August 7, 2022

Foreclosure Protesters in Spain’s Cities Now Go Door to Door

“It was a day that for many people would have been depressing,” Ms. del Coto said afterward. “But for me it turned out to be a day of privilege. I met all these marvelous people. And I was very grateful.”

The young demonstrators who camped out by the thousands in Spain’s major city squares for much of May and June, protesting government corruption and an economy that has left them jobless, have mostly gone home.

But the movement has produced an army of volunteers who are making their presence felt in the tangled world of Spain’s foreclosure system — perhaps the harshest in Europe — which usually leaves former homeowners in debt for the rest of their lives.

Organizing the protest in front of Ms. del Coto’s modest home was Eloi Morte, 28, who was juggling several cellphones. Mr. Morte, a flight attendant, decided to help block evictions after he attended a neighborhood meeting organized by the protesters who had occupied the Puerta del Sol, the city’s central square.

“This was something very concrete that I could do,” he said. “I wanted to see results, not just vague protests against the financial establishment, the banks. I wanted to do something constructive.”

Spain, like the United States, experienced a huge housing boom that came to a crashing halt in 2008. As the economy stalled, unemployment rates soared to the highest in the European Union, hovering at 40 percent for young people — who until recently seemed apathetic. That changed on May 15, when young people began congregating across the country in peaceful protests that lasted weeks in some cities.

Now some of those protesters are using their Internet savvy to gather crowds on behalf of beleaguered homeowners. Hundreds of protesters are showing up at threatened evictions like Ms. del Coto’s. They are getting press coverage as never before — and, some say, results.

Since June, about 30 evictions have been blocked, according to a nonprofit housing advocacy group known by its initials, P.A.H. — more than twice the rate than before. And eviction protests are taking place in more cities.

This month, the government and the opposition in Parliament, no doubt looking toward elections next year, issued statements saying they would overhaul the foreclosure laws.

“We are proud that today our demands have become a popular clamor,” said Ada Colau, a human rights lawyer with P.A.H. “This has forced the government to react, despite the pressure from the banks.”

When Spanish mortgage debtors cannot make their payments, Spanish law denies them two ways out that are common elsewhere: they cannot simply hand the keys back to the bank and walk away, and they cannot discharge their debt in bankruptcy. They remain personally liable for the full amount of the loan after foreclosure, and when penalty and interest charges and tens of thousands of dollars in court fees are counted, they can end up on the street facing a mountain of debt.

Housing advocates would like to see Spain move to a system that more resembles that of the United States. But the new proposals do not go nearly that far. Most are meant only to ease the current conditions. For instance, banks would still be allowed to take a percentage of a debtor’s salary, but not quite so large a percentage. Similarly, if no one appears at a foreclosure auction and the bank buys the property itself, it will have to pay 60 percent of market value, up from 50 percent under current law.

Still, housing advocates say the proposals are a start.

Santos González Sánchez, the president of a lender’s trade group, the Spanish Mortgage Association, says some of the proposals are not well thought out and that the issues need further study. He dismisses the protesters as “more anecdotal than effective.”

There were about 94,000 foreclosures in Spain last year, nearly four times the number for 2007. It can take more than a year to evict the occupants after a foreclosure, and banks sometimes agree to lease the homes back to their former owners.

The excesses in real estate and banking here were profound, with banks lending at an astonishing pace, often to customers who were poor risks and did not understand the fine print. People who signed mortgages as guarantors were often surprised to realize that they could lose everything they owned.

Ms. del Coto guaranteed a loan for a partner who has since left her and her children, including a disabled 26-year-old son who fell from a window as a toddler. She said she was looking for work as a maid again, but had not found any. Nor does she have a place to move if she is turned out of the tidy home she has been in for 25 years.

The protests block the evictions only temporarily. Advocates say that when the police and other officials involved in the eviction see the crowds, they usually walk away. It takes at least a month to organize another eviction effort, they said, and sometimes much longer.

Mr. Morte said the protesters hoped that in the meantime the bank would be persuaded to rent the house to Ms. del Coto at a price she could afford.

“That is our hope with all of these protests,” he said, “that a negotiation can keep people from being put out on the street.”

Rachel Chaundler contributed reporting.

Article source:

Speak Your Mind