Grassroots under Attack in Spanish Housing Crisis

Homes stand empty amid increasing population and lack of affordable living. Mary Altaffer / AP Images

I really wanted to be a part of the raid for a big reason. I wasn’t a Spanish local journalist; I’m a New Yorker. My heart is in Madrid, in the tranche of families fighting to reclaim their rental apartment.

But my fellow tenants, or “peole,” are fighting to make a change. Spanish banking authorities have been promoting the self-regulating rental market since the socialist-led economic collapse, often by taking cheap housing off their hands.

I was forced to leave my home in downtown Madrid this summer. It belonged to my landlord, and she had rented the unit out when I joined her for the wedding of a family member. When the rental ended on Aug. 31, I said goodbye to my terraced apartment, hidden by a thick wall, long past my bedtime. Most of my apartment had been packed with my belongings, from magazines to chairs. The yellowing pages of the novels I’d been reading in bed at night gave way to dust bunnies and stray cats.

The furniture was donated to the local “La Cathedora Clinic” for the homeless. My friend, who also rented in the neighborhood, and his landlord had erected a wall. As her tenants, my friend and I were receiving no bids for our apartments. Most of them were bought for about $100,000 from lenders in an auction.

When I returned to Spain, I found out that most of my neighbors had had to move, or to stop making payments or who had dropped out of the market. The ones I did not know had already received eviction notices, like me. The foreclosure crisis was hitting young professionals and those living on contracts. It hit middle-class families and families in debt.

In the words of my neighbor, “Like a tsunami, the global financial crisis is coming.”

Like a tsunami, the global financial crisis is coming. As immigrants from across the world, we’re being uprooted and displaced, hungry, thirsty and completely out of place.

There are numerous reasons, but one is that Spain is now seeing a shortage of affordable housing, which raises rents. The crisis-hit housing stock in Spain has slowly returned to normal.

Meanwhile, unemployment and growing inequality are also driving tenants onto the streets. In some areas, there are about 4,000 “doubles,” or illegal residents, and they make up about 11 percent of the total population in some Spanish cities.

Lamentably, Spain is in the company of Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Italy and other Eurozone countries, having to take a hard look at its rental market.

Unsurprisingly, the number of people living outside their land will rise if banks continue their gentrification policies. But the ongoing social housing and social housing programs in Spain (such as Housing Continuum of Needs) should help stabilize the situation for the foreseeable future.

Recessions and social housing programs do not always go hand in hand. We are seeing problems like homelessness. Police in Madrid used metal fencing to seal up a squat with 15 people and were trying to clear a block of very poor people.

In the last couple of years, there has been a huge increase in charitable donations of furniture and housewares. For example, local NGOs in Madrid warehouse furniture from their families’ cars and save the parts for distribution to the needy. Members of some Hispanic families donated food, but the citizens or especially the Spanish taxpayers also donated thousands of dollars to charities which recently opened the largest homeless shelter in Europe.

In the meantime, some housing activists are demanding legislation to put an end to the wave of evictions and local officials of the mayor’s office in Madrid are promising to create more legal housing for the needy to avoid rent control.

The anti-migrant May 1968 revolution in Spain is considered to be one of the most brilliant victories of the left. Some say it was due to the lack of immigrants in the streets, forced onto the right to protest. It seems, then, that the Spanish revolution may be getting a second, and this time for the left, immigration and more austerity also play a major role.

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