practitioners, advocates, researchers and residents from 82 different countries to participate in more than 100 activities, site visits and exhibitions scattered across Barcelona and its metropolitan region.


The Festival has been a success in every way: participation has more than doubled compared to the 2022 edition; presence from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Latin America, Asia and Africa, has increased; initiatives such as the Affordable Housing Initiative Tech Camp and the launch of the European Community Land Trust Network took place as part of ISHF; and above all, participants have shared their satisfaction with the many opportunities for exchange and inspiration that ISHF has provided them with.

But how did we get here? Preparations for ISHF 2023 started right after the completion of the third edition in Helsinki in June 2022, and included a number of milestones that have been essential to the success of this year’s ISHF:

  • International alliances: ISHF 2023 has benefited from the support and input from Housing Europe’s ISHF International Committee, formed by representatives from the previous host cities -Amsterdam, Lyon, Helsinki- as well as from the contributions made by a series of international networks in which Barcelona has been participating in recent years: United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Eurocities, Centro Iberoamericano de Desarrollo Estratégico Urbano (CIDEU), Habitat International Coalition (HIC), the Global Platform for the Right to the City, and CoHabitat Network, among others.

  • Local partnerships: Barcelona’s bid to host the ISHF 2023 was supported from the outset by numerous local and national entities, which have been involved in the organization of the event and have been instrumental in ensuring the diversity of actors and points of view that have defined this edition of the Festival. More than 200 local and international entities have organized activities within the framework of ISHF 2023.

  • Keeping an open mind: Despite the tensions raised by the housing debate in a tough market like Barcelona’s, ISHF 2023 has been successful in including speakers with different perspectives and a variety of activities representative of the full scope of the public, cooperative and social housing sector in all its diversity. All stakeholders have had the opportunity to contribute to the event, which has undoubtedly promoted greater cohesion within the sector.

  • Institutional support: ISHF is a free event, and the organizational costs have been borne by the co-organizing public administrations. Barcelona has forged a multi-level collaboration that includes all the public entities responsible for housing in the city: Barcelona City Council, Barcelona Metropolitan Area, Generalitat de Catalunya, and the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda. The Generalitat Valenciana also stepped forward to support the event, as well as the Diputació de Barcelona, which provided some spaces in which to organize events.

  • Political leadership: ISHF 2023 would not have been possible if Barcelona had not become an international model for emerging housing policies. The festival is the culmination of a process to which many actors have contributed, but which has at its core the committed activism of Mayor Ada Colau and her senior team in the Housing Department: Josep Maria Montaner (Councilor for Housing 2015-2019), Lucía Martín, (Councilor for Housing 2019-2023), Vanesa Valiño (Chief of Staff of the Housing Department, 2019-2023), and Javier Burón (Housing Manager 2015-2023).

With the election of Barcelona as host of the ISHF 2023, Housing Europe recognized Barcelona’s leadership at the international level and put the spotlight on the specific challenges of Southern Europe, often forgotten in the European debate. In an article published a few hours after the end of ISHF, Housing Europe’s Secretary General Sorcha Edwards highlighted the city’s leadership and its transformative capacity, a source of inspiration for both emerging and mature housing systems.

All the actors that make up the public, cooperative and social housing sector in Barcelona and Catalonia are well aware that, despite the qualitative leap made in recent years, housing emergency remains one of the main problems for the majority of the population. The challenge cannot be addressed through local housing policies alone, but requires a legal framework that guarantees the right to housing and tackles the problem at its root. However, the ISHF is proof that there is a sector mobilized and aligned around shared objectives, willing to take a more active role in the design and implementation of housing policies and plans at the regional and state level.

Finally, as far as I am concerned, it has been a pleasure to act as liaison between the local and international levels, and to coordinate the contents and program of ISHF 2023. I am grateful for the trust placed in me by both the Barcelona housing team and Housing Europe General Secretariat. I will not hide it, it has been a hard and not always rewarding job, with a lot of uncertainty and a certain level of improvisation. In any case, the work has paid off and the result is there for all to see.

It only remains for me to thank all those people and entities that have participated in the design and implementation process of the ISHF. The list is long and I do not want to leave anyone out. Let me to highlight here the names of the people who have accompanied me in the technical and logistical part: Diana Yardanova from Housing Europe; Maite Rico and Joana Marí from Barter; Bàrbara Segura, Maria Fenollosa and Álex Orea from Invita; and Anna Alonso and Anna Cabanillas from totoro Comunicació. I apologize to them for being too strict at times and thank them for their impeccable work.

Dublin, now it’s your turn. Over and out.

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