This is the second in a series of blog posts on the Mortgage Holders Platform (Platforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, or PAH), a Spanish movement of people in danger of being evicted because they cannot pay their mortgages. In the first post we sketched out the context of financialization at the heart of the struggle around housing.
In this post we look at the social movement background to the PAH, in particular the developments in the ‘okupa’ and social centre movements. In tomorrow’s post we will examine the initial challenges faced by the PAH as well as their campaign around ‘dación en pago’.
Social movements and the right to housing
During the 2000s a number of social movements had emerged which focused on housing and these in turn were linked to some of the debates that were happening within the ‘okupa movement’ (squatters movement). By the late 1990s it was clear that there were a number of problems with the squat movement. It was argued that the political potential of squatted social centres was undermined by a number of factors. These included never-ending legal issues arising from the illegal nature of squatting, the very conflictual relation between squats and the state institutions, the dominance of a very identifiable aesthetic ‘look’ and the failure of squats to intervene in conflicts in the city (Carmona et al., 2008). These reflections were part of the process through which the so-called ‘second generation’ social centres emerged. Some of the more prominent include Centro Social Seco (Madrid), Casa Invisible (Malaga) and El Ateneu Candela (Terrassa). You can read interviews with activists involved in these projects here. The politics of these social centres focuses on using social centres as an organizational machine capable of fomenting new political subjectivities in relation to the antagonisms and conflicts of the 21st century, in particular housing, migration and precarity (Carmona et al., 2008). This approach is sometimes known as bio-syndicalism or social syndicalism (López et al., 2008).
Meanwhile, in Barcelona a somewhat different dynamic had emerged, yet with important parallels. Here some activists linked to the squatter movement had been developing some interesting projects around the housing issue. Activists based at the Magdalenas squat were working with residents in the city centre who were being pushed out to make way for gentrification. Subsequently, some of the same activists were involved in the well-known V de Vivienda project which brought tens of thousands on to the streets to protest for the right to decent housing. In september 2006 V de Vivienda held a demonstration in Barcelona attended by around 10,000 people. Similar protests took place in other cities, including Bilbao, Madrid and Sevilla.
The V de Vivienda protests were remarkable because previously projects which emerged from or were linked to the squat movement had not been able to resonate with the everyday needs and thoughts of the wider public beyond the radical left. These protests, which focused on housing as a right and specifically identified property speculation as a socially destructive force threatening the right to housing, also involved a novel aesthetic style and political language far removed from the ‘rebellious youth’ imagery and ideologically soaked language which had often been associated with the squat movement.
The Social Rights Centres played a particularly important role as they were one of the places in which issues around housing began to be seen. Many of these, such as Seco in Madrid and El Ateneu Candela in Terrassa, were working closely with migrants around a number of issues. As the financial crisis in Spain developed, many migrants began to report problems with mortgages. Those worst effected by the mortgage crisis have been those who bought in the years immediately preceding the crisis – when house prices were at their highest. Many of those who bought at this point were migrants, partially as a result of the fact that ownership of a home can make it easier for migrants to gain residency permission or citizenship and hence to access basic social rights. Indeed another interesting aspect of the PAH has been the leading role played by migrants.
The existence of Social Rights Centres was important because it brought those most effected by the crisis into contact with a layer of activists concerned with housing and with experience in processes of collective organising.
All of these developments were underway in 2008 when the financial crisis exploded. As such there was a layer of activists who were already examining issues around housing and who had already been experimenting with a new type of politics which could intervene in broader social conflicts and resonate with people’s everyday life.
As the property bubble collapsed and unemployment increased, many of those who had bought houses found it increasingly difficult to meet their payments. This raised the prospect of mass evictions via foreclosure. However, there was another element to this oncoming tidal wave. Spanish mortgage law stipulates that were foreclosure occurs and the home owner is in negative equity (i.e. the value of their house is inferior to that of their outstanding debt) an individual or family can be evicted and still remain liable for the outstanding debt. In other words, people lose their home but continue to be faced with huge payments to the banks. Given the dramatic fall in property prices the amount of outstanding debt can be of hundreds of thousands of euro. These absurd mortgage rules were set to create the perfect storm in the years following the crash and epitomized the sheer extortion at the heart of the financial system. The very banks which had fueled the property bubble, and which had been bailed out by the public, would now take people’s homes and yet continue to extract debt repayments. Indeed, since 2007 there have been more than 350,000 evictions as a result of mortgage non-payment.
In the next post we will look at how the PAH first emerged, the initial challenges faced and its campaign to change spanish mortgage law.
Carmona, P., Herreros, T., Sánchez Cedillo, R. and Seguiglia, N. 2008. ‘Social centres: monsters and political machines for a new generation of movement institutions’. Available here:http://eipcp.net/transversal/0508/carmonaetal/en
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
López, S., Martínez, M. and Toret, J. 2008. ‘Oficinas de Derechos Sociales: Experiences of Political Enunciation and Organisation in Times of Precarity’. Available here: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0508/lopezetal/en
O’Broin, Mick. 2010. Rethinking the politics of social centres: three conversations. Available here: http://universityincrisis.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/socialcentrezinefinal.pdf