Mortgage Holders Platform (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, or PAH)
In the initial discussion of the Mortgage Holders Platform (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, or PAH), the Spanish movement of people in danger of being evicted because they cannot pay their mortgages, and engagement between mortgage holders in danger of eviction, one of the key issues that emerged was that of having a future beyond debt. In many instance, while people were obviously deeply affected by the possibility of loosing their home, what weighed most heavily upon them was the debt they would continue to owe having lost their home. As a result, the first demand launched by the PAH related to accessing the right to a future beyond debt: Dación en Pago. However, the need to stay in their own home or for housing in general also emerged as a key issue. And so the PAH has also undertaken two campaigns focused on the right to housing: Stop Evictions and ‘Obra Social’.
The Obra social (public/social works) campaign involved the occupation of housing held by banks by those who have been evicted. Introducing their Obra Social campaign, they denounce “a public administration which lacks the political will to respond to a genuine housing emergency…a failed state incapable of guaranteeing fundamental rights…and a public power which prioritizes the profits of banks over the solvency and the survival of people.”
This element of the campaign has emerged out of the intransigence of both the banks and the government in terms of the continuing prioritization of creditors and financial interests over the right to housing, despite the fact that the latter is guaranteed by the constitution and international treatise. It has also emerged from the immediate need of the PAH activists and others who find themselves homeless and faced with outstanding mortgage debt. Given the unpayable nature of this debt, rising unemployment, the absence of social housing and the deregulation of both the mortgage market and the private rented sector, the possibility of those in grave economic difficulty accessing housing is extremely slim. As a result, the PAH and other activists have begun to occupy empty housing units held by banks.
In a manner characteristic of the PAH the recourse to civil disobedience is not undertaken in a ‘gratuitous’ fashion. Instead, this recent initiative is situated as part of a broader project of collective social transformation which involves battling on all fronts, constructing a political language and legitimacy for their actions and responding to real social needs. As part of the announcement of their campaign, the PAH made the following declaration:
“Faced with an unjust law which allows financial entities to throw families out of their homes, and at the same time to continue to collect a large part of the debt, we have exhausted all legal and administrative possibilities to defend basic rights:
- We have tried to negotiate with the banks in relation to the application of dación en pago and so that families can remain in their homes paying a ‘social rent’
- We have tried to achieve justice in the courts;
- We have tried to change the law at parliamentary level;
- We have tried to force city councils to defend their citizens by impeding evictions arising from inability to pay.”
Moreover they have also linked the above to the general political situation of financialization. They describe the Obra Social campaign as a response to “a public administration which lacks the political will to respond to a genuine housing emergency…a failed state incapable of guaranteeing fundamental rights…and a public power which prioritizes the profits of banks over the solvency and the survival of people.”
On the basis of such an argument, the PAH have begun to occupy housing which is under the control of banks as a result of foreclosures and evictions. But this ‘second phase of struggle’, which the PAH consider a ‘turning point’, was also promoted by a change of tactics on the part of the State. Recently, judges have begun to issue evictions without a fixed time or date, making collective resistance much more difficult.
In September 2011 a couple involved in the PAH and their six-year-old daughter were evicted from their home by riot police. Not only had they been evicted, the bank was still pursuing them for outstanding debt amounting to €300,000. One week later, the house was collectively re-occupied and the locks were changed. In December of the same year the PAH Terrassa, an organization which at one point managed to stop four evictions in only 15 days, organized a march for the right to housing. During the protest an apartment block was occupied. The PAH announced as part of the same action that a separate apartment block had been occupied by five families a number of months previously. Both blocks were the property of a bank and the PAH immediately demanded that the residents by allowed to stay on the basis of a ‘social rent’.