In 1944, the public company RENFE had been declared a construction company for the purposes of the 1939 law on subsidised housing. It therefore initiated a plan to build social housing for its workers in those areas where demand was greatest. This plan, known as the 4,000 dwellings (in reality, 3,900 were programmed), began in the midst of the autarchy with serious supply problems and with an architectural vocation that shied away from innovations in design and materials, taking refuge in the generalised use of brick as the main construction element. With these conditions, the pace of construction was not what was expected and, in 1954, when the legislative change took place, barely 1,800 dwellings had been completed.
The new law on low-income housing of 1954 proposed a reunification of the previous regulations, an improvement in construction aid, especially for private initiatives, and streamlining the administrative action of permit and construction procedures. With the new law, RENFE assumed the need to extend its plan to 7,000 dwellings, counting the previous planned constructions. This plan, revised and published in 1956, was valued by the company as the tool that allowed it to cover the existing demand among the company’s workers.
Illustration 1. Location of the dwellings built by RENFE according to the company’s plans.
The legal conditions, the construction system and the tenure of the dwellings were similar to the previous scheme. In general, the company provided the land for the construction of the houses, with a valuation that was usually around 10% of the total protected budget, while the rest of the budget was covered by advances and financing from the National Institute of Social Security (INP) and the National Housing Institute (INV). The latter used to have serious financial problems and it was progressively necessary to resort to the credit bank para la Reconstrucción Nacional, and even RENFE itself made advance disbursements in the work settlements on account of the subsequent financing. On the other hand, practically all the works were carried out by the contract system, awarded to the cheapest bidder, although there were some cases that had to be carried out by the administration system, due to emergencies or problems in the auction. Finally, the dwellings were awarded among the applicants, according to their category, by drawing lots and were subject to a rent that was in accordance with the beneficiary’s salary.
Illustration 2. Number of dwellings built annually by RENFE according to the company’s plans.
As we have noted, one of the characteristics of the housing construction plans was the delays in the fulfilment of the programme carried out. Thus, some of the developments in the 4,000-housing plan (1944) were not completed until the 1960s and those programmed in the 7,000-housing plan (1954) were not completed until the 1970s. Bearing in mind, moreover, that the numbers in the plans can lead to confusion because the 1944 plan finally built 3,814 dwellings and the 1954 plan carried out the promotion of 2,307 dwellings. The numerical trompe l’oeil thus promised more housing than was actually built.
As is to be expected, the 7,000-housing plan proposed to make up for the shortfalls, both in volume and distribution, that the previous plan had not been able to cover. In fact, housing was planned in some thirty localities in which the company had not previously built housing, most of them being small towns or medium-sized cities. Among the first were Moreda (Granada), Jódar (Jaén), Santa Fe (Almería), Chinchilla (Albacete), Ujo (Asturias) and Ortuella (Vizcaya), where RENFE finally did not build the planned housing. There was also a second group of medium-sized cities and provincial capitals, such as Sigüenza (Guadalajara), Castellón, Tortosa (Tarragona), Játiva (Valencia), Almansa (Alicante), Avilés (Asturias), Huesca and Soria, where no construction of this type of social housing was finally carried out either by RENFE or by the railway workers’ cooperatives that began to form in the early 1960s.
In this regard, it should be noted that in some cases it was the railway cooperative developments that took over from the pending RENFE housing developments, as occurred in Cáceres, Badajoz, Teruel, Casetas (Zaragoza) and Zumárraga (Guipúzcoa). The construction of RENFE housing was carried out in Aranjuez, Bobadilla (Málaga), La Encina (Alicante) and Villagarcía de Arosa (La Coruña) as part of the 7,000-housing plan. And there were even some cases in which housing was finally built under the 7,000-housing plan both by RENFE and on the initiative of the railway cooperatives themselves: Reus (Tarragona), Burgos and La Coruña.
The balance, then, of the 7,000 housing plan is that it is a period of transition between the obligations undertaken by RENFE, as happened in the case of other companies, after the 1939 law to build rental housing for its employees and the new dynamics of the real estate market, which promoted the construction of housing in property, in which the initiative of the cooperatives was the dominant one, at least in the 1960s and 1970s. In this way, RENFE gradually freed itself from the social burden of housing development: planning, land availability, design and construction. With the appearance of the cooperatives, RENFE’s social management was limited to providing surplus land and acting as guarantor for the mortgage loans requested by the cooperative members from the savings banks.
Illustration 3. Examples of dwellings built by RENFE according to the company’s plans: Algeciras (1951), plan of 4,000 dwellings; Reus (1973), plan of 7,000 dwellings.