Spanish homeowners and activists blockade and occupy to protest home evictions, 2009-2013

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The nonviolent action taken by this campaign was most central between 2010 and 2012. However, in order to understand the reasons for and legislative outcomes of PAH's actions, it is crucial to examine the events in the time period spanning from 2009 to 2013.
February
2009
to
May
2013
Location and Goals
Country: 
Spain
Location City/State/Province: 
Barcelona
Location Description: 
Campaign spread throughout Spain
Goals: 
The option of payment in kind (the ability to return property to the bank in exchange for cancellation of the debt, avoiding the sentencing of families to a life in debt) and to halt evictions.

"We wanted to put an end to this violence that is leaving thousands of families on the streets while financial institutions with serious responsibility for the current crisis accumulate thousands of empty flats, waiting to be able to speculate with them again." - Ada Colau, PAH representative

 

By 2009, the global financial crisis created high unemployment rates
throughout Spain. For many homeowners who borrowed money, the inability
to pay their mortgages meant that they risked eviction while continuing
to pay back their loans, creating the combination of homelessness and
growing debt. Social movements of recent years had worked to secure
housing and employment for all citizens in the turbulent times, such as
the “V de Vivienda” (“H for Housing”) campaign. Out of that particular
campaign grew “Platforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca” (“Mortgage
Holders Platform” or PAH), founded by activist Ada Colau in Barcelona on
22 February. PAH was structured for horizontal leadership and consisted
of activists who were themselves at risk of eviction. Protesters were
conscious that lenders, often governmental banks, were profiting greatly
from the misfortunes of the public. Their demands were a “dacion en
pago” (“payment in kind”, which would allow borrowers to give their
property to the lenders instead of accumulating a lifetime of debt) and
to halt the evictions that left countless empty properties and countless
families without homes.

PAH activists mobilized at first as small committees, dedicated to
publicly voicing the right to housing. On 28 March, 25 April, and 24
October, members took to the streets to denounce the mortgage fraud with
the slogan “The Crisis that Pays the Rich”. As the platform gained
visibility from the public, public radio talk shows invited activists to
address the helplessness that thousands of local families faced.

Soon PAH expanded its focus beyond Barcelona, publicly condemning
lenders in Madrid and other neighboring cities and demanding debt
relief. Activists lobbied government offices and flooded the e-mail
inboxes of House members. In March 2010, the PAH partnered with the
organization Observatorio DESC and developed a legislative proposal that
would make it possible for those evicted to be “absolved of any
outstanding debt.” The PAH received support from the largest Trade
Unions (Comisiones Obreros and UGT) and a variety of other human rights
organizations. On 9 July, the proposal that included dacion en pago was
discussed in the House of Representatives. The Parliamentary group
IU-ICV-ERC and CiU fully supported the proposal, the ruling party PP
called for a three month governmental economic study of the proposal,
and the socialist party PSOE voted against the proposal completely.
Legislators in the House approved a study of the PAH proposal by 19
votes to 18 votes. For the duration of the study period, PAH members
decided to plan extensive action. Using the website
http://www.afectadosporlahipoteca.wordpress.com PAH communicated with
its growing membership. On 25 September, hundreds of people occupied the
former Spanish Credit Bank. A general strike was called on 29
September, and activists plastered building walls with green papers
detailing housing statistics.

On 24 October, 2010, the “Stop Eviction!” campaign was started by PAH in
order to gain the support of municipalities in preventing evictions and
shelter families that had been evicted in vacated housing with
affordable rents. Activists paralyzed the first home eviction on 2
November, 2010 by protesting outside the home when law enforcement
arrived. A judicial commission composed of a bank representative and two
governmental officials decided not to further pursue an eviction
attempt. The homeowner, Luis, if evicted, would have lost custody of his
young son as a result of his homeless status. By December, 50 people
attended the local court to demand a solution for Luis. Due to the
organized pressure, the judge asked the bank to postpone the eviction
until Luis found another home or got another job. PAH scheduled similar
anti-eviction protests every week for local homes approaching their
eviction days. PAH celebrated a series of successful blockades; however,
the struggle persisted. On 12 November, a man committed suicide minutes
before his eviction. A man named Jose Luis Burgos went on a week-long
hunger strike outside of the doorway of the bank who evicted him. In
February, 2011, 60 supporters protested outside a home on one particular
eviction day and were met with unprecedented police brutality. Both
adults and children who peacefully occupied the home, were physically
dragged away from the property by police. The homeowner, a woman named
Anita, who was 8 months pregnant, was taken to the hospital after
suffering an anxiety attack caused by the interaction with the police.

By 2011, many new PAH groups formed throughout Spain. On 23 July in
Madrid’s Sol Square, 40,000 people attended the “15-M movement,” a
national rally for progressive political change organized by Democracia
Real Ya (DRY; “Real democracy now”). Here, José Coy, a founding members
of PAH, announced a new kind of action to defend housing rights. The
platform would assist “squatting” in empty houses, and they developed a
list of eligible homes in every part of Spain. Other anti-eviction
protests proceeded, some mobilized by the SAT (Andalusian Workers
Union). Protesters would enter through the windows and remain in houses
until the bank agreed to negotiate with the family being evicted. On the
30th of August, 200 activists from the 15-M movement occupied an
apartment block held by a bank, allowing five homeless families to move
in. The protests even spread to other parts of Europe, including the UK.
The first national PAH meeting occurred in September with
representation from 40 groups.

By 2012, successful protests happened every week, but police violence
also continued. Colau and PAH set out to gather 500,000 signatures
across the Spanish state in order to formally constitute a Popular
Legislative Initiative to force government, senate and congress, to deal
with the proposal. The PAH managed to gather 1.5 million signatures.
Roughly, 115 evictions were still occurring every day, and the Popular
Legislative Initiative would be voted on within a year.

On 29 October, the United Nations harshly condemned the UN housing
policy in the annual report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to
Adequate Housing. In November alone, at least four suicides occurred
moments before eviction. Graffiti covered banks’ walls with the word
“Assassin.” The campaign referred to the deaths not as suicides, but
rather as #GenocidioFinaciero (“genocide loans”) on social media.
Thousands of people joined demonstrations in many Spanish cities in
response, including police officers. One major police union offered
financial and legal support for policemen who refused to take part in
evicting citizens.

Everyday, protesters staged nonviolent occupations outside homes, some
successful while others failed. By 3 November, 2012, 500 evictions had
been stopped. Around that time, nearly 60 protesters slept in front of
the Madrid office of Bankia, the bank that was responsible for 80
percent of the evictions in the region. Several days later, the bank
cancelled their evictions planned for the week and agreed to negotiate
evictions, case by case. However, campaigners were not satisfied. “We
don’t want them to stop only these evictions, we want a solution for all
the people who will be evicted by Bankia,” said Tatiana Koleva, a PAH
activist. Two days after another suicide, on 16 Nov, the PP and the PSOE
said that they would “alleviate the drama of the mortgages” by ending
evictions for two years in cases of “extreme need.” However, strict
qualifications meant very few citizens were eligible. Families had to
have annual income below $25,000, pay more than half of that income in
mortgage payments, and meet at least one of a list of other strict
conditions (such as “owning no other property, being a single-parent
household with at least two children, having a large family, having a
family member with disabilities or being a victim of domestic
violence.”) Additionally, the 400,000 households that had already
experienced eviction received no compensation. The twitter hashtag
#quehablelapah (“let PAH speak”) trended throughout Spain registering
disappointment over Bankia’s program.

In January of 2013, PAH was awarded the Spanish National Prize for Human
Rights. Soon after, the Spanish Banking Association (AEB) and the
Spanish Confederation of Savings Banks (CECA) and the government
transferred 6,000 properties that formed part of the Social Housing Fund
to house families who had been affected by evictions. Some firemen and
locksmiths throughout Spain refused to unlock the doors of homes of
potential evictees, some judges gave sentences favourable to citizens
facing eviction, and some bank officers individually helped renegotiate
some mortgages. Growing support and campaigner membership continued to
accelerate.

In order to pressure government officials to vote “yes” to the Popular
Legislative Amendment in the Congress, the PAH used escraches (mass
gatherings in front of the workplaces or homes of those expected to vote
against the amendment). Hundreds of protesters with the PAH’s logo
chanted the slogan “si se puede” (“yes we can”). In March, the European
Court of Human Rights declared the current Spanish legislation to be in
breach of EU consumer-protection laws, because it did not allow judges
to halt evictions in mortgages contracts that were considered unfair.
Finally in May, a new mortgage bill was approved by the Spanish
government. To the disappointment of many, families were still not
guaranteed protection against eviction.

After the decision, PAH transitioned into a new campaign called the
“Obra Social” (“community work”), in which the platform took control of
empty buildings owned by banks to house people who had been evicted. By
July of 2013, 634 were re-housed by PAH. PAH continued to be active in
anti-eviction blockades, and produced a civil-disobedience guidebook for
reclaiming empty houses. Though PAH was unable to reach its legislative
objectives, many Spaniards regarded the “Stop Evictions!” campaign as a
great success for reclaiming housing justice for so many citizens, and
relieving families of debt that would be passed down from one generation
to the next.

Research Notes
Influences: 

"V de Vivienda" and other social movements of the time

Sources: 
Garcia, Ter. "Spain Halts Evictions under Popular Pressure - Waging Nonviolence." Waging Nonviolence Spain Halts Evictions under Popular Pressure Comments. 14 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://web.archive.org/web/20150321054944/http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/spain-halts-evictions-under-popular-pressure/>.

Tipaldou, Sofia. "Spain: Platform of Mortgage Victims (PAH) – It Is Possible! [EL,EN,ES] » X-pressed | an Open Journal." Xpressed: An Open Journal. 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://web.archive.org/web/20150321055201/http://www.x-pressed.org/?xpd_article=pah-platform-for-the-mortgage-affected-si-se-puede>.

Garcia, Ter. "A Year of Small Victories for the Spanish Anti-foreclosure Movement - Waging Nonviolence." Waging Nonviolence A Year of Small Victories for the Spanish Antiforeclosure Movement Comments. 28 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://web.archive.org/web/20150321055535/http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/a-year-of-small-victories-for-the-spanish-anti-foreclosure-movement/>.

García Lamarca, Melissa. "Resisting Evictions Spanish style." New Internationalist All Posts RSS. 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://web.archive.org/web/20150321055747/http://newint.org/features/2013/04/01/sparks-from-the-spanish-crucible/>.

"PAH Camp De Túria - Stop Desnonaments." Facebook. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <https://www.facebook.com/PAHCampDeTuriaStopDesnonaments/timeline?ref=page_internal>.

Delclos, Carlos. "Victims No Longer: Spain's Anti-eviction Movement." OpenDemocracy. 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://web.archive.org/web/20150321060146/https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/carlos-delclós/victims-no-longer-spain’s-anti-eviction-movement>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jasmine Rashid 3/20/15