Social emergency

"I only ask for a flat I can afford"

Charities and campaigners fear an avalanche of evictions in autumn and urge new laws from Parliament

Clara López Alcaide
4 min
Maribel Tejeda to her flat, in the Hostafrancs neighbourhood of Barcelona, this week.

BarcelonaMaribel is certain the spiral began with the mortgage crisis. She moved to number 8 Ermengarda Street in Barcelona's Hostafrancs district in 2007. She was working as a chambermaid and decided to buy the flat. Years later, she became unemployed and became one more victim of the real estate bubble. "I earnt €740 and, if I paid the mortgage, I could pay neither utilities nor housing taxes, and it was impossible," she explains to ARA. After years of anguish, he was able to get the debt signed off in exchange for the flat and got social rent thanks to the Catalan housing law 24/2015, which forces large landlords - those who have more than 10 properties - to offer affordable rent to vulnerable people before evicting them.

Shortly afterwards, the government extended this law with a decree that also obliged landlords to renew social rental contracts, but in January the Constitutional Court overturned the law. The investment fund that had bought Maribel's flat took advantage to avoid offering her a new contract. "I asked, but they never answered me," she says, pointing out that the owners have never given her any explanation as to why they did not agree to renew her rent, nor have they sat down to negotiate a new contract that suits her economic situation, despite the fact that she has always paid the rent. "Since I signed the lease I have paid every month," she remarks.

Since then, Maribel has had to face several eviction attempts: the last one, a few weeks ago, despite having a vulnerability report from social services, a prerequisite to benefit from the state moratorium on evictions. Finally, the eviction was stopped thanks to neighbours and activists demonstrating at the door, but Maribel fears not having an alternative when the bailiffs next come round. She earns about €680 a month and has been waiting for years for social housing. She says she cannot afford to pay market rent with her income and asks the authorities to find a solution. "I don't want them to give me anything, I just want a flat I can afford," she insists.

A flood of evictions in autumn

Maribel's is not an isolated case. Organisations such as the Platform of People Affected by the Mortgage (PAH) estimate that about 3,200 vulnerable families have not been able to renew their social rent due to the Constitutional Court's ruling and insist the pandemic has aggravated the housing emergency. "The health crisis has worsened families' economic situation who, for example, have been affected by furlough schemes. Being out of work generates a situation of helplessness and can lead to the loss of housing," explains PAH spokeswoman Lucia Delgado. Some of these evictions could have been stopped thanks to the moratorium, but organisations warn that once the measure expires on 31 October and the processes is resumed, an unprecedented housing crisis will break out.

"We have calculated that this fall there could be an avalanche of 26,000 evictions," says Delgado. A figure that would double the highest peak in Catalonia, which was in 2013, when about 15,000 evictions were recorded, according to the spokeswoman.

In response to this situation, the charities which promoted the anti-eviction law in June presented a new bill to Parliament that recovers large parts of its content, such as the obligation to offer a social rent before evicting. For now, the law has the support of ERC, Junts, En Comú Podem and the CUP. That is, it would have enough parliamentary support because it could be approved urgently at the end of October, coinciding with the end of the moratorium. "The situation awaiting us is very serious and that is why we must have this law as soon as possible, to avoid this avalanche of evictions and the drama that lies ahead for all these families," insists Delgado.

Obligation to renew social rent

The law will recover the protection of vulnerable families and obligations for banks, investment funds and large landlords in general. Thus, it establishes that before starting any eviction process, large landlords must offer social rent to vulnerable families who have reached the end of their rental contract, have been foreclosed or even, in some cases, have been squatting an empty property for two years or more. The main novelty is that, unlike the previous rule, this will include that social rents can be renewed automatically when they expire and that, before this happens, the owners have a maximum period of one month to negotiate a new rent.

On the other hand, the regulation also changes the classification of large landlords, who will have to be entered in a register: individuals with over 15 properties will continue to be registered, but legal entities will be included once they have 10 properties, to prevent companies from looking for ways to circumvent the rule. "Sharing responsibility with the private sector for this situation for us is basic," remarks Delgado. The bill also provides that the administration can demand an owner finds tenants for a house if it has been empty for two years before sanctioning or even temporarily expropriating the property forcibly.

The organisations claim they have made sure the new legislation cannot be repelled in court. The Constitutional Court overturned the previous Catalan housing decree because it considered that it would have had to be processed as a law, meaning it was a formal question which got it repelled. Therefore, supporters of the new law are confident that it will not be suspended and will serve to alleviate the housing emergency in the short and medium term. "We have to put an end to evictions to start dealing with structural problems, such as building public housing for citizens, but these flats will not appear overnight. We have to start somehow, but in the meantime we have to act and this is the way," says the spokeswoman