This is the first in a series of posts on the Mortgage Holders Platform (Platforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, or PAH), a Spanish movement of people in danger of eviction. The movement has emerged in response to the repossession of the homes of those who cannot afford to pay their mortgages. The same banks that have been wholeheartedly supported with public money are kicking people out of their homes and leaving them to pay for the consequences of reckless bank lending.
The PAH has grown from a small campaign to a national movement and has been one of the most active and succesful forms of action in the context of the 15-M movement. They have undertaken a number of actions to fight for the right to housing, including direct action to resist evictions, campaigning for legislation to stop evictions and occupying housing under the control of banks.
The financialization of housing has meant that what should be a social right has become an enormously profitable business for the banking sector, allowing financial institutions to capture huge quantities of socially produced wealth. López and Rodríguez argue that this process of financialization should be conceptualized in terms of a “spatial and temporal extension of the dynamics of exploitation”. But against this process of ‘enclosure’, the PAH are fighting for a different way of accessing and organizing property. Most concretely, by occupying housing held by banks the PAH are creating what can be understood as a form of ‘commons’, a way of accessing and managing urban resources in a manner which is different from, and against, the current model of financial capitalism.
In this first post, we look at the political economic context of the struggle around housing, focusing on the Spanish property bubble and its crash from 2006.
Four further posts will be posted over the next four days, each one looking at a diferent aspect of the PAH: from the social movement context which shaped its formation to its most recent direct actions.
We think that it is particularly important to learn from the PAH in the Irish context, given our own mortgage crisis.
The provisional university would like to thank the Institute for Anarchist Studies who provided a grant for the research presented here.
The background to the PAH: the financialization of housing
As in the Irish case, property prices in the Spanish state tripled between 1995 and 2007. At the height of the property boom (2002-2006) house prices increased by 30% annually. This was accompanied by an enormous construction boom; an incredible 7 million houses were built between 1995 and 2007.
The roots of this boom are found in the privatization of social housing and the ‘liberalization’ of mortgage lending. To begin with the former, “From 1993 cut backs in the construction of social housing added to the already dramatic decrease in the construction of social housing which had taken place between 1984 and 1989” (Rodríguez and López, 2011: 47). The Boyer Decree (1985) sanctioned the privatization of social housing stock as well as tax incentives for house purchasing. The 1980s also saw the liberalization of mortgage lending. In 1998 the Land Act (Ley de Suelo – often referred to as the ‘build anywhere Act’) freed up huge tracts of land for rapid urbanization (López and Rodríguez, 2011). Like in Ireland, “reducing the public-housing stock, marginalizing renting and providing tax relief for home-buying had become the central planks of government housing policy during the previous 25 years” (López and Rodríguez, 2011). As a result, owner occupancy jumped from 64% in 1971 to 87% in 2007 (Rodríguez and López, 2011).
There was also a significant increase in credit related to property. In 2007 the total debt of real estate companies in Spain amounted to €1.5 trillion. The banks, for their part, had channelled an enormous amount of lending towards property. 70% of the lending of the so-called ‘cajas de ahorro’ (savings banks) was related to construction (López and Rodríguez, 2010). Total credit for the construction sector went from around €42.5 billion in 2000 to over €121 billion in 2009 (Taifa, 2011). Of course all of this was predicated on the international deregulation of the financial system and the extremely low interest rates set by the ECB.
All of this meant that millions of people needed to borrow huge sums of money to access what should be a basic social right – a home. But the house of cards was built on the dream of continuously increasing house prices – an asset-price bubble.
The Spanish property market began to crash in 2006. The year between mid 2006 and mid 2007 saw a 35% decrease in new house building. This was accelerated by the international credit crunch (López and Rodríguez, 2010). Of course all the sectors involved in property speculation now found themselves in trouble. With an estimated 1 million unsold houses and 6 million empty, the situation looked grim. The state responded by subsidizing property speculation and finance on a number of levels. In 2007 €26.5 billion was spent on ‘public works’, providing an important source of profit for the troubled construction sector (López and Rodríguez, 2010). Bank bailouts also came thick and fast. In March 2009 the Caja Castilla–La Mancha (a savings bank heavily involved in property) was bailed out with €9 billion (López and Rodríguez, 2011) while in June of the same year then Prime Minister Zapatero announced plans for a €99 billion bank bailout fund. In May 2012, Spanish bank Bankia was partially nationalized. Most recently, the European institutions and the IMF are have provided a further €100 billion for Spanish banks (Rodríguez, 2012).
So far we have had a brief look at the financialization of property in Spain and the recent property crash. In the next post we’ll look at the social movement context out of which the PAH emerged.
López, I. and Rodríguez, E. 2011. ‘The Spanish model’, in New Left Review, 69. Available here http://www.newleftreview.org/II/69/isidro-lopez-emmanuel-rodriguez-the-spanish-model#_edn15
Rodíguez, E. 2012. ‘Respuestas a los interrogantes sobre el rescate a España’. Available here: http://madrilonia.org/2012/06/respuestas-a-los-interrogantes-sobre-el-rescate-a-espana/
Rodríguez, E and López, I. 2011. ‘Del auge al colapso: el modelo financiero-inmboliliario de la economía española (1995-2010)’, in Revista de Economía Crítica, 12. Available here http://revistaeconomiacritica.org/sites/default/files/revistas/n12/REC12_Articulo_3_emmanuel.pdf
Seminari Taifa. 2011. Informe 08: La estratagia del capital. Barcelona: Seminari Taifa.