THE FIGHT FOR FAIR HOUSING IN SPAIN
Since arriving in Barcelona, I have spent many long evenings with the largest housing rights movement in Western Europe: The Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (La PAH for short).
La PAH was formed in the aftermath of the 2008 housing crisis, as the recession was forcing more and more families into mortgage default and onto the street. Out of desperation, a small group of Barcelona residents began putting up posters calling on all “People Affected by Mortgages” (PAH) to come to a public assembly and discuss what could be done.
Out of the discussion at this first meeting, the assembly agreed first and foremost that people needed greater access to the legal advice that would help them negotiate with the banks that were foreclosing on their homes. Individuals with personal experience navigating the system were asked to share their testimony and slowly a collective knowledge base began to form as the assembly continued meeting week after week.
As the movement grew in Barcelona and expanded to new cities, La PAH branched beyond legal means to prevent or delay evictions and launched the Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions) civil disobedience campaign.
To prevent families being thrown onto the street, PAH members began to rally by the dozens at the entrance of houses belonging to people due to be evicted, physically preventing bailiffs and police from dislodging families. This strategy quickly became so effective that these interventions became regular features on nightly news, and the number of evictions prevented this way soon reached into the thousands.
A strong defensive strategy allowed PAH to take on more offensive tactics as well. Seeking to change Spain’s “anachronistic” mortgage law, reign in bank speculation, and implement protections for mortgage holders, PAH partnered with other housing rights groups across Spain to write a Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP) that carried their wish list of policies. In 2015, PAH’s coalition presented this proposal to the Spanish government along with 1.4 million signatures supporting the measure. Through a combination of direct action and political negotiation, in 2015 the regional government of Catalonia voted to adopt the law.
Throughout this legislative success, however, PAH’s focus remained working on the individual level to ensure people have safe and fair housing. Today, their main tool is still the assembly. Every week, local PAH chapters host public assemblies open to all individuals who are facing housing emergencies (be it an eviction, illegal rent hike, broken contract, etc).
The assembly then goes case by case, giving newcomers time to share their situation, and veteran members collectively recommend a path to resolve the issue, assigning specific tasks for the person to complete before the next week’s meeting. Tasks often include finding out who owns the property and going to court to find the proper legal documents they will need to defend themselves. Every resident is encouraged to contact their neighbors, see if they have similar problems, and determine if they are willing to organize. For those newcomers who feel unsure, a veteran member of PAH is appointed to go with and provide support.
“Our purpose here at La PAH is to FIGHT,” the facilitator reminded the assembly during last Monday's meeting. “We fight here, by coming together and collectively supporting one another. We fight by collecting information and legal strategies to defend ourselves. And when all else fails, we fight by showing the world that the system is broken and doing what we have to to make sure our families are safe and healthy.”
Wednesday’s action at The District was a demonstration of the last option. One of the largest real estate conventions in the world, The District annually brings together executives from firms such as Blackrock, CBRE, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone. As such, it was an ideal platform to convey a simple message to the world: corporations like these are “buying up our grandparents' homes, our student’s residences and our hospitals." "Their goal is to get as much money as possible” bluntly stated Sergio Barrios, a spokesperson for the protest. The consequences, he continued, are "increases in rental prices and more evictions."