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Bringing a halt to the social drama

The sensationalist proposals of Andalusia on evictions spark a necessary and urgent debate

The College of Property Registrars has put the number of family homes repossessed by banks as a result of mortgage defaults last year at a little over 30,000, which amounts to an average of 115 foreclosures a day. The legislative attempts to put an end to this drama have dragged on without success in finding a solution to a problem that should not be beyond the reach of a civilized country. The government and parliamentary groups need to agree on a remedy that takes on board the interests of banks and the real estate sector, but also the social impact this problem has generated.

The government of Andalusia has stolen a march on the stumbling Popular Party with a decree based on the principle that the Constitution does not sanction “anti-social uses” of the right to private property. This may be more or less within the confines of the jurisdiction, more or less difficult to manage, more or less debatable as an act of public intervention, but what is certain is that the housing market has been unable to resolve this social emergency. Some people have dismissed the decree as an act of “Soviet communism” even though allowing the expropriation for three years of homes owned by corporate bodies such as banks and real estate companies in which groups of people “in special circumstances of social emergency” live does not appear to justify such an assertion.

This applies to families in the process of being evicted who have suffered a “significant fall” in income, above all those with minors, dependent elders, people with disabilities, victims of gender violence and unemployed people without the right to benefits.

Another aspect of the decree concerns the imposition of sanctions on the owners (corporate bodies but not individuals) of unoccupied houses in order to get the rental market moving. In doing so, the government is assigning itself the right to inspect properties and impose fines that real estate experts view as a means of imposing pressure to bring down house prices and rents. It is likely that the impact of these measures will end up being negative for the real estate business, but there is no possible defense for seeking to leave a significant swathe of empty homes unused while there exists the risk of many families facing social exclusion.

The Andalusia initiative could be accused of being an act of political sensationalism rather than a policy with a realistic chance of being implemented — but at least it is an initiative. The central government has questioned the powers of a region to carry out such a program, but this has had the effect of highlighting the need for the problem to be treated at a national level, not when there is no other course of action available but as a matter of urgency. For example, the report by the College of Property Registrars highlights the fact that dation in payment, under which a homeowner can cancel a mortgage by handing over the keys to the bank — an alternative supposedly unacceptable to the banking sector — accounted for 11,441 of the some 30,000 foreclosures that took place last year. If you want to find a solution to a problem then you can. The indispensable element is the willingness to do so in the first place.

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