Demonstrations were held across Spain on Saturday to protest harsh repossession laws that have led to hundreds of thousands of evictions during the country’s deep recession.
In Madrid — one of 50 cities where such protests were planned — thousands of people marched to demand that the government amend the laws. Demonstrations also took place in cities such as Barcelona, Pamplona, Valencia and Seville.
More than 350,000 Spaniards have received eviction orders since 2008 because they were unable to make mortgage payments. Unemployment is at 26 percent, with young people the worst hit as Spain descends into a double-dip recession.
Most of those evicted remain liable to repay the sum originally borrowed, even as the value of their homes plunges, rendering them hard to sell.
Ada Colau — a spokeswoman for the Stop Evictions platform who helped organize the demonstrations — said the protesters are making these three demands on the government: That unemployed homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages can give their homes back to lenders as payment in kind and that this option is made available retroactively; that a moratorium on evictions is imposed; that vacant, unsold properties held by lenders are rented out as social housing.
Campaigners passed a rare milestone on Tuesday last week when the Spanish parliament agreed to debate a popular bill of measures to protect poor homeowners, backed by a petition that received more than 1.4 million signatures.
The organization that brought that petition, the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), called Saturday’s nationwide protests to pressure lawmakers to follow through and vote it into law quickly.
“I think it will pass, and it will not be thanks to the politicians, but to pressure from citizens in the street,” said one demonstrator in Madrid, Enrique Valdivieso, 27, holding up one end of a banner reading “Government resign.”
Alarmed by growing disquiet over high eviction rates and the protests they have triggered, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government already has yielded to demands to review the country’s mortgage and eviction laws.
However, many observers say the changes, affecting the powerful, but struggling banking sector, could take months or years to be approved as they make their way through parliament.
“We cannot permit the legislative initiative that has already been given tacit approval by the government to be weakened or reduced to end up something unrecognizable,” Colau said. “Our three demands are the bare minimum required.”
Banks either sell repossessed homes for much less than the original mortgage value or cannot unload them. That means the mortgage holders end up owing the difference or paying back the whole loan plus fees and court costs. Their wages can be garnished by the banks.
Madrid protester Carlos Gomez, 40, said on Saturday that he has been warned he will be evicted from his home in April, under a strong police presence.
On Tuesday, a retired married couple committed suicide in Spain, leaving a note saying they also were about to lose their home. That rose to at least five the number of people who are believed to have committed suicide in Spain because they had been evicted or were about to be forcibly removed from their repossessed homes.
“We will not stand by idle waiting for the initiative to come to parliament” to be debated, the PAH said in a statement.