The Irish Times - Monday, November 14, 2011

Spanish property bubble fallout continues with evictions, debt and fear of homelessness

CAELAINN HOGAN in Barcelona

Through protest and aid groups, thousands hurt by the housing downturn are trying to assert their rights

“NO TO people without houses, and houses without people!” chant the demonstrators who since 8am have been gathered outside apartment block K on Carrer Les Agudes.

The eviction scheduled to take place in this Barcelona suburb has been suspended, the authorities retreating to enthusiastic shouts of “We can do it!”

It is one of over 100 successful eviction protests organised in Spain by the Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions) initiative and the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) – the “platform for those affected by mortgage”.

“All Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing” states article 47 of the Spanish constitution. It demands that public authorities regulate according to the public interest to prevent speculation. However, between 2007 and 2011, nearly 500,000 families have been evicted from their homes in Spain, due to property speculation and the crisis.

“While these people are losing their houses, we’ve got around three million empty houses in Spain,” says Montserrat Hernando, a lawyer with the Federación de Asociaciones de Vecinos de Barcelona, who runs a support service for those facing eviction. “The local Catalan administration found a month ago that they have over 3,000 vacant properties in Barcelona. What’s happening with these houses?”

Cuts to social services and a shortage of social housing has resulted in those seeking help often being told they cannot be accommodated.

Emanuel, the man facing eviction, bought the apartment in August 2006, when the property bubble in Spain was near its peak. At the time, the flat cost him €234,000, and now is worth only €117,000. In 2009, he lost his job and was unable to continue usual payments. Despite continuing to contribute half of his social benefit and sole source of income every month, the banks issued an eviction notice and embargoed his accounts. “They said I have to leave,” he says. “But I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

With the rate of unemployment in Spain now at 22 per cent, the highest in the euro zone, this crisis is amplified by the fact 80 per cent of the 46 million people in Spain are homeowners, due to state encouragement to buy rather than rent.

“The banks are accumulating more and more properties,” says Ernest Marc, a young professor from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona working with the PAH. “They are now more like real estate agencies.”

The PAH provides weekly support meetings for people struggling to pay their mortgage. It assists with the court process and, if necessary, mobilises against eviction. There are now over 40 platforms across Spain.

The most debilitating factor of these evictions is that foreclosure of property only accounts for 60 per cent of the debt. Unlike most European countries, Spanish law does not enforce mortgage debt forgiveness after eviction.

Having lost their homes, those evicted must still pay 40 per cent of the debt at the time of purchase, as well as judicial fees of up to €40,000-€60,000.

One man at the PAH meeting, threatened with eviction on the 1st of December, will still owe €130,000 to the bank even after they take his house. Reforming this aspect of the mortgage law is one of the PAH’s main campaigns. They need half a million signatures to propose the reform in parliament, but are waiting until after the general election on November 20th.

Matias Gonzalez (55), a divorced father of two from Barcelona, has been involved with the PAH since April and is proof of its accomplishments. Since March 2009, he has been unable to find work and, having been self-employed, has no right to social benefit. After four eviction notices and many months of dogged campaigning, Matias finally secured an agreement with the local housing authorities to provide him housing for a minimum rent.

Many are scraping by, but their future is burdened with anxiety.

LatestRss Feed