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June 17, 2014
June 17, 2014

Portugal: the case of Santa Filomena neighbourhood

Author: HABITA Translator: Gustavo Roxo
Source: HABITA  Category: On the crisis
This article is also available in: dept-ptes
Portugal: the case of Santa Filomena neighbourhood

Local authority of Amadora begins evictions and forceful demolitions, violating the rights of citizens in the defence of private financial interests. Why?

In 2012, the town hall of Amadora (CMA) started an eviction and forced demolition programme in the neighbourhood of Santa Filomena. The evictions that displaced hundreds of families were based on the Spatial Resettlement Program (PER) of 1993. Which, at 20 years of age, is now utterly obsolete and does not account for the natural changes in the population that occurred over 20 years. The effects of these evictions are completely disastrous from human and social points of view. Most of the families that fall within the PER now have now have greater sized families and the resettlement options are completely inadequate. And worse, the CMA has not offered any alternatives for the families that are not covered by the PER.

According to one inquiry made in July 2012 by Habita –a Collective for the Right to Housing and to the City–, the number of people excluded from resettlement, i.e. the soon to be homeless, was 285. Horribly, in 84 of these families 105 people were children younger than 18 years old (73 under the age 12), several of them born in Portugal and with school education; 80 unemployed people; 14 people with permanent disabilities, deficiency, or chronic illness. Over 55 families had at least one unemployed person; over 20 families were of single parents, a majority of which were composed of mothers and children. The average income of these families was very low, between €250 and €300 per month. And worse, half of them have lived in this neighbourhood for over a decade, and some for over two or three decades.

The inhumanity of the situation was denounced by Habita to several national and international institutions, because the evictions are in direct opposition to the rights protected by the Portuguese Republic Constitution (Article 65º – Right to housing and urban planning) and also by international legislation that Portugal has accepted, such as the European Social Charter, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Pact of Cultural, Social and Economic Rights; the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on Children’s Rights, the United Nations Convention on Rights for the People with Disability and the European Convention on Human Rights. Additionally, the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the European Council has also recognised that the situation described could be leading to serious violations of human rights. The accusation has led to the opening of a process by the Justice Ombudsman.

With the accusation also came the call for the suspension of the demolitions, following the declaration by inhabitants and activists of the availability to meet with the city executive to analyse the problem and search for alternative solutions. On the 29th of January of this year, the Housing Assembly sent to the President of the City Council an open letter in which it requested a meeting with the President. We do not hope that it is the City Council that will solve all the problems of housing in the city, but that does legitimise the destruction of the only roof these people have when they do not have any other alternative. As we then said, we defend, and we are willing to support the City Council with it, to create an association between city councils and movements to claim from the government, inclusively in the next community programmes and support frameworks, programmes for the development of a social housing policies. Until then the only reasonable action is to suspend the demolitions. Despite that, the president of the CMA ignored our alerts, requests for meetings, as well as the requests to suspend the demolitions. She has continued the demolition programme, moving forward already in February with more evictions and authoritarian demolitions. In a public reunion of the executive, which was attended by over 100 residents of several neighbourhoods from Amadora, Carla Tavares said she was available to talk, but not to stop the demolitions. Her proclaimed availability is invisible: she has never replied to the requested meetings and now she proceeds with the demolitions.

The most outrageous aspect these evictions are the interests at stake in the obstinacy of the city executive of continuing their inhumane displacements and the authoritarian demolitions: surprisingly, the land of Santa Filomena belongs to a Real Estate Investment Fund, The Closed Special Real Estate VillaFundo, integrated in InterFundos of Millenium BCP. This means that the CMA uses public resources and public authority to evict people from private land, not abstaining from violating the rights of the citizens involved. Why?

Some facts about the land of the Santa Filomena Neighbourhood

  • In the end of 2013, we found out that the land where the Santa Filomena Neigbhourhood is located is owned by the Closed Special Real Estate Investment Fund VillaFundo, managed by Interfundos of Millenium BCP, which surprised us considering the strong commitment of the city authorities in demolishing this neighbourhood.
  • VillaFundo was created in December 2006 and the operation of purchase of the land took place shortly after, in February 2007, involving the company Moinho da Vila Chã – Real Estate Activities.
  • Interfundos is one of the biggest managerial societies in the market. According to the Portuguese Investment, Pensions and Patrimony Association (APFIPP), in February 2014 it had the biggest market share, managing €1,555.7 million, which means 12.7% of the market volume. That makes it a strong financial player –much stronger than the families which have been targeted by authoritarian evictions, and with significant weight in the Portuguese finance market picture.
  • According to its management regulations, the VillaFundo aims at creating conditions of profitability, security and liquidity, not giving priority to any particular area of real estate activity.
  • Real estate funds have a tendency to invest mainly in offices, commercial centres, and retail parks with the intention of getting rents that reward the participation units over time. It is unknown how this investment fund intends to take gains from this land.
  • This fund does not distribute revenues, having the characteristics of a capitalisation fund, intending to accumulate wealth and assets. Besides that it is a closed fund, a kind of instrument that according to Proteste, often aims at giving fiscal benefits to the institutions that created them. Being so, they have objectives quite distant from the public interest.
  • As any other instrument of this nature, the profitability expectations depend on the assessment of the real estate in their portfolio and it has factors associated with the acquisition conditions of the real estate, to the predicted construction projects and to the gains expected with their alienation or profitability. According to the Fund’s Activity Report of 2012, the land where the houses of the families of Santa Filomena are built, and who have been there for over 30 years, have been evaluated at €25,210,590.72 and represent to the Fund a potential gain of €1,389,409.28.
  • We assume that gain grows exponentially if nobody is living on the land. But to these families, those houses are the only available roof for both themselves and their children.

These facts raise some questions:

  • Where is the public interest? And where is the interest of the affected citizens?
  • Between the profitability, capitalisation, and real estate speculation with a turnover of over €1 million for the Real Estate Investment Fund and the Right to Housing of the families that live there –many for over 30 years and eventually with ownership and property rights over the land, and more importantly, of only having one available roof to live under–, why does the City Council move forward with the authoritarian eviction of the residents of Santa Filomena and the demolition of their homes, increasing the profits and gains of the Fund to the detriment of the rights and dignity of the families living there? On behalf of whose interest does the CMA act?
  • Which are the reasons underlining a procedure that violates human right to housing of their citizens on behalf of interests that for the CMA are superior, of speculative and economic gains of a Real Estate Investment Fund?

*MilleniumBcp= Portuguese Bank *Proteste= magazine of the Consumer Defense Association in Portugal

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