Since 2008, Spain has faced a mounting housing crisis not unlike the one that has wracked the United States. An estimated 350,000 Spanish families (and possibly more) have been evicted from their homes, and the average house price has fallen by more than one-third.
But Spain’s underwater homeowners find themselves in an especially precarious position due to a punitive mortgage law dating back to 1909. The law allows banks to begin repossessing a house after just one missed mortgage payment and to seek full loan repayment even after repossession. Furthermore, neither bankruptcy nor death can erase mortgage debt.
In the face of this law, communities are finding their own ways to fight back. Attendance is swelling at the weekly meetings of activist group Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), and mass demonstrations outside of foreclosing banks have become commonplace. Following a string of eviction-related suicides in the past year, public support for the protesters has surged. The country’s United Police Union even announced that it will back officers who refuse to carry out evictions.
Housing activists won a partial victory in November when the Spanish government announced that it would halt evictions for two years for those deemed most financially needy. But the move was met with skepticism because the moratorium applies only to families making less than 19,200 euros a year. Moreover, according to a statement from PAH, “This measure would not affect foreclosures under way and so leave out hundreds of thousands of families still swamped by proceedings.”
What’s needed, activists believe, is a change to the country’s mortgage law. They came one step closer in February, when, in response to a petition created by anti-eviction activists that collected nearly 1.5 million signatures, the Spanish parliament agreed to debate a citizens’ motion that would put a stop to evictions already underway and prevent banks from trying to collect on mortgage debts after t hey’ve repossessed a home. The activists may be helped by a ruling from the European Court in March that found that Spain’s mortgage law violates European Union law.
Just how much Spain’s mortgage law will change remains to be seen. But as Spain’s housing movement gathers strength, it’s becoming harder to enforce the policies that leave homeowners out in the cold.