Yesterday, March 18th, saw a number of international actions take place in support of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH, Mortgage Holders Platform) and their People’s Legislative Initiative. Protests at Spanish embassies were organised in Lisbon, London, Berlin and elsewhere. The PAH was set up in 2010 by families in danger of eviction due to mortgage non-payment and others concerned with the right to housing. Since then, they have spread across Spain, succesfully resisted hundereds of evictions and occupied dozens of empty housing units held by banks. More broadly, they have launched the idea of the right to housing as a social right to the top of the political agenda.
Their latest project is the People’s Legislative Initiative (PLI). In Spain PLIs allow citizens to propose legislation at a parliamentary level if they collect a sufficient number of signatures. In the case of the PAH, they managed to achieve far above the required number, with an incredible 1.5 million people eventually supporting their proposed legislation. As such, the legislation is now before the Spanish parliament and the major parties will be forced to show their hand with regard to the right to housing.
The legislation itself is remarkably ambitous. First of all, it calls for retroactive debt cancellation for all families who have lost their homes (dació en pago). In Spain, mortgage law is set up such that even if you get evicted and loose your house, you still owe the outstanding debt. Dación en pago has been a key demand of the PAH since its inception. Moreover, the legislation calls for an immediate moratorium on evictions. Finally, the legislation calls for the conversion of empty houses into social housing – something which has a lot of potential given that Spain has between 3 and 4 million empty houses.
All in all, the legislation represents a formidable array of legislative mechanisms for supporting the right to housing. While it goes through parliament, the PAH have intiatied a campaign of ‘name and shame’ which identifies politicans which oppose the bill or want to water it down.
As talk of a wave of evictions in Ireland grows (despite toothless promises that eviction will be a ‘last resort’), the PAH represents an extremely significant model and political experience. Rather than treating housing as a political football (as in the tradition of the populist right) or just another short-cut to revolution (as in the tradition of many left parties), the PAH has from the begining been characterised by a politics which emphasizes the right to housing and the immediate soical, physical, and emotional needs of all those involved. Rather than promising false dawns, the campaign has acted as a space in which those in danger of eviction could become empowered to lead their own struggle for the right to housing in their own terms.