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November 12, 2013
November 12, 2013

Spain: Platform of mortgage victims (PAH) – It is possible!

Author: Sofia Tipaldou
Categories: On the crisis, Protest
This article is also available in: eles
Spain: Platform of mortgage victims (PAH) – It is possible!

PAH was formed in February 2009 in Barcelona as a result of the Spanish real estate crisis and soon spread across the whole country. It is a social movement and an association whose aim is to promote the right to dignified housing.

It was preceded by the movement V de Vivienda (V for Housing), formed in Barcelona in 2006 and was soon joined by other grassroots movements, like the Assembly against Precariousness and for Housing. Drawing on the French pro-housing movement Sons of Don Quijote, the V de Vivienda leaded various campaigns, like the synchronised public shouting across Spain of the slogan “You are not going to have a house in your whole fucking life” and the camping for housing at the Complutense University of Madrid.

This pro-housing movement that took the form of the PAH is the civic response to the Spanish property bubble, the massive growth of real estate prices that started in 1985. From 1997 to 2006 the price of housing has risen about 150% in nominal terms that is equivalent to 100% growth in real terms, based on reports of the Bank of Spain. Since the funding of housing is usually made through mortgage loans, the price increase of apartments implied an increase in household debt. The indebtedness of the construction industry turns out to be equally excessive (in 2009, construction sector was equivalent to 30-40% of the country’s GDP).

With the late 2000s crisis the bubble popped (in 2008) and house prices started falling (about 30% price drop since 2007). Construction subsequently fell, contributing to the rise of already high unemployment rates. As far as the households are concerned, their high indebtedness became unsustainable. Many families could no longer pay their mortgage and the banks relying on existing legislation proceeded to evictions. Spanish mortgage loans –in contrast to the US or other EU countries– are not non-recourse debt; that means that foreclosures only account for 60% of the loan and the rest has to be paid back by the indebted family. In other words, those evicted not only remain without a house but they are also charged with a large debt for property they no longer own.

Soon evictions started and were supposed to be followed by property auctions. Indicatively:

  • In 2012 there were 8 evictions per hour, 200 evictions per day
  • From 2007 to the end of 2011, there were 350,000 evictions in Spain.
  • In the second trimester of 2011, evictions raised by 21% (16,464) but the auctions of empty apartments fell by 16%.

Nevertheless, there are more than 3 million empty houses in Spain. Only in Barcelona there are more than 1,100 apartments on sale that come from bank seizures.

In 2012, the Spanish government created the “bad bank” SAREB that acquires property development loans from Spanish banks in return for government bonds. SAREB absorbed all toxic credits by private Spanish banks under collapse and 45% of SAREB’s shares were financed with a loan of 100 billion euro from the EU. According to PAH, SAREB used public money to rescue the banks responsible for the toxic mortgage loans, and is now accumulating thousands of empty apartments that neither rents nor sells, because it aims at selling them to national or international investors at a better price than the current market one.

In this context, the PAH was formed to defend the right to housing through bottom-up mobilisation. Its members are those who have difficulties in paying the mortgage or that are in the process of eviction, and those in solidarity to its aim. It defines itself as a horizontal, non-violent, assembly-based movement not affiliated to any political party, although also parliamentarians (i.e. from CUP) participate to their mobilisations.

PAH members meet in assemblies, where they present their personal stories of how mortgage affects them and exchange practical and emotional support. According to PAH’s senior members, the PAH aims at changing first of all the way people think about evictions and to face it as a collective problem caused by the political system instead of a personal one. This way, evicted people can stop blaming themselves for their failure to pay the mortgage and most of them become dedicated activists. Apart of this psychological effect, the PAH also provides a solid base for information not only about civil rights, but also about mortgage loans, evictions, judicial process, bureaucracy. Members of PAH accompany the evicted or the threatened with eviction people to all their dealings with institutions, i.e. banks, judicial system and police. The PAH also offers material support to evicted families so that they do not end up on the street.

The PAH’s main campaigns are the following:

  1. “Stop evictions”: Since 2010, the PAH organises protests the day of the eviction in front of the house and tries to block the way of law enforcement agents through the strategies of civil disobedience and passive resistance. This way it had stopped 250 evictions until 2012. 
  2. “Lieu of payment” campaign (dacion en pago) with retroactive effect when the house is the family’s main residence and in case of debtors with good faith. The PAH, in collaboration with civil society organisations and labour unions, presented law amendments to the Congress of Deputies. Its 2010 proposal got rejected by the government party PP and opposition party PSOE. In case of MPs who voted against the lieu of payment, the PAH uses the strategy of “escrache” to influence them. Firstly used in Argentina for ex-convicts for crimes against humanity, those who practice “escrache” go to the home and working place of their target and publicly humiliate them with non-violent actions such as music, graffiti, banners, throwing eggs, street theatre. 
  3. “Social Work La PAH”: This campaign refers to the help the PAH gives to citizens to the re-possess their apartments confiscated by banks because of mortgage payment failure. The objective of this campaign is to get the apartment back so that they family does not become homeless, to put pressure on banks to accept lieu of payment, and to force public administration to take the necessary steps for granting the right to housing to its citizens.

The outcomes of the PAH

The PAH could be described as the most successful grassroots movement in Spain since the crisis began. It succeeded in mobilising thousands of people across the country. It now has cells in 184 municipalities, 58 of which in Catalonia. On September 25, the PAH organised a national demonstration that spread in 41 cities and counted with the participation of thousands. Through its mobilisation it has blocked more than 700 evictions up to date.

Furthermore, the PAH succeeded to challenge the legality of Spanish mortgage legislation.
In March 14 2013, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that the process of the mortgage execution does not guarantee Spanish citizens sufficient protection from abusive mortgage clauses and infringes the EU Directive 92/13/CEE of the Committee on consumer protection. The sentence does not directly refer to PAH’s demands, but changed the rules of the game on mortgage execution, allowing the judges to paralyse evictions.

Back in Spain, PAH started winning a series of judicial and political battles. In Villalba, judge Maravillas Carreras Rodríguez ruled in September 2013 as abusive the absence of information respective to the possibility of lieu of payment, between other bank abuses, permitting the affected families to ask for a lieu of payment.

In September, the Andalucian regional government adopted the Law on the Social Function of Housing that stops the banks from evicting a family when the family is under risk of social exclusion and that includes PAH’s proposal to expand the existing law in cases where there are autonomous guarantors for the pay back of the mortgage.

Its biggest victory though was celebrated in October 2013 with the occupation of “Building Salt” in Girona, a building that belongs to SAREB and that was re-occupied by 16 recently evicted families. According to PAH, Bloc Salt became the symbol of the struggle between two different social models: the bad bank’s model that infringes human rights and the self protection of rights in the absence of the state. Thousands of people went to the gathering in front of the house in Salt and the event was covered by various media. On October 17, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision to the urgent question of PAH of whether the bank is infringing the affected persons’ human rights in the case of Salt. The Court ruled in favour of the suspension of the eviction and gave time until October 24 to the Spanish government to present measures of social care for the protection of Art. 3 (prohibition of inhumane or degrading treatment) and Art.8 (the right to private and family life, including the residence inviolability) of European Convention of Human Rights, especially when minors are concerned. After that, the PAH asked for an urgent meeting of representatives from PAH, SAREB, and the Catalan government to conclude to a social rent for the Building Salt, the outcomes of which are to arrive.

Finally, the PAH’s social service was recognised in national and international level through the 2012 Catalan Award for the best solidarity initiative and the 2013 Citizens’ Award of the European Parliament. These awards are just an external recognition of PAH’s social service. The real recognition comes from all these people it rescued (literally, because many of them were reported to be at the border of suicide) and who now fight for the right of all citizens not to be cheated by banks with false promises and to have a dignified housing.

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Spain: Platform of mortgage victims (PAH) – It is possible! by Sofia Tipaldou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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1 Comment

  1. Janet Koenig 2014/10/25 at 21:33

    This is a wonderful explanation of PAH. On 24 Oct. PAH members gave an inspiring presentation at 16 Beaver St. NYC. It is brilliant that PAH gives people the courage to confront their housing crises rather than remaining paralyzed with defeatism; and then it also leads people to engage in collective action. Thus each individual is both an activist for him/herself and a collective activist. Also brilliant is PAH’s refusal to engage in electoral politics and only discuss campaign promises after the election. Also brilliant is establishing a “social rent” for foreclosed living spaces instead of letting them resold with new onerous mortgages as in the “Building Salt”. This is what we should demand in the US also–let people stay in their homes paying rents affordable to them.

    My only wish is that PAH would give advice for NYC where most housing is rented not owned and tenants must deal with not just a few dozen mortgage holding banks but several hundred, maybe thousands of different landlords and where there is very little public housing left. But, learning from PAH, in NYC we can still collectively defend individuals and families against eviction, demand empty apartments be given to homeless and that a “social rent” be negotiated for all.

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