Alex Carrascosa (EDE): “The ability to build trust is the great strength of the ‘opengelas’”.

Alex Carrascosa is a consultant for EDE Fundazioa, one of the entities that participates as a partner in the BIRTUOSS project, through which the Opengela programme is being developed. Through listening, EDE Fundazioa collects testimonies from all the people involved in this European urban regeneration project: their concerns, their complaints, their assessments, their proposals for improvement, among others.

In this interview, he explains the role of the foundation in the project, and provides details of the study they carried out at the end of 2023 on the assessment of the service of the neighbourhood offices (‘opengelas’) by the different people involved in the pilot experiences in the neighbourhoods of Txonta and Otxarkoaga: the process of elaboration, the weaknesses and strengths detected in the service, the lessons learned, the most mentioned proposals for improvement and the conclusions they drew from the study.

Which is the role of EDE Fundazioa in the Opengela project?

Throughout the process of urban regeneration, and in particular the rehabilitation of buildings, we take care of the social and human side of the work for the people involved. Not only for the people who will experience or live the effects of the refurbishment, but also for all those involved in the works.

EDE Fundazioa listens to the beneficiaries first and foremost because they are in vulnerable situations. After all, these urban regeneration processes are carried out in old housing estates, many of which are social housing estates. These are buildings with very simple dwellings that do not meet energy efficiency requirements, have accessibility problems or are affected by multiple problems. In addition, their neighbourhoods are generally elderly and all these habitats need to be adapted to their needs. This is why these urban regeneration processes are carried out wherever there is a population, an urban centre or a group of people with needs that require economic, training and communication support to carry out works of this magnitude, as well as institutional support and assistance. What we are doing is listening to the reality of these people.

You recently presented the conclusions of a study to Opengela’s partners. Tell us more in detail about it.

The study basically consisted of identifying all the professional sectors involved in urban regeneration interventions and the beneficiaries, in other words, all the people involved. We wanted to identify the real people involved in the process of building rehabilitation or urban regeneration as a whole. We are talking about three main groups. The first would be the beneficiaries or owners of the dwellings in the buildings to be refurbished; the second would be the staff of the ‘opengela’ itself, and the third would be the professional entities that have been involved in the building rehabilitation and urban regeneration works. The idea was to locate the reference people in these groups, interview them and gather as much sensitive information as possible from these three groups. And here I would like to clarify something to avoid confusion: what we are assessing in the report is not so much the degree of satisfaction with regard to building renovation or urban regeneration works, but with regard to the Opengela service. Therefore, the contents and results of the report revolve around the service from the perspective of its protagonists: the professionals who offer the service, the beneficiaries who experience it and the professionals who rely on it.

How was the process of carrying out the study?

First, we identified the stakeholders. Once identified, we proceeded to look for the reference people for each group. The study was carried out for two neighbourhoods, Otxarkoaga in Bilbao and Txonta in Eibar. Therefore, we interviewed the Municipal Housing Agency of Bilbao in the case of Otxarkoaga and the Local Development Agency Degebesa in the case of Txonta and, from there, we located the teams or people who are providing the service in the offices in order to interview them. Once the office teams had been interviewed, they helped us to contact the neighbours who wanted to give an interview or fill a survey about the service. In the survey we asked questions about the accessibility of the office or the information provided by the ‘opengela’ to the neighbourhoods; about counselling and accompaniment; about funding mechanisms, if any; and about the post-rehabilitation experience. On this last point, it was not possible to speak in absolute terms in either of the two places because there were works still to be completed or started.

In addition, through the ‘opengelas’ we also located professionals who had been involved in the works, which are the architectural firms, the construction companies and other people and entities involved such as the property administrators. They were invited to two face-to-face meetings. The interviews were very valuable as they brought us very interesting recommendations.

Going into the study in more detail, what were the main strengths of the Opengela service that you identified?

The great strength identified is the unanimity of the positive judgement of the service. All three groups consulted gave it a very positive assessment.  In the case of the neighbours, it is even more positive because the Opengela service is a technical ally with authority in different areas and helps them as an intermediary. The fact of having an entity next to them that is perfectly familiar with the technical and legal context favours mediation between the needs of the users and the product offered by the professional entities. This relationship, which is usually very vertical and unequal, is balanced and horizontalised thanks to the ‘opengela’.

At the same time, however, the service also has a very positive effect on the professional entities, as it acts as an intermediary that lightens their workload and also acts as a kind of filter. The works bring with them problems of all kinds that affect personal and everyday aspects of people’s daily lives. The neigbourhood office also helped them to ‘humanise’ the service, as it made them aware of how they often operate more from the interest of the company than from the interest of the client.

Another of the great strengths of ‘opengela’ is the fact of having a team that combines different profiles. This multidisciplinary nature has been covered in Otxarkoaga due to the role played in large part by Bilbao Municipal Housing, but in Txonta it was not possible due to various circumstances; in fact, there was only one person working in the office. For this reason, it is necessary for the new offices to have four clearly identified profiles: technical, legal, administrative and social.

What about weaknesses?

I wanted to emphasise this last profile (the social one) through the need to have social workers, who are figures that all inclusion systems have and who are fundamental to work as neural connectors between the demands of rehabilitation and the realities of the people affected. In fact, it could be said that social workers are the ones who activate and develop the most human sensitivity of the rest of the necessary profiles.

In the end, we are talking about a sum of owners and tenants and, even if all possible mechanisms are put in place, there will always be at least one cohabitation unit in a dwelling with a problem that makes it difficult or impossible for it to fit into this complex chain. As soon as one link fails, the chain is completely damaged. This is why the figure of the social worker is essential, as he or she not only accompanies and detects what is there, but is also particularly sensitive to those episodes that can break the chain.

There is also another aspect related to this, and that is that exclusion involves many aspects of personal life, and just as a situation of personal disadvantage can become chronic or complex, in some populations it can even become ‘zoned’. It is therefore necessary to understand what happens in these places, because it is not a question of providing solutions to the physical conditions of some dwellings, but of contributing to the solution of the reality of people in very critical situations.

What do you think have been the main lessons you have learned during these months of work?

All the groups and people interviewed agreed on the need for the Opengela service to cover the different technical, social, legal and administrative areas, but also to address relational skills. This has been extremely important, the fact of ‘personalisation’, since in the end, at the end of each intervention, there is a group of people who are going to receive that impact, whether good or bad.

Another issue that was also addressed was that of financial aid. Two problems arose with regard to financial aid. On the one hand, the concurrence of different lines of funding and their lack of coordination in terms of both timing and management, which continues to be a challenge for the service. On the other hand, from the point of view of the owners, the time of payment of the subsidies does not coincide with the deadline for payment of the works, which requires the payment of large sums of money in advance. This adds to the challenge of providing financing mechanisms to communities and, above all, to the most vulnerable people.

Which proposals for improvement were most frequently mentioned?

There is one issue that should not be forgotten, which is the maintenance of the staff (or subrogation) of the ‘opengela’, at least for the duration of the rehabilitation works, including post-rehabilitation. The idea that we must keep in mind is that the neighbours, during the sensitive period of the works, should have the same reference people in the office, given that the greatest difficulty, as in any human process, is the generation of trust, which all the agents point out as the ‘key’ of the service. Once this trust has been created, it would be senseless to interrupt continuity and even change the people in charge of the office for a purely administrative requirement, as this would distort the service and cause enormous unease among users. In short, it is a question of adjusting all deadlines or administrative mechanisms to respect and care for this trust, which, I insist, is the most precious value of the ‘opengela’.

EDE Fundazioa, as a social partner of Opengela, what conclusions have you drawn from this study?

Opengela, whether public or public-private, is still a service. As such, it is established in the face of citizens and, therefore, its fundamental value is the generation of trust. In fact, although it is conceived as a ‘one-stop shop’, it is rather an open room – as we have witnessed – where the neighbourhood can express itself and be assisted. This model of attention differs from the classic counter where we are often dismissed as if we were a problem. Opengela operates the other way around: understanding people as part of the solution. Another associated characteristic is that it acts as a small office, more than ‘of inclusion’, but at least ‘of attention’, since it is a space that is aware of the different levels and impacts that affect the realities of building rehabilitation and urban regeneration and addresses these levels consequently through a multi-profile service.

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Co-financiado por la Unión Europea. Los puntos de vista y opiniones expresadas son únicamente los de sus autores y no reflejan necesariamente los de la UE o CINEA. Ni la Unión Europea ni la autoridad financiadora pueden ser consideradas responsables de ellos.

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