"I'm being evicted tomorrow! I need help!"
Neighbour gets eviction postponed in less than 24 hours
"They're evicting you next Tuesday", the court-appointed lawyer told her. It was Friday, May 21. Ahead, Sara Sherem (66 years old) had three days, two of which were holidays (Monday was a day off in Barcelona), to pack up an entire flat and find an alternative. Behind, fourteen years paying rent for the same flat on Gran Via in Barcelona, although only two with a contract. She had never imagined herself in this situation. Because of the pandemic and kidney cancer, she had had to close her business on Consell de Cent with Muntaner street. It was a cosmetics shop that she had opened in February 2020 with great enthusiasm, thanks to a loan from a bank. She had been working for years in the sector and considered it was time to go freelance. But everything went wrong. A month after opening the shop, the pandemic closed everyone at home and five months, and later she found out she had a tumour between her bronchial tubes and lungs. The two unforeseen events put her out of business. She was able to negotiate a discount with the shop premises, but she had no luck with the flat. "No money was coming in for me... It was just going out", she explains. She stopped paying rent on the flat for five months, but there was enough to start the eviction process. "When the flat passed from the mother to the son, two years ago, he asked me to regularise it and so we did", recalls Sara. She was paying 700 euros a month. When unforeseen circumstances arose, she tried to negotiate a reduction, but it was not possible. Sara asked the social services and the Municipal Housing Board for help, but there are no places for her for two years. At best, a pension where to stay and a place to temporarily leave her furniture.
The manager, who by now deserves to be considered a friend, recommended that she seek help from organisations that prevent evictions. It was already Monday and the eviction was due to take place at 10 a.m. the next day at 10 a.m. "I just wanted time to be able to get everything out of my house", she says. She found on the internet a branch of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca organisation (PAH, translated as Platform of People Affected by Mortgage) next to her house and, despite it being a public holiday, she went. "When she came in, she didn't even know who was there", explains José Antonio Quílez, one of the two activists who were there that day. "I'm being evicted tomorrow! I need help", she told them. "We explained that being a public holiday and with such short notice, it was difficult to know how many people we could mobilise. Some people go away for the weekend and when they are away they don't look at the Telegram chat...", he says. But they launched a call through the networks.
On the day of the eviction, the bags were still unpacked. The social worker arrived early. "I opened the door and she asked me, «Have you asked the PAH for help?»", Sara recalls. "When she told me there were more than twenty people on the street I couldn't believe it", she says excitedly. "These people deserve everything. They only had one day, and it was a holiday", she stresses. With twenty people at the door, the negotiation changed. The owner of the flat agreed to the request he had refused until then: to give Sara an extra fifteen days to be able to pack her bags and move out without haste. The eviction was postponed until 10 June. The change does not solve Sara's problem, but it has given her some breathing space.
"We only postponed the problem"
José Antonio Quílez has been a member of the PAH since 2007 and, like most people, he does so because he suffered a similar problem and they helped him. "Now I'm still fighting for the rest of the people", he says. As he explains, the PAH, like the housing unions that have been created by towns and cities, manages to stop most evictions, however, as in the case of Sara, it is only a temporary solution. "We don't solve the problem, we only postpone it", he acknowledges with resignation. With the municipal government of Ada Colau and the creation of the Public Housing Intervention and Mediation Service, support has improved. "Before we were more unprotected", but the resources to guarantee the right to housing are still insufficient.
Sara, who is still undergoing radiotherapy to treat her cancer, has no plans to move into a boarding house. "Maybe I'll go to an acquaintance's house", she says. In any case, in addition to Sandra, her friend and manager, she can now count on the PAH. "We will be at her side", says Quílez.