About 200 people converged on a residential street in Madrid's Ciudad Lineal neighborhood Wednesday morning to stop a court bailiff from evicting a family from their home for failing to keep up with the mortgage payments.
It was the latest in a string of successful "obstructions of justice" by citizens' groups which are trying to keep the courts from dislodging humble and sometimes needy families for not making their monthly mortgage payments. Since the economic crisis began in 2008, some 300,000 homes are estimated to have been repossessed throughout Spain, leaving families out on the streets.
But after the 15-M movement became a catalyst for nationwide outrage over the country's political and economic crisis, groups have begun to channel that indignation to form anti-eviction drives. And on Wednesday the so-called Platform for the Mortgage Affected (PAH) was once again successful. After the gathering of volunteers started to swell, the Madrid Superior Court decided at noon that it was postponing the eviction until further notice because "of public order concerns."
Catalonia CiU wants banks to agree to arbitration before going to court
The head of the household, a 55-year-old mother identified as M. J., was waiting for the court bailiff to show up at 9.30am. M. J., who owes 200,000 eurosto lender Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM), is unemployed and supports her two children, including a 25-year-old son who has a 77-percent disability. She receives
520 eurosmonthly for having a disabled son plus - 167 under the Dependency Law.
Eloi Morte, spokesman for PAH, said the organization is demanding that the bank or court find an alternative for the family, such as allowing them to stay in their home under a low-income rental voucher program.
"CAM, which will receive some 2.8 billion euros in aid from the FROB [the state fund created to rescue savings banks in trouble], could not even conduct any type of study to seek some possibilities for this family," Morte said.
"It is typical of this kind of 'trash' mortgage loan. The real estate company negotiated with the bank, appraised a modest home at 239,086 euros, and now is demanding payment beyond their means."
According to PAH, organizers have been able to stop about 50 evictions, mainly in Madrid and Barcelona. PAH grew from a small group in Barcelona, which was successful in stopping its first eviction in November 2010. Through its webpage, it calls on volunteers to gather at a given date and time when the bailiff is due to appear with the formal eviction notice.
Its premise is the universal "right to a home," and organizers say they are backed by pertinent clauses of the Universal Human Rights Declaration, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Spanish Constitution.
Meanwhile in Catalonia, a renewed attempt to get the mortgage laws changed, whereby indebted owners can turn over their homes to the banks as a way of settling their entire debt, failed again in the regional parliament. The amendment was presented by the small Solidaritat (SI) party, but was criticized by the other major forces which said there was no legal backing for the government to force the banks to accept such a measure. SI Deputy Alfons López Tena explained that his party was trying to stop banks from earning twice when they sell foreclose properties at auctions for sometimes half what the homeowner still owes, while at the same time demanding full payment from the mortgage-holder. "We don't want the financial entities to lose money but instead keep them from earning double from an unpaid mortgage," López Tena said.
Meritxell Roger, a lawmaker from the ruling Catalan CiU nationalist bloc, said her group "was conscientious about the difficulties many citizens are facing" and explained that the regional government would try to look "for an agreement among the financial institutions" where there is "arbitration before going to court."
While he was studying law, Rafael Mayoral, 37, worked in a number of jobs, including silk-screening t-shirts and telemarketing. But now he finds himself as the key advisor in a burgeoning movement that has successfully helped keep families from being evicted from their homes for non-payment of their mortgage.
Working with National Coordinating Committee of Ecuadorians in Spain (Conadee), Mayoral has filed four lawsuits against the banks on behalf of South American citizens for alleged unfair mortgage-lending practices. In some instances when the housing crisis began in 2008, Ecuadorians were asked by the banks to give up their return tickets home in lieu of money as a payment.
"Where was the Bank of Spain's risk office during this time?" Mayoral asks. "In April, we asked the Attorney General's Office to investigate these mass swindles and the violation of fundamental rights. It can't be that we are the only ones now who are beginning to see the clear signs of these crimes."
As the anti-eviction drives start to take root, Mayoral observes that "society has lifted the lid on the anonymity" of these court-ordered dislodgements. "This has begun to happen because the number of evictions has begun to soar," he says.
"People ask for help from the PAH when they run out of options, become scared, and realize that it is a collective, not an individual problem," he continues.
"They are emotionally destroyed because the banks tell them they are the guilty parties. And, when they find out they will have a debt for the rest of their lives, they become desperate."