Andalusia Paves the Way: Popular Occupations and Institutional Responses
Marta SOLANAS DOMINGUEZ, 2014
This article is part of the book Take Back the Land ! The Social Function of Land and Housing, Resistance and Alternatives, Passerelle, Ritimo/Aitec/Citego, March 2014.
At present, Spain is a negative example of the impact of neoliberal policies on the right to housing and on the city. Since the middle of the 20th century, priority has been given to individual ownership, based on the assumption that the real estate market would provide access to housing1. The outcome of this is: over three million vacant housing units2 and at the same time 212 foreclosures and 159 evictions, daily3. The evictions are ordered by the banking institutions which are the creditors of the evicted people, when the payments on mortgage loans are no longer made. In addition, thousands of people are being evicted from rental housing, including “social” housing owned by public authorities.
Andalusia Rises: from Previous Experiences, 15M in Squares and Neighbourhoods, to the Corralas
In Andalusia, there has been a public debate on the right to the city for a long time4, namely regarding housing and public space. In 2011, the 15M assemblies5 established the 15M Housing Intercommittee which published a report in March 2012 on the impact of evictions in the city. Twelve Housing Information and Meeting Points - PIVEs6 - were opened to provide guidance and mutual assistance and to support collective organisation.
In one of these, a group of women neighbours, whose situation left them no other choice to access housing, decided to occupy a building that had been unoccupied for several years. They had already appealed to all the competent public authorities, in vain. On March 17th 2012 the occupation was made public and the Corrala de vecinas la Utopía7 (Women Neighbours’ Utopia Corrala) was born.
Since then, other groups have started organising and replicating these women’s initiative. The first few months are usually spent on getting to know each other and building ties. People organise and seek guidance from support groups on all the necessary steps - legal matters, technical and logistical details, etc. Communication is crucial: explicitly stating objectives, reasons and the intention to pay for the housing according to one’s income8.
This led to the occupation of other buildings in Seville, Malaga, Huelva, Granada, and in other parts of the state. The “Obra Social PAH”9 occupations are among the most famous. Along with other initiatives10, they have been “liberating” more and more buildings, thus contributing to the debate on the social function of housing and striving to bring their inhabitants closer to benefitting from the right to housing.
The Andalusian Movement for the Right to Housing (Movimiento Andaluz por el Derecho a la Vivienda - MADV) encourages a global approach to the issue of accessing and remaining within housing. The powerful impact of the “economic crisis” has made the evictions due to mortgage non-payments more visible. The major impact, visibility and acceptance of the PAH illustrates this. Likewise, institutions have been focusing the discussion and their proposals on the issue of foreclosures.
Analysing the Andalusian Law: the Social Function of Housing… All Housing? For Everyone?
In Spain, even though housing policy is a competence of the autonomous communities, it is the central executive power’s ability and obligation to legislate on evictions11. The state has sought to “preserve” the banking and financial institutions’ credibility on this matter. The different regulations which were approved12 have ranged from a Code of Good Conduct to encouraging dation in payment13. Another decree-law granted a two-year moratorium and facilitated the access to social rental housing, which was previously limited to extreme cases of social exclusion and therefore to very few people. SAREB (or the Banco Malo, Bad Bank) was created to manage the real estate assets from banks that had benefitted from the bailout - only 10% of these assets are earmarked for “social rentals”. Finally, law 1/2013 did “not include in any credible way the three claims set forth by ILP14: neither retroactive dation in payment, nor a general moratorium on evictions for economic reasons, nor social rentals for the concerned persons and families”15.
In this context, other autonomous communities have been paying close attention to the proposal of the Board of Andalusia, Law 1/2013 containing measures to ensure the fulfilment of the Social Function of Housing16. Called the anti-eviction law by some, it is seen as a solution to the housing problem faced by hundreds of thousands of Andalusians. Others call it the expropriation law and believe it would amount to flawed market conditions and a shortage of loans granted to new - hypothetical - buyers.
A closer look at the law shows that the reasons it sets forth acknowledge a current social and economic emergency. Without admitting to any earlier mistakes made by the institution, the basis for its proposal is the need to change angles: to housing as a right instead of as a speculative commodity. One of its major contributions is highlighting, from an institutional viewpoint, the fact that all housing must fulfil a social function. The creation of a Registry of Unoccupied Housing Units is a highly relevant tool, which had been a long-lasting social demand. It also sets forth a definition of an unoccupied housing unit as a home which remains empty for over six months a year17.
This Registry stems from one of the regulation’s aims: to flush numerous new units out onto the rental market, therefore causing a general drop in rentals. To do so, two measures are proposed. For individuals (physical persons), incentive measures will be devised: guarantees for owners to bolster trust when renting. For “banks” (legal persons), penalties of up to 9,000€ will be applied to each empty housing unit.
Another interesting measure is the temporary expropriation of housing for use18. This can be applied in the final stages of a mortgage eviction process. For a period of up to three years, inhabitants pay up to 25% of their income, and the Board of Andalusia pays the owner an annual 2% of the value the housing was auctioned at. At the beginning of December 2013, 33 cases had been filed and only 2 had been carried out.
Lastly, if the law is approved it will have an interesting series of implications and replace the decree put on hold19. It involves different amendments, such as the recognition of cases that had been overlooked when facing expropriation for use. On the other hand, it is definitely a step in the right direction as it recognizes people who have been evicted for non-payment of rent as part of the concerned group of population: they could be eligible for subsidies20. However, it must be clearly stated that rental homes are not eligible for expropriation for use.
The major shortcoming of this law is that it doesn’t address the situation of the people who have organised and found their own ways to meet their needs, thus benefitting from the right enshrined in Art. 47 of the Constitution. The people who live in Corralas are still demanding the expropriation of the buildings they live in21.
Organisations React… And Keep Moving On
MADV acknowledges the progress this represents, as it involves greater parts of society in this necessary discussion. Nonetheless, it also presents shortcomings: its slow implementation (the Registry and the Observatory are not operational yet); the channels for participation are unclear or absent. The proposal made shortly before the decree was approved illustrates this position. MADV demanded the declaration of a Housing Emergency: this would allow for exceptional measures, prevent utilities’ cuts and make it possible to expropriate unoccupied housing for use, such as the Corralas and other occupations already underway. Today, recognizing the situation of Housing Emergency remains a central claim: every day, more and more people are cut off from basic utilities (water, electricity or gas) because they cannot pay their bills.
Andalusia is paving the way. How? By occupying spaces which legitimately should be used by people: decent housing, spaces within the city. Its methods: making the details of an increasingly precarious reality more and more visible and vivid; creating spaces for dialogue and sparking concrete action, initiatives. The goal: to achieve the full recognition of the social function of housing and the city. This means making unoccupied housing immediately available, in urban settings which are connected to basic utilities, and reconnecting homes to the supply of water, electricity and gas. For each and every one.
1 For a comprehensive and detailed account: Naredo, J. M. “El modelo inmobiliario español y sus consecuencias”, in Naredo, J.M; Taibo, C. De la burbuja inmobiliaria al decrecimiento. Madrid: Fundación Coloquio Jurídico Europeo, 2013.
2 2011 Census: 3,443,365 unoccupied housing units (for the same time period 4,262,069 housing units were built). Source: National Statistics Agency - Instituto Nacional de Estadística. Online: <www.ine.es/
3 [2011 figures quoted in: Colau, A; Alemany, A. Vidas hipotecadas. De la burbuja inmobiliaria al derecho a la vivienda. Barcelona: Cuadrilátero de libros, 2012. Online: afectadosporlahipoteca.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/vidas-hipotecadas.pdf
5 May 15th, 2011: camps were set up on main squares in the state’s big cities. Shortly after, neighbourhood assemblies were created.
6 Puntos de Información y Encuentro sobre Vivienda: Housing Information and Meeting Points.
8 The communications campaign has been more successful abroad than in the local media’s treatment. The Guardian report, March 2013: www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/04/corrala-movement-occupying-spain
9 Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform of People concerned by Mortgages) was created in 2009 by people who could no longer afford to pay their mortgage. More information at: <afectadosporlahipoteca.com/> and in Colau, Alemany (2012), op. cit.
10 In Barcelona, ‘500x20’; in Madrid the ‘Oficina de Vivienda’; in other cities the organisations ‘Stop Desahucios’, among others.
11 Mortgage Law, based on the Decree of February 8, 1946.
12 For more information: G. Pisarello: Vivienda para todos: no quieren, pero se puede, 14/7/2013, at <www.sinpermiso.info/textos/index.php?id=6155
13 Total cancellation of the debt if the property is handed over.
14 ILP: Iniciativa Legislativa Popular, Popular Legislative Initiative. Means through which citizens can set forth bills. One of PAH’s first campaigns was the submission of an ILP.
15 Pisarello, op. cit.
16 The full legal text is online: www.juntadeandalucia.es/boja/2013/198/1
17 It also sets forth criteria for defining housing as unoccupied: quantities of water and electricity used, for instance.
18 The confusion caused by this measure must be lifted: unoccupied housing is not expropriated, it concerns housing inhabited by the people who purchased the home. Even more, the home must have already been sold at auction and the family will remain in debt if they do not successfully negotiate dation in payment.
19 In April 2013 a decree-law was approved, which was cancelled by the Constitutional Court - the central government filed a complaint alleging it violated property rights.
20 Which will also depend on the Housing and Renovation Plan, with no earmarked budget www.juntadeandalucia.es/fomentoyvivienda/portal-web/web/areas/vivienda/texto/97d169ca-37ec-11e3-9eca-59261f2f7fc0
21 Manifesto in support of the Corrala Utopía: <corralautopia.blogspot.com/2013/11/manifiesto-de-apoyo-la-corrala-utopia.html
Díaz, Ibán. Las asambleas de base y la lucha por la vivienda digna en Sevilla. Dans la revue El Topo, nº1. p. 12. Disponible sur docs.google.com/file/d/0B1YwbhjdxZYuQnNUQWo4MlhyRXM/edit (eltopo.org/)
Torres, Salva. Precarios: de la esclavitud de la hipoteca a la dictadura del alquiler. Sur le site Rebelión, 14/11/2013. www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=176843
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Monographie sur les expulsions et les réponses citoyennes et institutionnelles dans le journal Diagonal, nº 207 : www.diagonalperiodico.net/archivo/20171-pisos-la-banca-rescatados-para-la-gente.html