Dan Hancox travels to Spain to find out if squatting is the answer to the housing crisis
Taken from the September issue of Dazed & Confused:
In spring this year, on a bus driving west along the Mediterranean coast from Malaga towards Jerez, I saw the freshest scars of Spanish suffering. The deep, layered, tree-lined hills facing the sea were disfigured by the marks of what the locals call the “brick crisis”. Here and there, concrete construction frames were cut arbitrarily into the rock. Some of these housing projects were barely started – just Meccano frames, steel girders slowly breaking out in rust. Others were further along the construction process: whole rows of houses, painted, rooved, but without windows. Some were completely finished. All were empty.
400,000 families have been evicted by their mortgage lenders since the crash
The economic winds changed in 2008 and froze everything where it stood. Five years into the global financial crisis, estimates put the number of vacant homes in Spain at over four million. 400,000 families have been evicted by their mortgage lenders since the crash, while over 20,000 people are on the streets and uncountable numbers are squatting. Many Spanish estate agents have been reluctant to put up “for sale” signs on vacant properties for fear of attracting squatters.
To make matters worse, under Spanish housing law if you’re evicted by your mortgage lender you have to keep paying the mortgage. In final acts of helplessness, suicides by homeowners on the brink of foreclosure have become horrifyingly common – on more than one occasion evictees have hurled themselves out of upstairs windows while the bailiffs have been coming up the stairs.
Spain’s famous indignados – the forerunner of Occupy Wall Street – have been joining the dots between the homeless and the empty homes
The corralas movement shows one way forward: activists from Spain’s famous indignados – the forerunner of Occupy Wall Street – have been joining the dots between the homeless and the empty homes. In Seville, a newly finished tower-block owned by a now-bankrupt construction company lay empty for months before activists took it over to house 36 families who had been evicted by their banks. It is now known as the Corrala Utopía, and in spite of having their electricity cut off and having to draw water from a standpipe in the street, when I visited this year the occupants were quite clear: this was not a squat. These were their new family homes, and they were going nowhere.
on May 14, 2012, they occupied the empty block and created Corrala Utopía. It has been there ever since
One of the occupiers I met, Toni Rodriguez, had left her home voluntarily in 2011 because she was being taken to court: she just couldn’t afford the rent. She placed her son with his grandmother and slept in her car, getting up at 6am every day to take him to school. “I thought I was going to lose him to the social services,” she explained. “Back then the people from 15-M (the indignados) were holding public assemblies in a square every day. A friend said they might be able to help me.” And help they did. After months of planning, on May 14, 2012, they occupied the empty block and created Corrala Utopía. It has been there ever since.
Similar projects are now thriving in Barcelona in defiance of the local authorities, the banks, the government and the EU – just as they are in Seville. The human tragedies of the crisis of capitalism continue to be overlooked – or more often, hidden by the fiendish complexity of modern global economics. Some of these problems are stupefyingly simple, though. On the wall of the Corrala Utopía was a stencilled slogan: “Ni gente sin casa, ni casas sin gente.” Neither people without homes, nor homes without people.