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  • Foreclosed City: A Barcelona Neighborhood Unites to Fight Evictions
  • Guillaume Darribau (bio) and Brenna Bhandar (bio)

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Ciutat Meridiana, a historically marginalized neighborhood in Barcelona, is isolated from the rest of the city by a freeway.

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At a multilevel shopping area in June 2010, shops struggle to stay open. Since the financial crisis of 2008, many businesses in the neighborhood have shuttered.

The Spanish real estate sector has wreaked havoc on homeowners. Since the property bubble burst in 2008, hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes—their debts often intact even after eviction.

The impact on society is hard to underestimate: In 2013, Spain averaged 184 evictions a day. Amid this devastation, one isolated Barcelona neighborhood, Ciutat Meridiana, stands out as the hardest hit. With about 20 percent of [End Page 60] its apartments involved in eviction proceedings, Ciutat Meridiana is one of the most foreclosed communities in Spain.

This ongoing economic disaster in Spain has deep historical and legal roots. As early as the 1950s, we see the modern figure of the liberal, self-possessive individual redeployed in the context of home ownership. As sociologists Isidro López and Emmanuel Rodríguez note, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s minister for housing, José Luis Arrese, stated as early as 1957: “We want a country of proprietors, not proletarians.”

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Muslims pray in a soccer field during Eid in October 2012. The current mosque is too small to host so many worshippers.

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In May 2012, members of the Nigerian community pray in one of two evangelical churches in Ciutat Meridiana.

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For decades, authorities intentionally degraded renting and privileged ownership. Successive governments, the banks, financial experts, and the real estate sector transformed mortgages “into a status symbol, a euphemism for professional success which signified the passage into adulthood. Rent, however, was a symptom of failure and inferiority,” as two housing activists, Ada Colau and Adrià Alemany, explained in their 2012 book Mortgaged Lives. (In June 2015, Colau was elected mayor of Barcelona.)

The Spanish government supported the real estate sector as the primary engine of economic growth and propped it up through financial and environmental deregulation, which in turn fueled land speculation. This radically changed the proportion of homeowners to renters. It is in this context that approximately a million Spanish subprime mortgages were offered to society’s most vulnerable groups between 2003 and 2007.

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Teenagers hang out in one of Ciutat Meridiana’s parks in June 2010. Youth unemployment in the neighborhood stands at more than 50 percent.

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Even with the privileging of owning over renting, activists point out that the right to housing is enshrined in Article 47 of the Spanish Constitution. Article 47 provides that “all Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing.” The Article places a positive duty on the government to make this right effective and to “prevent speculation.” Article 33 is also relevant, stipulating that private property be limited by its social function. Despite these guarantees, Article 47 has been hollowed out [End Page 63] by mortgage laws, the deregulation of credit and lending, and the unrestrained bolstering of real estate development.

Perhaps the most anomalous aspect of Spanish mortgage law is that when there is a default and the bank repossesses the mortgaged property, the debt is not discharged, as it is in most jurisdictions. In Spain, dación en pago (literally “handing back the keys” to the lender to discharge the debt) does exist in the mortgage legislation, but it is optional. Banks have only applied it when forced to by people lobbying en masse.

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At least 100 people affected by speculative lending practices gather for their weekly Thursday meeting to organize protests in October 2015. Most of the planning centers around resisting scheduled foreclosures.

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Neighbors lock arms to prevent the execution of an eviction order in July 2012.



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pp. 58-69
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