Housing legislation during the Franco regime was subject to the successive laws of 1939, 1954 and 1968, with their respective regulations, in addition to the 1942 law on cooperation and its 1943 regulations, which were revised with the general laws on cooperatives of 1974 and 1987. Not forgetting the relevance and significance of the 1956 law on the land regime and urban planning, a fundamental element for understanding the urban development processes during the developmentalist period.

In the railway field, it should also be taken into account both the 1941 Law on the Basis of Railway Organisation that created the public company RENFE, which grouped the Spanish broad gauge railway system, and the Decree 2170 of 1964 that approved the new Statute of RENFE and its relations with the State. It was at this time that the company would gain some autonomy, although not much, with respect to the state ownership and, above all, it would be the tool with which the disposal of land not necessary for railway operation would be processed and which could be transferred to the railway cooperatives.

Thus, the process generally began with the cooperative’s request to RENFE for a specific plot of land. Prior to this, the cooperative had to be constituted and registered with the INV and have been declared protected by RENFE’s Board of Directors. This was the first step in the process of gaining ownership of the land, an essential condition for the INV to grant authorisation, through state protection, to start building the houses. Thus, despite the apparent order, the problem would come from the avalanche of requests made by railway workers from all corners of Spain, in need of housing, but also with a high organisational capacity, an issue that was probably underestimated by the managers of the system. In fact, in 1966 the company RENFE made an internal report in which it counted nearly a hundred cooperatives in operation, half of which had very advanced their administrative procedures: specifically, 46 already had land to build on. This forced RENFE to foresee the cost of financing the loans requested by the railwaymen: more than 420 million pesetas for the three-year period 1966-1968. This set off alarm bells and forced the company to modify its initial plan, changing from a lender to a guarantor of the hundreds of railway families who were already embarked on the construction of their homes.

On the other hand, RENFE has historically been a public company highly dependent in its decisions on the instructions that came from the Ministry of Industry, and it was even more so during the autarkic period. As a remnant of that situation, there remained a Public Works Coordination Office (COP) that intervened in many decisions that could affect other departments of the ministry. With these powers, during this period the COP acted as a counterweight to the favourable opinion that railway leaders tended to have of the transfer of land for the cooperatives. It systematically opposed this transfer and usually advised that the cooperatives’ requests should be rejected.

Despite this opposition, most of the transactions went ahead and were published in the Official State Gazette (BOE), which was the way to certify the modality, cost and ownership of the land for the cooperative. The modality refers to whether the transfer was carried out by a cash payment or by a total or partial exchange of the value of the land for commercial premises on the ground floor of the buildings to be constructed. The price was set by the provincial tax office and was fixed at market prices, although it should be borne in mind that the final price was determined by the level of approval, which up to 20 million was the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance, and above this figure, of the Council of Ministers.

The reality was also that the railway community organised in the cooperatives had a large number of technical staff and management personnel who had access to key information to choose which plots of land would be most suitable for their housing needs, taking into account the use the company made of them. In this give and take, the railway workers mobilised their capacities to influence the final decisions and, to a large extent, although not always, they benefited from access to housing in fairly favourable conditions. However, in general terms, they encountered two serious problems that were repeated in many of the developments studied: on the one hand, the delay in gaining full ownership of the land; and, on the other hand, the difficulties in financing.

In the first case, it is an endemic problem of public administration, which in the case of the railways comes from the period of private companies which, after nationalisation, was not systematically regularised, but as needed with new disposals. This irregularity has continued until very recent times. This situation caused serious damage to the cooperatives because without land ownership certified before a notary there was no possibility of benefiting from public protection and receiving, among other benefits, the 30,000 pts. non-refundable per dwelling provided for in the legislation.

The second issue was caused by the rigid regulations which prevented access to these subsidies until the final classification of the property had been granted, which meant that in many cases it was necessary to resort to personal bridging loans to pay the architects and builders, which ended up making the work more expensive and strangling the finances of the cooperative members’ families, as was reflected in some of the annual reports they drew up for their members and for the administration.

In spite of everything, and as we have already pointed out, the railway cooperatives had an unquestionable tool of support from RENFE, which was typical of the Francoist paternalism so common in the companies of the time. The company intervened with the savings banks to guarantee and facilitate these bridging loans, thus cushioning the serious problem faced by the cooperative members.

The consequence was that the level of failure of these railway cooperatives was relatively low: of the 156 that we have counted, 23 were unable to carry out their projects, which is 15%; but if we calculate the number of dwellings, 10,579 dwellings built out of the 10,962 planned, this failure rate drops to 3%. This also means that the smaller co-operatives had more difficulties to succeed, in fact, the unsuccessful ones promoted an average of 40 dwellings, while those that did complete the construction raise the average to 80 dwellings per promotion. The most common reasons we detected for abandoning construction were lack of land and lack of members.

References and bibliography

Capel, H., 1990. Capitalismo y morfología urbana en España. Círculo de Lectores, Barcelona.

RENFE. Departamento de Personal, 1964. Informe sobre situación actual de la cooperativas ferroviarias de viviendas. Archivo Histórico Ferroviario, R-019-004.

RENFE. Dirección General, 1966-1970. Peticiones de terrenos de las cooperativas. Archivo Histórico Ferroviario, U-002-001.

Van-Halen Rodríguez, J., 2016. La política de la vivienda en España: una aproximación histórica (info:eu-repo/semantics/doctoralThesis). Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid.

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