Fear of a new wave of evictions
Experts predict an unprecedented housing crisis and call for far-reaching solutions
BarcelonaAndrea Altés shared a flat in the Sant Gervasi district of Barcelona because she couldn't afford to pay the 850-euro rent on her own, but the pandemic has left her without a job - she is self-employed in the audiovisual communications sector - and she can't afford even half of what her landlady, who has ten properties, is asking for. "I want to reach an agreement, but she has closed herself off, she doesn't want to negotiate anything at all", says Altés. After paying the rent on time for four years and accepting an increase of 100 euros in February 2019, she now sees how they want to kick her out of the house.
She contacted the Sindicat de Llogateres, who give her legal advice, and presented all the papers that accredit her as vulnerable. In this way, with the moratorium on evictions for people in social emergency approved by the Spanish government as a result of the pandemic, she has been able to avoid eviction for the time being. However, the procedures to obtain the certificate of vulnerability, even if all the requirements are met, "are not at all simple" and not everyone manages to do it, as pointed out by the magistrate of the commercial court number 3 of Barcelona José María Fernández Seijo.
Like Altés, many families are on the tightrope, temporarily saved by the moratorium on evictions that is scheduled to end with the end of the state of alarm on May 9. What will happen if it is not extended? "We will be left with our asses in the air", says Ema Craciun, mother of three children who was unable to pay the rent when her husband went on the furlough scheme and it took four months to start collecting the benefit. "We have already accumulated a debt of 9,000 euros, we will not be able to pay this even when all this is over", protests Craciun.
Fernández Seijo, however, points out that the blockage in the courts as a result of covid is more decisive than the moratorium. "When the rhythm recovers, everything that has collapsed will come out all at once, and if you add the economic crisis, there will be a peak in evictions", predicts Fernández Seijo. In addition, the magistrate believes that until the courts do not function fully, as they did before covid, evictions will continue to decrease. In this regard, housing consultant and UOC professor Eduard Cabré predicts that, if no far-reaching decision is taken, the housing crisis "will not even be comparable to that of 2008".
In fact, according to the report of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) Efectos de la crisis económica en los órganos judiciales ("Effects of the economic crisis on judicial bodies"), although in 2020 evictions for non-payment of rent continued the downward trend of recent years and decreased by 42% across the state, the decline was lower, only 13.6%, during the third quarter, when the state of alarm had already been imposed. In addition, the same report of the CGPJ shows that foreclosures - which may end up resulting in future evictions - grew to 20,460, 17.5% more than last year. Catalonia, with 4,643, was the territory where more were made .
However, despite the increase, rent "is reaching more agreements between landlords and tenants than before the covid", a fact that would substantially reduce the evictions that will finally be executed for this reason, according to the president of the Foundation Habitat 3, Carme Trilla. For Fernández Seijo, however, "the fact that these agreements are voluntary is a problem" and he is in favour of "the regulation establishing obligatory intermediation between the parties". Neither Altés nor Craciun, for example, have been able to reach an agreement with the owner.
Cabré believes that, although the moratorium on evictions is still "assisted breathing", it must be extended to alleviate the housing crisis in the short term and urges to reach "agreements with landlords and banks through legislation or that the administration pays part of the rents". "I do not think the state dares to leave thousands of people in housing emergency", says the expert.
Beyond the most urgent measures, the technical director of the Observatori Metropolità de la Vivenda (Metropolitan Housing Observatory), Carles Donat, stresses that we must "increase public investment by the State and the Generalitat in housing". In this sense, Trilla calls for increasing the social rental stock in Catalonia and compares it with other European countries: according to a study presented at the end of last year by the Barcelona Bar Association and different entities that manage housing for vulnerable people, the social rental stock in the Principality stands at 1.6% of the total (47,000 flats), while the European average is 15%.
Another solution is the regulation of rental prices, which the Government and the Parliament have already brought forward. Podemos is pressuring its government partners in Spain, the PSOE, to include it in the new housing law at the state level. Fernández Seijo, although he sees it with good eyes, qualifies that "for once that the market is going in our favour and rents are falling, perhaps it is not the most appropriate time, since it could end up marking prices upwards and delaying the fall". However, Cabré, who agrees with the other experts consulted by the ARA, concludes: "It is clear is that the challenge ahead of us is unprecedented and we have to apply very powerful and far-reaching measures".