BUBBLES TO CAMPOUTS: SPANIARDS FIGHT HOME EVICTIONS AS RENTS SKYROCKET
Cars and buses hurtled by as Zafar stood frozen on the spot, legal documents in hand, glancing anxiously at his apartment block on one of Barcelona‘s busiest roads.
Activists from Stop Desahucios, a nationwide association that fights for housing rights, began gathering outside the building to try to prevent the father of four and his family from being evicted that same day.
“The landlord is up there now and I am waiting to see what happenswe have lived here for five years,” said Zafar – who did not want to disclose his full name – as he took a deep breath.
Members of Spain‘s Mortgage Victims’ Platform (PAH) blow bubbles at an event in Barcelona, to symbolise Spain‘s ‘property bubble’ and fight rising rental prices: taken on 6th November, 2019. PICTURE: Handout picture courtesy of: Mortgage Victims’ Platform
Thousands of families are evicted each month across Spain, as a combination of over-tourism, rising immigration and a growing urban population push up housing prices, leaving many tenants unable to afford rent, say housing rights advocates.
As local activists call on the government for solutions, advocacy groups like Stop Desahucios (“Stop Evictions“) are finding ways to help people keep their homes, with some comparing the situation to a refugee crisis.
“The housing crisis situation in Spain is comparable to less developed countries where they have seen big displacements,” said Santi Mas de Xaxas, spokesman for the Mortgage Victims’ Platform (PAH), which runs Stop Desahucios.
Average rental prices in Barcelona have risen by a third in the last five years, according to city hall statistics.
The issue garnered international attention in October, 2019, when the United Nations condemned Spain‘s government for its hand in the eviction of Maribel Viviana Lopez Alban and her six children from their apartment in Madrid.
In the complaint Alban filed with the UN, the single mother stated that she had discovered the person who claimed to be the landlord turned out not to be the property’s legal owner and so she stopped paying rent.
When the bank that did own the property realised she was living there, it started eviction proceedings.
She proceeded to apply for social housing, but was turned down on the grounds that anyone illegally occupying a property is not eligible, according to the complaint.
Zafar was not so lucky.
A spokesman for the Spanish Ministry of Development did not respond to a request for comment on its national social housing policy.
Zafar and his family, like many families who have been evicted, will have been temporarily rehoused in a hostel in Barcelona and will probably be moved every few weeks or months, Mas de Xaxas explained.
“They [family members] are all put in one room – no access to a kitchen, no access for the kids to any space for them to study or to play,” he lamented, adding that they could remain in that state for years.
The PAH, which launched 10 years ago in Barcelona in response to Spain‘s mortgage crisis, offers residents free legal advice at weekly meetings, raises awareness of upcoming evictions on social media and on the day protests outside targeted homes.
Other groups helping Spaniards fight for their property rights include Reventemos las Burbujas (“Bubble Blast”) – also run by the PAH – which holds flashmobs in which everyone blows bubbles as a symbol of Spain‘s property bubble.
And Nadie sin Hogar (“Nobody Homeless”), also based in Madrid, made headlines last summer when it organised a protest camp outside El Prado museum, with about 150 homeless people camping out in the tourist hotspot for six months to demand better housing.
Asuncion Blanco Romero, a geography professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said that the Sindicat de Llogateres (“Tenant Syndicate”) had also convinced some property owners to join a fair rent initiative and was demanding the regulation of rents at a national level.
In Catalonia alone, about 1,350 housing dwellings were completed in 2017, falling short of the 115,000 or so households listed as having requested social housing, found data by the University of Barcelona.
“The need for mostly affordable housing is growing because prices have skyrocketed in recent years.”
In March, 2019, the government extended the minimum duration of rental contracts and adopted measures to prevent annual rent increases of more than the consumer price index.
Those landlords will have to offer a reduced rent – known as social rent – to tenants whose contracts have ended if they can prove they are in a vulnerable situation and have been occupying a property for more than six months.
But critics say the new laws are not enough.
The eviction crisis will only be solved, Mas de Xaxas stressed, when Spain increases its stock of social housing, allowing people on lower incomes to find somewhere where they can actually afford to live.