Spanish lawmakers vote Thursday on a housing bill aimed at capping soaring rents and addressing dire social housing shortages as the government seeks to bolster the right to affordable housing. The bill would cap rent hikes, increase help in high-demand areas, offer more protection for those facing eviction and punish serial property investors who keep housing stock empty, ministers say. Spain’s left-wing government is hoping to fast-track the bill into law before regional and local polls on May 28, seen as a sounding board ahead of a general election expected to be tight. Flagged by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as the “first-ever housing law” since Spain’s return to democracy in 1975, the bill is part of a reform promised to Brussels in exchange for EU recovery funds. The government says the legislation aims to meet the needs of those struggling to afford housing while limiting property speculation. “Spain has a huge, very serious problem with housing,” Sanchez told lawmakers last week, saying average rents had risen 45 percent between 2014 and 2021, making housing “unobtainable for many people, especially youngsters”. Soaring rents have sparked bitter debate in a country traumatized by the collapse of its housing sector following the 2008 financial crisis, when thousands of families were evicted after being unable to pay their mortgages. Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Sanchez unveiled plans to add 113,000 homes to Spain’s depleted social housing stock. But the move was rubbished by the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) claiming it failed to address long-term housing problems and the issue of squatting. “A fantastic opportunity for squatters,” the PP said, denouncing the bill as making the eviction process “harder and slower”, claiming squatting had “risen by 50 percent in recent years” without any government response.