The eviction of 88-year-old inflames war against touristification in Spain’s southern city of Cádiz

The pensioner is being forced to give up her apartment in a historical area where unlicensed vacation rentals are proliferating

María, de 88 años de edad, en su domicilio de siempre y del que puede ser desahuciada
María, 88, in her home, from which she may soon be evicted, on April 10.PACO PUENTES
Jesús A. Cañas

Two tourists arrive at 9 Mesón Street in Cádiz, in southern Spain, wheeling two huge black suitcases. They don’t notice that the doorway is lined with posters: “We are being sold. Find out more here;” and “Yes to tourism, no to touristification; and “Stop tourist housing.” Eva Orihuela comes across the two tourists as she arrives from work to visit her mother, María Muñoz, 88, who is waiting for her inside a dark ground floor apartment that has served as her home for the past 57 years. The posters have been put up because this pensioner is facing eviction as she cannot afford to buy the apartment in a building that has been almost completely converted into tourist housing.

Muñoz’s case has enraged locals in the historic El Pópulo neighborhood of Cádiz, an urban area with a medieval past boasting sites from Roman times. “They are exterminating us. We are fighting to preserve the traditional neighborly morning greeting,” says Antonio Gallardo, spokesman for the Platform of Neighbors and Friends of El Pópulo as well as being a former resident of the building which Muñoz will have to leave by June 26, according to a court order. The fast-approaching day of reckoning robs the elderly woman of sleep at night. “I’m not well,” she manages, sitting at the table in her living room, under the watchful eye of her daughter.

Muñoz has been living in the same building since 1967, when she took up residence in what was then a property for renting rooms – known in Cádiz as partiditos – with her husband Antonio: “I have had my three children here,” she explains. The building was rehabilitated in the nineties with European funds, within the Urban Plan, and Muñoz kept her old rent, until her husband died eight years ago. The family was then obliged to subrogate the contract in the widow’s name within a legal deadline. However, they maintain they were unaware of the change and failed to comply. “Three months later, a notice arrived,” Muñoz’s daughter adds.

Two tourists arrive with their suitcases at María’s doorway, 9 Mesón street, on April 10.
Two tourists arrive with their suitcases at María’s doorway, 9 Mesón street, on April 10. PACO PUENTES

The property administrators then offered to draw up a new “standard” contract at a low price — Muñoz pays €97 ($105) a month in rent — for three years, which was extended, according to lawyer Emilio Beltrami, one of the 10 current owners of the property that once belonged to the Francoist mayor, also Emilio Beltrami. During that period, the owners began to sell the 12 apartments that make up the property and gave the elderly woman an ultimatum: leave or buy the apartment for €147,000 ($159,410), an amount Muñoz could not afford on a pension of €1,180 ($1,279) a month. The family was also unable to meet the cost, according to Muñoz’s daughter.

“We have been looking for a house for my mother for three years, three years of lawsuits and injunctions,” adds Muñoz’s daughter, who claims not to have found anything to rent below €800 a month. The courts ruled in favor of the Beltrami family in a December 2022 court order that Muñoz failed to appeal, according to Beltrami. “We want to sell it. Why should we continue to receive eight euros a month each?” he says. “We have always tried to act in good faith. After doing her a favor, now they say we want to throw her out.”

In this period of judicial comings and goings, Muñoz’s eviction has been delayed due to her fragile health. Meanwhile, the property has been filling up with Airbnb’s and the like which Beltrami is careful to distance himself from: “We have never rented to tourists,” he says. “The ones that were sold to outsiders are the ones that are doing that.”

The neighborhood of El Pópulo in Cádiz, up in arms against mass tourism, evictions and vacation rentals.
The neighborhood of El Pópulo in Cádiz, up in arms against mass tourism, evictions and vacation rentals. PACO PUENTES

In total, up to eight of the apartments in the building appeared on the Andalusian Tourism Ministry’s registry for vacation rental property. Five of them have been removed and three more are in the process of removal, after the change in the general plan approved by the previous government, which banned tourist accommodation in properties that are not considered to be in the upper echelons of heritage protection, as the current conservative-run local government states.

But Muñoz’s case has triggered rage in a neighborhood that sees local life being gradually diminished. Neighborhood spokesman and owner of the legendary bar El Malagueño, Gallardo says that there are already 14 properties dedicated entirely to tourist rentals within a reduced area. “We want them to be inspected one by one,” he says. “They will discover a lack of permits and that these are places that could be rented to the people of Cádiz.”

Born in El Pópulo, Gallardo complains about the transformation of a neighborhood that, decades ago, was riddled with prostitution and drugs. “We were able to rehabilitate the buildings with the aid of European funds, allowing the locals to retake the streets,” says the neighborhood spokesman, who also helped open the district to the Cádiz LGBTQ+ community. “We managed to convert the neighborhood and now the rewards are being reaped by the tourists. We must get back to social housing.”

Posters protesting mass tourism, evictions and tourist apartments in the neighborhood of El Pópulo de Cádiz.
Posters protesting mass tourism, evictions and tourist apartments in the neighborhood of El Pópulo de Cádiz.PACO PUENTES

Last Friday, EL PAÍS witnessed how Muñoz’s building continued to host tourists. Meanwhile, Cádiz’s mayor, Bruno Garcia, said he wanted “more restrictions” on tourist rentals in a city that has already lost a third of its population over the last 30 years due to gentrification, unemployment and lack of land.

Muñoz watches the debate from a distance, concerned mostly about her own eviction. A glimmer of hope has appeared in the shape of a developer from Cádiz, Agustín Rubiales, who has promised to rent her an apartment in a housing development he is to rehabilitate in the city center, although not in El Pópulo. The problem is that construction work has not yet begun, and the old woman’s family is asking her current landlords to let the woman stay until the work is finished. “I know that the rest of the owners are reluctant,” says Beltrami, though he maintains he himself is not averse to the idea.

Muñoz has already come to terms with the fact that she will not end her days in Mesón Street, nor in El Pópulo where she is receiving so much support. Tourists come and go, admiring façades and visiting the Roman Theater that adjoins the old woman’s house, oblivious to the complaints. Only a family from Extremadura traveling in a camper van stop at the signs. “It’s sad, it makes you think about the best way to travel,” says the woman. Inside, Muñoz can only accept her fate: “My idea was to stay here until I go to the next world, but if I have to move, I will,” she says.

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