After 500,000 evictions, debtors take on the bailiffs
The Platform for Mortgage Victims is mobilising an army of protesters to change strict Spanish foreclosure laws
Once the word gets out, the social networks hum with the details: tomorrow at 10am; here’s the address. That’s when the army of protesters descends, some of its members travelling up to 40km for the battle. Today the front line is Avenida de les Corts Catalanes, in the Artigues area of Badalona, east of Barcelona city, where a family of six who have fallen on hard times are about to lose their home.
Wearing green T-shirts with Stop Desahucios – Stop Evictions – written in black, about 120 members of the Platform for Mortgage Victims (the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca) blow whistles, wave placards and, in a nod to Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, shout: “Sí se puede!” (Yes we can!”)
Here the phrase refers to the social movement’s insistence that citizens collectively take on the banks and authorities to fight for their right to housing, in accordance with the Spanish constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Amid the organised chaos Justa Serrano Collado cuts a lonely, fragile figure. Sobbing between shouts, the 45-year-old mother of four is overcome by the show of solidarity but also gripped by terror at the impending arrival of the bailiffs.
“We have been paying the bank all we can,” she says, wiping away tears with one hand, a green “Sí se puede” sign drooping in the other. She and her husband bought their apartment in 2000, and continued to meet the €650 monthly mortgage repayment until 2010, two years after he lost his job in a warehouse. But since his dole stopped, two years in, they have been paying €426, the amount she receives in social benefit each month. “The bank says it’s not enough.” Her husband gets a further €426 a month, all of which they need to buy food, pay bills and clothe their children.
As the protest intensifies, good news arrives: a judge has suspended the eviction on foot of a petition by the platform. The crowd erupts into applause, and there are more tears as they rush to congratulate Collado and share their own experiences, good and bad. For now Collado has been spared the indignity and hardship of homelessness. But the reprieve is merely that: Bankia, the bank in question, may come knocking again.
Every day across Spain similar battles are unfolding. With bases in about 160 towns and villages, the slick and well-organised anti-evictions platform is overseeing a revolution in which people of diverse ages and political and racial profiles are taking to the streets. There have been about 500,000 evictions across Spain since the property bubble burst in 2007, according to the platform.
In the Barcelona area alone, where the movement was founded, about 20 are being carried out each day. The figure is closer to 50 in the southern region of Andalusia. An estimated third of those evicted are children. It does not take a lot to get evicted in Spain: anyone in arrears of three months or more can be targeted.
The last-minute court decision in Collado’s favour was facilitated by a law passed in May allowing judges to suspend evictions for up to two years in some cases where unfair terms have been identified. The new legislation was Spain’s response to a ruling in March by the European Court of Justice that Spanish legislation breached EU consumer protection laws because it did not allow courts to halt evictions even where mortgage contracts contained unfair terms.