No people without houses, no houses without people.
March 10, 2014 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Photojournal of Spain's new squatters: families, young professionals, degree-holders, single mothers, the elderly. "I have grandchildren," she says. "When I die I would like to be able to say to myself that they will have jobs, homes and a happy life. The corralas are important. They set an example to people who are struggling. They show that we can help ourselves and each other. I don't know what the future will hold for any of us, but one way or another I believe that this will be a successful fight. I have to, otherwise I wouldn't be able to sleep at night."

The financial crisis in Spain has left thousands of families without housing, while around the country an estimated 3-4 million houses are deemed 'unsellable' or 'unrentable' and left empty. In May 2012, homeless families in the Andalusian capital of Seville decided to group together and found Corrala Utopía (their blog, in Spanish), the first in a growing network of previously vacant properties now occupied by victims of Spain's ongoing economic crisis.
posted by alon (11 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
So, how do we get something like this going in the US? I walked through the streets of Cleveland and Michigan seeing so many empty houses it just seemed absurd to let them go to waste. The problem being the jobs are all somewhere else...
posted by gusandrews at 9:16 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You would need heat in Michigan more so than in Spain. And a car to get anywhere.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:08 AM on March 10, 2014

And maybe a septic tank to empty
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2014

Yeah, squatters rights are much more advanced in Europe than in North America. But one gets there through large squat movements: eg., New York City is less harsh (than other places in the US and Canada) for tenants in general, including squats, because of earlier widespread tenant struggles that included rent strikes and squats.
posted by eviemath at 12:54 PM on March 10, 2014

Great post, as far as I've been able to scan. As a Spaniard who moved to Australia in 2007, I'm living this crisis by proxy, through phone calls with friends and family, and also with a bit of survivors' guilt.

I have a linguistic nitpick, a linguistic note, and a bit of perspective:

- The nitpick is that, in Spanish, "casa" can mean both "house" and "home". These are flats or apartments, not houses, the better translation is "No people without a home, no home without people".

- The note is that, traditionally, "corrala" means a particular architectural configuration: the apartment building built around a patio or yard, with public spaces and thoroughfares in the open air, clotheslines strewn between balconies, etc. This creates a particular community of the people in the same building, and that's possibly the reason why the organisers of these squats have chosen the name "corrala" for their projects. (Note: in the photos here, some of the corralas are not in an internal space. This is because the other half of the corrala was a separate building that was torn down. But the point of a corrala is that, in hot climates, you want the microclimate of a shaded courtyard you can cool down with evaporation of water).

And now, the bit of perspective:

In Spain there was a small but organised network of squatters well before the GFC. In the late 90's and early 2000's I have visited people at their home in different squats in abandoned apartment buildings or post-industrial rejects in the center of Madrid. What is new in the situation depicted in the post is that these squatters (or "ocupas", as they are called in Spain, from "ocupación") are not the typical young, very politically motivated crowd. They seem to be formerly not politically active, but rather to be poor working-class who formerly "lived a perfectly normative life" (this is a quote from the article).

All the corralas in the article are in the Spanish south, in Andalucía, which is very different in social and economic terms from other regions. Andalucía is one of the poorest regions in Spain. In the linked image, extracted from a 2009 study by Pilar Zarzosa, only Extremadura and the Spanish North African cities of Ceuta and Melilla rate higher in poverty. As well as poorer, Andalucía is one of the regions with more economic unequality (source, with apologies, as the article suggests the reason for inequality is too much welfare and not enough economic liberalism, but the source for the data is the Catholic charity Caritas, which for this particular isue is to be trusted). And Spain is already one of the most unequal countries in Europe). Andalucía also more dependent on economic transfers from the rest of the country, and thus has been hit hardly by the austerity policies post-GFC.

It will be interesting how all of this converts to votes and political influence in the Comunidad Autónoma (state or lander level) and Estatal (national-level) parliaments. These are not PP (Republicans-Tories) voters, the PSOE (Democrats-Labour) is in a shambles or ineffectual against global economical phenomena or both, and the Spanish election law is stacked against the smaller, more leftist parties, which has had its own bleeding of votes of its own.

The Occupy the Squares actions of 2010+ did not translate to the ballot boxes, except in the predictable demise by voter apathy of the then ruling party PSOE. The actions described in this post are great in the way a cast and bandages are great after an accident (or a hit-and-run, which might be a better analogy here). But we need better, longer term, preventative measures against further social decline. In the absence of a revolution (and we know how well the popular revolutions have turned out of late), that's better election results, for parliaments and executive branches that work for the good of the less affluent.

The Spanish squatter movement that I know is mostly of Anarchist tendencies, so I don't have much hope here. In the past I've supported their work in favour of non-institutional public spaces, like I do in the cases illustrated by this post. However I think that now we have to try and steer the Institutions away from the fucking austerity politics, and a more traditional political action of organizing the voted for established minority parties with anti-austerity platforms.
posted by kandinski at 2:59 PM on March 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

How the hell is it moral to still be on the hook for mortgage payments in Spain after the bank forecloses and takes the property back? That's fucking insane and it's no wonder there's so many problems with foreclosures and displaced/homeless people. Many people have difficult financial times at one time or another, but instead of letting the disadvantaged get back on track with their lives, the system just crushes them.
posted by crapmatic at 3:02 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

And a slight derail: I have just found on Google Maps the modern corrala (rebuilt in the late 80's or early 90's on the exact footprint of a previous corrala) where I lived in 1995-96. Sorry, no internal photos. But the satellite photo shows the courtyard giving air and light to the apartments around it.
posted by kandinski at 3:16 PM on March 10, 2014

Also previusly, and related: Spain's rate of owner-occupancy of homes was 86%. I don't have time now to research into mortgage debt, but yes, many of these owner-occupiers were just renting money with their home as security, so they didn't *really* own their home. Hence the spate of evictions.
posted by kandinski at 3:25 PM on March 10, 2014

How the hell is it moral to still be on the hook for mortgage payments in Spain after the bank forecloses and takes the property back?

I don't see how it isn't.
posted by jpe at 3:32 PM on March 10, 2014

Because getting the house and getting paid for it on top doesn't constitute the bank being made whole, it constitutes eating your cake and having it too. To be made whole the bank should at most be getting outstanding interest for the time period up until foreclosure plus maybe any excessive repair/cleaning costs. Loss through depreciation would even be tough to argue... used houses aren't necessarily loosing value like used TVs or cars.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:14 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

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