The experience of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca / PAH (Platform for people affected by mortgages)
Translated by Traducciones Indignadas. Translation first published January 2015. Words and phrases followed by an asterisk (*) are explained further in the notes following the text.
Since the birth of the Platform for people affected by mortgages (PAH) in February 2009 we knew that we had two main objectives: debt cancellation by property return* (meaning that the property is returned to the bank in return for cancellation of the debt, avoiding the sentencing of families to a life in debt) and to halt evictions. We wanted to put an end to this violence that is leaving thousands of families on the streets while financial institutions with serious responsibility for the current crisis accumulate thousands of empty flats, waiting to be able to speculate with them again.
While we encountered few problems launching the debt cancellation by property return* campaign, stopping evictions was more difficult. There are various explanations for the initial difficulties. Firstly there was a judicial reason: foreclosure proceedings can easily take one and a half or even two years to pass through the courts. This process leads to the eviction order, the last step in the eviction procedure, which can take even longer to arrive. The explosion in the rate of evictions due to non-payments of mortgages since 2010 is a result of procedures that started in 2008 and 2009.
Secondly, and much more importantly, we discovered that convincing the very people affected that it was worth resisting evictions would be much more difficult than we had at first imagined. We expected to find people furious with a system that is openly and obscenely unfair, that overprotects financial institutions and leaves thousands of people on the street, in debt and sentenced to social exclusion for life. However, in regular meetings with hundreds of people affected by the mortgage fraud that has been taking place since 2009, we found that above all people were depressed, with strong feelings of guilt and personal failure, and with no horizon of possibilities.
Therefore to be able to take on evictions, the first thing we had to do was to create and to consolidate a space of trust, a stable meeting place where the affected persons would feel 1/ that their problem was not individual but collective, that it had structural causes 2/ that it was a consequence of the latter, therefore there being no need to feel guilt or shame, and 3/ that with collective action reality can be transformed to make possible what seemed impossible. But for these points to become more than theoretical aspirations, something essential was still missing: a first case that would bring them to life, a small great victory that would demonstrate that yes, together we can.
And it came by the hand of Luis, a brave and affectionate man from Bisbal del Penedes who, upon learning that the eviction order could not only leave him on the street but would risk his shared custody of his 11 year old son – precisely for not having a home to offer him -, decided to stand the fight. This was how the PAH started the Stop Evictions campaign, stopping the first eviction on the 3rd of November 2010. Since then it has applied the same action protocol that has allowed us to stop more than 60 evictions in 8 months.
There are some key principles that need to be taken into account before stopping an eviction:
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- Mortgaged lives. From the housing bubble to the right to housing. By Ada Colau & Adrià Alemany – download