by Jaime Alekos
In the early hours of September 25th, 2013, over a hundred riot police forced their way into a Madrid apartment under orders to evict Isabel Rodríguez, her husband, eight-year-old daughter, and parents. The apartment belongs to the Municipal Housing and Land Agency (EMVS) of Madrid.
EMVS, a public limited company fully funded by the Madrid City Council, is responsible for developing the city’s housing policy with a focus on affordable housing for those in financial difficulties. According to EMVS, it provides a public service.
Isabel’s parents were rehoused in the apartment after their own home was expropriated 24 years ago. Isabel moved into her parent’s home to look after her mother who suffers from a bipolar disorder and her father who has a degenerative illness.
Madrid city council claims that Isabel’s parents owe €1,000 and own two properties, which disqualify them from public housing. Isabel denies the debt and claims she has tried several times to pay but the payments have been returned. As to the two properties, she maintains that in the case of one she has bare ownership (she can only live there when the current occupant dies) and the other has been foreclosed. She and her husband are unemployed and have no home of their own.
Manuel Sanpastor, a lawyer with the Platform for Social and Public Housing Victims (PAVPS), a sister organization of the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), has no doubt that the housing block where Isabel has lived in Villaverde, a working-class area in the south-east of Madrid, will be sold to a private investment fund in order to pay debt owed by the Madrid housing agency. In June 2013 the mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, sold 1,800 publicly owned flats to the venture capital company Blackstone.
According to Sanpastor, the sale of protected-rent flats to investment funds has led to a significant increase in evictions from public housing in Madrid, to the point where the cases notified to PAH and neighbourhood assemblies in the past 12 months have exceeded the number of evictions owing to mortgage defaults.
Local housing groups have created platforms which focus specifically on evictions from public housing. They blame EMVS and IVIMA (the equivalent organization of the Madrid autonomous region, also hugely in debt) for failing to negotiate solutions in cases of non-payment, not agreeing to talk to those affected, and for refusing to accept payment of sums owed, which enables the evictions to go ahead and the subsequent sale of public housing to private investment funds.
Rodríguez and her family are now living in the courtyard of the block from which she was evicted. Relatives and neighbours provide them with meals and have helped the family set up an awning to protect them from the rain.
With unemployment at over 25%, wage cuts and increasingly precarious work conditions, an estimated 350,000 families have been evicted from their homes since Spain’s property market crashed in 2008. There are 500 evictions a day, according to government figures. Even after repossession, homeowners in Spain remain liable to repay whatever value is left on the mortgage.
Juliane Kokott, the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, has criticised the current rules on evictions, saying they violate European consumer protection rules.