Post-boom Barcelona squatters occupy vanguard of Spain’s resistance to banks
Some dispossessed are breaking into vacant buildings taken over by banks
In Barcelona’s medieval Raval neighbourhood, renowned for much of the 20th century as the hub of the city’s drug, prostitution and crime underworld, a cloth with an anti-bank slogan painted on it flaps in the breeze on the facade of a renovated building in the recently gentrified Plaça del Pedró.
Inside, in a sparsely furnished one-room apartment on the third floor, a photograph taped to a wall shows a suntanned, sporty-looking blonde in a black swimsuit reclining seductively across the bow of a luxury boat. She is gazing at the camera with confidence and a touch of nonchalance, as though secure in the expectation that life will always be this good.
Tania Hidalga (39) is the pin-up girl. Today, coughing relentlessly, she sits wearily on a donated second-hand sofa and looks across at her former self of seven years ago. “Yes, that was me, that was life then,” she says softly, between gasps. “Another world, eh?”
She was once the proud owner of an apartment on the Costa Brava near Empuriabrava, one of the largest marinas in the world, but Hidalga’s comfortable life fell apart after she lost her job as an administrative assistant in 2010.
Her relationship ended – her partner owned the boat – and she was evicted last year for not paying her mortgage after her 10 months of dole entitlement ended. She describes a humiliating journey between then and now.
For eight months she lived in a homeless shelter and depended on a nearby church for handouts of groceries. Nights were spent in fear: “There were drug addicts, criminals, prostitutes all living there. But that’s not me. I’m not a criminal – I’m a worker. I want to work and earn my living.” Her physical and mental health suffered severe setbacks. Now, she says, she is starting all over again in the Raval.
Anyone looking closely at No 5 Plaça del Pedró, however, will notice something unusual. The original lock on the building’s front door has been ripped out and replaced, and each studio- apartment door bears the marks of a cutter where the lock has been changed. Hidalga is not renting this flat. She is not even supposed to be here. But in July she and three similarly homeless families, with the help of housing lobby the Platform for Mortgage Victims (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, known as the PAH) broke into the vacant building, now owned by Caixa Banc, and took up residence.
“When we were moving in, the neighbours were all there supporting us and cheering us on – they even helped us,” says Hidalga, her eyes welling up as she proudly points out her fridge-freezer, bed and sofa, all donations from the local community.