Tiran Adly & Roberto Gaguaguida/Crisis television
For decades, the government and Spain’s banks have been colluding with foreigners and the rich to evict families from their homes to generate profit for the bank.
On a chilly Monday afternoon, Karen Lo, 60, chills with her cat Jack under the glow of a fireplace in her newly-renovated, family-friendly apartment in Sevilla.
The apartment, Lo says, looks better than it did last year when she and her children, aged 7 and 12, lived there under the same roof.
“Before, all the windows were broken and it had no soundproofing,” she says, but now she and her kids have a hot water heater and power. “When I bought the place, I still couldn’t take off my coat and my daughter couldn’t listen to music without lying on her side,” she laughs.
The problems for Lo began in 2015 when she signed a contract with a real estate company that renovated the three-bedroom apartment she bought with her husband 10 years earlier for an undisclosed amount. Lo would pay 4.95 percent of the renovation costs each month.
But the plan soon changed. Six months after the renovations were finished, Lo signed another contract with the same company, this time agreeing to pay 8.95 percent of the renovation costs for a second apartment.
Lo became sick and had to leave the apartment. Soon after, her husband passed away, and the family moved into a tent in front of the bank offices.
“We didn’t want to leave the apartment,” Lo says. “They said they would charge us rent because the apartment is useless now. Now we live in a tent because that is our only solution.”
Lo is not alone in her travails. For two years, the network “Vamos a juntar” has documented this “war against the poor” and how “it is an economic war by banks, interior ministries and other local authorities.” In 2016, “Vamos a juntar” documented 1,631 evictions of families who owed around 4.8 million euros for bank debts.
Nearly 80 percent of the debt is unpaid. According to the Bank of Spain, between January 2013 and July 2016, 658,661 debtors faced foreclosure.
“Spain’s property market collapsed after 2008,” says Marjolaine Oastronis, one of the founders of “Vamos a juntar” who is writing a novel based on the organization’s experiences. “But high land values created a wealth of foreclosed properties which turned into ‘zombie” properties that were simply vacant and sitting in bankruptcy.
During the worst of the crisis, between December 2008 and January 2013, there were 833,000 foreclosures, although there are many more who “continue to live in the foreclosed houses,” according to the Global Financial Crisis Observatory.
Other cases have become known. In 2009, a group of about 300 families living under one roof on a concrete lot in Madrid were evicted. These families tried to move back but the municipal government said that the families didn’t own the land and that the municipality had the right to seize it. No one had ownership documents.
Since then, Oastronis says the “occupational site” has turned into a construction site and houses are being constructed behind the “occupied” buildings.
“We go there to stand and help them. We are camped there because we have no solution and no hope. They don’t need us anymore,” Oastronis says.
Although Spain’s government has pledged to reverse evictions, Oastronis and others from “Vamos a juntar” say that the people receiving the eviction notices are fighting hard for their homes and are not doing any favors for the economy.
Oastronis believes that there will eventually be a civil war between the poor and the rich in Spain because the colonial treaties were made without the slightest consideration for the family units, whose land was confiscated and whose children and grandchildren are left without a home.
But she says she has no idea when that day might come. “All I can do now is keep on educating people and we will hopefully be able to protect the poor,” she says.