HOUSING CRISIS

These 'Beehive' Flats Might Be the Depressing Future of City Living

Landlords in Barcelona are cramming up to 30 people into a single shared flat, with each tenant living in a three-square-metre cubicle.

by Alba Carreres; photos by Anna Álvarez Ortega
06 June 2019, 8:15am

This article originally appeared on VICE Spain

Unless you're bang into CBD juice bars and abject inequality, gentrification is bad for a number of reasons. However, I think we can all agree that the main one is how "regeneration" – in developer-speak – inevitably leads to a steady rise in housing prices and the cost of living, forcing locals out of their lifelong homes and making it increasingly difficult for young people to move out and make it on their own.

This is as true in Barcelona as it is in any major city: according to the Catalan capital's Urban Property Chamber, average monthly rent is €950 (£842), while the minimum wage in Spain is around €1,050 (£931) a month.

The desperation for affordable living space is being exploited by landlords and renting agencies, who are packing tenants into tiny spaces that are anything but dignified. Haibu 4.0 is a company that offers shared living spaces for 25 to 30 people, where a large room is divided into cubicles of three square metres. Property developer Marc Olivé claims to have invented the concept of these so-called "beehive flats" in Barcelona. He admits they are by no means decent, but told me they could provide a temporary solution to the housing problem.

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Inside one of the cubicles.

The local council has declared these flats illegal, so they are currently run in secret. Despite this, Olivé is confident that he will eventually establish this model all over Spain, Europe and the US. If he is ever allowed to operate in the open, one of Olivé's plans is to construct beehive flats in parking lots outside shopping centres, and in other large open urban spaces.

Olivé's confidence probably comes from the fact that Haibu 4.0 is extremely well funded. An investigation by VICE Spain found that the development company is backed by a number of venture capitalists and investors who are linked to a huge corruption case in Spain, which partly involves the illegal funding of the right-wing People's Party.

Olivé agreed to show us around one of his secret properties in Barcelona. There, we met Héctor Cabañol, a divorced father of two daughters who works part-time as a train mechanic. With his salary, the 32-year-old said, he only has two choices: move back in with his parents and be far from his daughters, or rent a beehive for €150 (£133) a month. "It's cold and the conditions are not the best, but I have no other choice," he told me.

Scroll down to see more photos from inside Barcelona's beehive flat.

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Héctor in his room. He keeps all his belongings under the bed.
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Marc Olivé, manager of Haibu 4.0 and a beehive flat developer, shows us the hidden entrance of one of their beehive properties.
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One of the three shared bathrooms in the flat.
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Residents usually hang their towels to dry on their cubicle doors.
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One of the two showers in the flat, mounted on a structure to help with drainage.
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A cabinet belonging to one of the tenants.
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The shared living room.
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Another shared bathroom.