Squatting in Spain: taking back their homes

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Squatting in Spain: taking back their homes

People lost their homes in the crisis. Now they are taking back empty flats from the banks, says Koren Helbig.

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About 250,000 homes were taken by the banks between 2008 and 2012. (Estrella Digital under a Creative Commons Licence)

The apartment blocks look like all the other apartment blocks. They are clean, with furniture, power and water. But the families who live there are not paying rent – they entered the flats with no permission and are now living there (squatting). They lost their jobs and homes because of the economic crisis in Spain.

Between 2008 and 2012, the banks took about 250,000 homes from people who couldn’t pay. And there is very little support for these people with no homes, as the government has little money. So, in apartments across Spain, the group “Platform for Mortgage Affected People” is trying to find a new solution for the housing crisis.

Many people know the Platform because they tried to stop people being forced to leave their homes. But it has also taken over 15 blocks of flats and many more houses. Most of these houses and flats are owned by banks. The government helped these same banks with so much money when they had serious problems.

The Platform is organising for families to live there legally, paying no more than a third of their income as rent. So far, banks have agreed in two buildings.

The Platform says that more than a thousand Spaniards are now living in these homes, including more than 300 children.

‘Spain has three million empty buildings – the most in Europe – and more than a million of them belong to the banks,’ says the Platform’s Gala Pin. ‘We don’t need to build more houses. We saved the banks with our money – millions of euros of public money – and now they have to give something back to us.’

Last year, because of the Platform and angry Spaniards with no homes, the government brought in new laws for new social housing and help with paying mortgages. But these plans have not been very successful. More than 6,000 bank-owned properties were given to social housing under the new laws. But about two-thirds of these are still empty because there are very strict rules for applying to live there. And the families have to apply for social housing to the same bank that forced them to leave their homes.

‘People have had a terrible time emotionally. Then they have to return to the same bank to give in all their documents. It is difficult,’ says researcher Melissa García Lamarca.

But it seems more important for the Spanish government to stop public protests than to find a solution to the housing crisis. At the end of 2013, they wanted to introduce a ‘citizen security law’. This would make people who stop evictions pay fines of up to €30,000 ($41,440).

But the Platform has promised to continue to stop evictions. ‘We will not let people sleep in the streets because they are afraid they will have to pay fines,’ says Pin.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL:http://newint.org/sections/agenda/2014/06/01/spain-unlikely-squatters/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)