Photo: (Voice of America)
By Caroline Arbour, Voice of America
Protest groups in Spain have helped families that were kicked out of their homes by banks find shelter in repossessed, empty apartment buildings. Police moved in quickly in most cases, but in Seville about 30 families are going on six months of illegal occupation.
Fifty-four-year old Mercedes Lladanosa showed us around the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her daughter and granddaughter. It has hardwood floors and a fancy faucet in the bathroom. But bare light bulbs hang uselessly from the ceiling.
The electricity was shut off months ago.
And the washing machine is only for show, as the city cut off the building’s access to running water last week.
They cook with a gas camping stove. What little furniture Lladanosa has was donated or found in the trash. It is not much - a couch, a bed and a crib.
Squatting for survival
She and more than 100 others have been living like this since May, in this five-story building that was completed three years ago and left empty when the developer went bankrupt.
Nearly 40 families moved in with help of members from the 15M activist group, like Antonio Moreno Rosana.
“Right now in Spain we have something like 517 evictions a day. The thing is, just in Andalucía I think, there are 116,000 empty houses. It is outrageous that you have got empty houses when people are getting thrown out into the street,” said Rosana.
Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards have been evicted from their homes since the housing bubble burst in 2008.
Once a house is repossessed by the banks, the owner is still liable for the mortgage, meaning several generations are being saddled with debt.
Rosana said it makes no sense.
“We think that, you know, if a bank has an empty house for a year or two years, that should be expropriated immediately. It is like you have it empty? No, you can not have it empty. We are going to put some people in there, if you are going to have it empty,” said Rosana.
15M group protests
The 15M movement has tried a few times in Madrid, Barcelona and the Catalonian city of Sabadell to house evicted families in buildings now belonging to banks, but efforts were swiftly defeated by police. Lladanosa and her fellow squatters risk being thrown out any day.
Not everyone lives in the building out of absolute necessity, and for some, making a statement is worth the risk.
Social worker Montserrat Sanchez lost her job in an immigrant center two months ago and could not pay her rent anymore, so she went back to live with her mother and father, but then left.
“I think I have the right, like everyone living in this world, to have my own house and my own place where to stay. And I do not think it is right to go back with my parents. So that is why I came here,” said Sanchez.
Lladanosa and others show us the water fountain installed outside the building this week by the city, on the corner of an intersection, next to garbage bins. She hauls water from there up to her apartment to wash herself and to clean her clothes.
The unemployed cook turned housekeeper said she wants to regain her dignity. She wants a roof over her head. Not for free. She wants to catch a break, though, and pay rent that she can afford.