Europe, Globe

A Spanish drama: homeless, in debt and in the street

After unemployment, and closely linked to it, evictions have become the most horrific aspect of the economic crisis in Spain, accelerating the rise in levels of poverty and social exclusion.


Eduardo Rodríguez-Baz

The evictions of both house-owners and tenants in debt reached a historic level last year, with an increase of almost 22% from 2010, to a total of 58,241 families, while at the same time there are more than a million empty houses.

These figures, published in March by the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ), reveal the impact that the economic crisis and unemployment – now more than 5 million people – have had in the loss of living accomodation.

Whether through non-payment of rent, or because the buyer could not pay their bank mortgage, between October and December alone there were 15,347 evictions, similar to the figures for the previous 3 months, according to the CGPJ, which is a government agency.

In the case of proceedings begun or completed by the mortgage companies to recover properties, the CGPJ recorded a drop of 17% from 93,636 actions in 2010 to 77,854 in 2011.

Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, following the bursting of the property bubble, more than 300,000 evictions have been carried out in Spain, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the street and with a debt for life.

In response to this rapid increase , the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy produced a so-called Code of Good Practice, which a large number of banks agreed to follow voluntarily, and which was supposed to protect the most disadvantaged families.

According to these guidelines, approved in March  payment-by-return will be promoted – or settling a debt by returning the property to the bank – for families whose members are all unemployed and with less than 200,000 euros owed.

In order to qualify the owners must have only one house, no income from employment or business, and their mortgage payments must be over 60% of their total family income.

Banking Practice

Since the puncturing of the property bubble, evictions of those who can no longer afford their mortgage payments have been more and more opposed by Spanish society, and many have been avoided thanks to the efforts of social organizations.

The Association of Users of Banks, Savings and Insurance (ADICAE) welcomed the failure of the norms proposed by the government, because, according to their criteria, they could only solve an insignificant number of problems of eviction, and in line with the interests of the lending entities.

In the view of ADICAE, payment by return of property is simply an extreme solution for those who are facing eviction.

The Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) is not convinced either. During the 3 years since it was founded has succeeded in blocking 200 evictions and obtaining several hundred payment-by-returns, as well as some debt forgivenesses after an auction of the property.

For Ada Colau of PAH, the controversial code, including payment-by-return as a voluntary option, is a joke. It requires very strict conditions and leaves the payment-by-return as the last option, so that in her opinion, it takes the process towards a refinancing of the debt, which is only in the interests of the financial institutions.

The majority of people evicted have children to care for, says Colau, asking if society can look at itself in the mirror without shame, when it has injected money into banking institutions that are leaving families with children in the street.

Faced with this, she favours civil disobedience against evictions authorized by a judge, according to a law which she describes as unjust for over-ruling the higher law of human rights.

Recently Juices para la Democracia (Judges for Democracy, or JPD), have said that they consider the government proposal – for families facing eviction to settle their debts by returning the property – to be a mere exercise in populism and media relations.

And the Association of Progressive Judges is demanding a change in the present law on mortgages, which it considers does not share the risks and losses from the economic crisis equitably between the bank and the debtor.

They denounce the serious social effects of the mortgage code, which allows the mortgage company to assess a house at 60% of its mortgage valuation and then demand repayment of the difference from the occupants.

“Governments have the responsibility to protect the right to decent accommodation as the starting point of all other rights”, according to Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur  for Adequate Housing speaking in Barcelona a few weeks ago.

Rolnik described the evictions as illegal, and blamed the banks and the government for the present housing emergency in Spain.

A blow against immigrants

According to the National Coordinator for Ecuadorians in Spain, some 15,000 immigrants from this South-American country who have lost their jobs through the crisis, are affected by the problem of mortgage debts, many of them granted on exploitative terms.

At the end of February the Ecuadorian Embassy in Madrid introduced a free service of legal advice for its citizens who have suffered damaging effects from their mortgage debts or evictions resulting from legal proceedings.

This program has so far operated in four Spanish cities, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Murcia, those which have the greatest concentrations of Ecuadorians, who are the largest Latin-American community in Spain, numbering half a million people.

It is a drama that is affecting the whole of Spain, but the most vulnerable groups are immigrants, because they are not in their homeland and do not have family members to support them, as the Ecuadorian ambassador in Madrid, Aminta Buenaño explained to Prensa Latina.

The ambassador pointed out in this interview that Ecuadorians are very hard workers and the banks see them as a good niche market.

She tells how they were seduced by certain sectors in banking, who even went looking for them in their workplaces, offering them a lot of options but without giving detailed information, so that in the end they signed contracts that were very damaging to their interests.

The ambassador explains specifically that many Ecuadorians took these opportunities because one of the condiditons for requesting family residence permits in Spain is to have a settled place to live.

(Trasnlated by Graham Douglas – Email:

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