Spain: Fighting for the Right to a Home

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

The explosive cocktail of the housing bubble, the financial crisis, and high unemployment rates have left thousands of families without homes in Spain. But the victims of mortgage eviction are not anonymous, they have names and stories to tell.

Francisco had to vacate Getafe (in Madrid) this week; and Sheila and Medeleine, single mothers of five children, who will be evicted from their homes in Barcelona; and Alex and his family, who have returned as okupas (to occupy) to the home they had lost in the Catalan locality of Terrassa.

All of them contracted mortgages in the years of supposed prosperity and easy credit, ended without incomes, and now cannot pay them.  They not only lost their apartments, but are also indebted.  There are many more people in this situation, they are among the thousands. They have broken out of anonymity thanks to a collective of activists, composed of those affected, as well as supporters, who have joined together in a campaign of pacifist resistance to stop the crisis.  The motto is clear: “We will not let the bank kick us out of our homes.”

This kind of guerrilla against evictions was born in 2009 in Barcelona when a group of victims created the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH in Spanish), to denounce these abuses and the legal protection of financial entities.  “Neither the banks nor public powers are interested in our uproar,” they affirm in their blog. “Resisting evictions means challenging them, standing up to them, looking at them as one equal to another (…).  Our house is our instrument of battle, our lever of pressure, our greatest ally.”

In November of 2010, they achieved a milestone: they stopped an initial eviction near Barcelona and prevented Lluís and his 13-year-old son from being left to the streets.

The PAH continued to work until it received an unexpected boost this spring — support from the collectives that form part of the 15M movement. Now other similar groups exist, including neighborhood assemblies,  and social and local entities in many Spanish cities that fight for the right to a decent home. In total, the PAH assures that it has stopped 109 evictions.

While that number is large, an enormous amount of work remains to be done, taking into account that between 2007 and 2011, almost half a million foreclosures are expected to take place in Spain (there have been 32,000 proceedings in the first half of this year and almost 48,000 in 2010, according to data from the General Council of the Judiciary [es].)

A digital alliance

The campaign counts on a strong online component, from where it organizes and connects those affected with activists and the rest of society. Stop Eviction's webpage [es] was created in June with the goal of generating a network of alerts and a state map of the dramatic situation.  Anyone who will fall victim to a mortgage eviction can present his or her case there and set off an effort of coordination to receive help.

The alerts are also spread through the campaign's Twitter accounts, @LA_PAH and @stopdesahucios, and through hashtags #stopdesahucios (#stopevictions) o #stopdesnonaments (“stop evictions” in Catalan).  And it works — the tweets are retweeted and information is disseminated, getting groups of sympathizers, neighbors, and activists show up to stop the evictions.  Below are some recent examples:

@oscartaxibcn: Mañana pararemos un desahucio 13D, Barcelona – Ciutat Meridiana. A las 08:30h, C/ Les Agudes 58b, bloque K #stopdesnonaments via @LA_PAH

@oscartaxibcn: Tomorrow we'll stop an eviction in 13D, Barcelona – Ciutat Meridiana.  At 8:30, Les Agudes street, 58b, block K #stopevictions via @LA_PAH

@alertadesahucio: L'Hospitalet. Parado hoy desahucio en la C. Jardín. Próxima cita el jueves a las 8 en C. Llançà, 7…#stopdesahucios

@alertadesahucio: L'Hospitalet. Stopped an eviction today in C. Jardín.  Next site is Thursday at 8 on Llançà street, 7.… #stopevictions

@GetafeAsamblea: Si conseguimos ayudar a Antonia, el miércoles hay que apoyar a Paco ¿venís?

@GetafeAsamblea:  If we can succeed in helping Antonia, we have to support Paco on Wednesday.  Will you come?  #stopevictions

“Family evicted, house reappropriated!”

Over time, the PAH and 15M have launched another fighting front.  It no longer has to do only with stopping evictions, but also to relocating families to unused buildings due to housing speculation: Family evicted, house reappropriated!  The first cases took place in Barcelona and Madrid on October 15, following the massive global demonstration in both cities.  Under the slogan, “from indignation to action,” they occupied a building in Barcelona, which was the property of a seized construction company, and “Hotel Madrid” in Madrid, which was up for auction.

Both initiatives created blogs: Edifici 15O [es] and Hotel Madrid [es].  Although the police evicted the families relocated in Hotel Madrid, the movement did not back down.  Twitter user @Arganda15m wrote that very day: “They're chanting ‘An eviction, another occupation’ #withoutahome.”

A month later, on November 18, a similar case occurred in Barcelona, when members of the Indignant Assembly from the Sants neighborhood, also members of the 15 M, occupied a block of apartments that remained empty for a number of years. They accommodated five evicted families and launched a blog [es], as well as a Twitter account [es], to spread information about the case, now known as “Habitatge18N” (“House18N” in Catalán).  Twelve days later, the alarm spread widely [ca]:

@La_Directa: Els #Mossos tenen previst desallotjar @habitatge18n d'Hostafrancs aquesta matinada

@La_Directa: The #Mossos (Catalan police) plan to evict @habitatge18n from Hostrafrancs this morning

@Acampadabcn: Va, som-hi! Hashtag per seguir tot el que (no) passi aquesta nit a @habitatge18n ->#totesambH18n Recordem: c/ Hostafrancs, 3

@Acampadabcn: Let's go!  Hashtag to follow everything that (won't) happen tonight at @habitatge18n ->#everyonewithH18n Remember: Hostafrancs street, 3

The building was effectively evacuated that morning in a controversial police operation, which, according to the collective, is being investigated by Amnesty International.  Nevertheless, the project continues on and remains quite active.

The campaign against evictions has captured the interest of the media and some proposals that it defends are making room for it in their political agenda.  This is the case of the  “dación en pago [es],” which promotes that by law the debt be condoned when the property is acquired, as it is in other European countries.  They have also relocated a number of families in subsidized housing and have led some city councils to ask for a modification of mortgage legislation.

Clearly, there are motives to celebrate.  This is how they did it on Twitter on November 30:

@acampadasol Cumpleaños feliz para @La_PAH: 100 desahucios paralizados, ¡sí se puede!

@acampadasol Happy Birthday to @La_PAH: 100 evictions stopped, yes we can!

and in response:

@LA_PAH: “@acampadasol felicidades tb a vosotr@s! es una victoria de tod@s!”

@LA_PAH: “@acampadasol Congratulations to you too!  It's a victory for everyone!

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.


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