This is the third 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 being evicted because they cannot pay their mortgages. In the first and second blog posts we looked at the background to the PAH in terms of developments within social movements and the property crisis itself. Here we look at the initial development of the PAH, its first actions and the challenges it has faced.
Building the struggle for the right to housing
The first eviction successfully resisted by the PAH was that of Luis. Luis got involved with the group as he faced eviction, an eviction that threatened to take his home and saddle him with an unpayble debt. Moreover, if he became homeless he also risked loosing custody of his son, a fact which underlines the importance of a home and, therefore, of housing as a right (Colau, 2011). But while the successful resistance of Luis’ eviction was a first ‘little big victory’, much work had already been undertaken with others affected by the same issues.
Indeed the first challenge that the PAH confronted was the feelings of fear, depression, anxiety and guilt felt by many mortgage holders. The ideological climate at the time (in the media and elsewhere) placed responsibility on individual mortgage holders whose borrowing had been ‘greedy’ and ‘irresponsible’ (Colau, 2011). This is part of the way debt works; it individualizes us, it makes us individually responsible (on a legal level) as it involves the ‘voluntary’ signing of a contract. However, these individualized feelings are not just personal responses, they are part of a broader social and economic dynamic. Just as the financial risk relating to a mortgage is shifted onto the individual (away from the bank), so the moral burden had been placed at the feet of the individual mortgage holder. Ada Colau (2011), a key activist with the PAH in Barcelona, outlines how they responded to these initial challenges:
“In order to confront evictions the first thing we had to do was create and consolidate a space of trust, a place of encounter where those in danger of eviction could experience that (1) their problem was not individual but collective and that the causes were structural; (2) as a result we shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed; and (3) that collective action can transform reality and make possible what seems impossible.”
Similarly, Tatiane Roeva, another activist who resisted her own eviction with the PAH in Madrid, says: “Mortgage holders shouldn’t feel guilty. It is the banks that are guilty; they robbed and scammed us and now they want to throw us out of our homes and leave us with a life-long debt to pay back.”
In the initial discussion and engagement between mortgage holders in danger of eviction, one of the key issues that emerged was that of having a future beyond debt. In many instance, while people were obviously deeply affected by the possibility of loosing their home, what weighed most heavily upon them was the debt they would continue to owe having lost their home. As a result, the first demand launched by the PAH related to accessing the right to a future beyond debt: Dación en Pago. However, the need to stay in their own home or for housing in general also emerged as a key issue. And so the PAH has also undertaken two campaigns focused on the right to housing: Stop Evictions and ‘Obra Social’. In subsequent blog posts we will look at the Stop Evictions and Obra Social campaigns, here we examine the campaign for Dación en Pago.
Dación en Pago
Dación en pago means that outstanding mortgage debt is cancelled upon handover of the property in question. As things currently stand, when a mortgage holder is in negative equity they can be evicted by their bank, their home can be auctioned and they can still be pursued for the remaining mortgage debt over and above the price obtained for their home at auction. The PAH identified this as one of the most unjust components of mortgage law from an early stage. Here the fact that financial exploitation operates via debt, which is in turn based on a contract between the individual/family and the bank, becomes significant. In other words, this form of exploitation is based on existing mortgage law which systematically allows banks to exploit the need for housing. The effects of this mortgage law tend to be particularly intense and individualizing: desperation, hopelessness, inability to imagine any future, anxiety, feelings of failure, etc. Given the contractual nature of the way debt operates, that it finds its foundations in law, the right to freedom from debt, the ‘right to start over’ as some have called it, requires legislative change which shifts this power relation. This is precisely the aim of the campaign for dación en pago.
The dación en pago campaign is interesting because it has brought the PAH very much into contact both with state institutions and with the traditional ‘institutional left’. In March 2010 the PAH, in conjunction with the civil society organization Observatorio DESC, developed a legislative proposal which would change the relevant regulations with retroactive effect. This proposal was then developed into a written motion suitable for proposal at city council or at a regional/national level. The motion also makes reference to halting evictions and to the use of existing housing stock as social housing. As such it represents a formidable array of legislative mechanisms based on the right to housing. The PAH were also able to achieve support from the largest Trade Unions (Comisiones Obreros and UGT) and a wide variety of civil society organizations.
The motion has subsequently been proposed and passed in over one hundred city councils. Typically, political parties such as Iniciativa per Catalunya and Esquerra Republicana bring forward the motion. Despite being supported by so many city councils, the legislation has not moved on to the national level. Hence, PAH has initiated an Iniciativa Legislativa Popular (people’s legislative initiative). This is a piece of national policy which allows for legislation to be proposed by popular petition. The PAH need to collect 500,000 signatures by the end of October 2012. If they succeed the proposed legislation will go before parliament and be voted upon.
PAH’s legislative work has gone hand in hand with various forms of protest, publication and media work to build an understanding of the plight of those in negative equity and in danger of repossession. Such work has placed this issue very much in the national spotlight and built extremely widespread support for dación en pago. The work around the transformation of legislation with regard to dación en pago, evictions and social housing makes for a very significant return of the notion of housing rights to public discourse. Following decades of deregulation, privatization and financialization the notion of collectively organizing and guaranteeing the right to a house is once again a major political issue. Of course we shouldn’t exaggerate here, neither of the two big parties supports the legislation and, given the very repressive strategies of the recently elected PP government, the battle has only begun.
In this instance collective self-organizing has mixed the politics of the street and people power with a set of strategic alliances with the institutional left and the use of existing legislative possibilities, making for a pragmatic campaign in which those who are at the front line of financial exploitation have been able to generate and propose widely supported demands.
However, huge numbers of evictions in the context of housing over-supply have pushed the PAH to take on forms of direct action around the right to housing. In the next post we look at how the PAH has been resisting evictions and occupying housing held by banks.
Works referenced and other resources
Colau, A. 2011. ‘Cómo se para un desahucio: la experiencia de la Plataforma de Afectados por la hipoteca’. Available here: http://afectadosporlahipoteca.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/como-parar-desahucio_a-colau1.pdf
The text of the PAH’s motion on dación en pago is available here: http://afectadosporlahipoteca.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/modelo-pah-mocic3b3n-ayuntamientos.pdf.
A video of the presentation of the motion in one city council is available here: http://afectadosporlahipoteca.wordpress.com/mociones-ayuntamientos/