Families occupy empty flats in crisis-hit SpainBy Sylvie Groult
SEVILLE, Spain—Spanish grandmother Ana Lopez Corrales already feels at home in the Seville apartment where she’s been living for the past week – but it is not hers and she pays no rent.
The 67-year-old is one of 32 homeless families who are squatting in an empty four-story building, one of thousands of unsold apartment blocks that dot Spain following the collapse of a property bubble in 2008.
Corrales said she found herself on the street when she could not keep up with her monthly rent of 500 euros ($630).
She and her 70-year-old husband, who has been bedridden for the past two decades, now occupy the show flat of the building, the only one that was furnished, and her kitchen is used by all the squatters.
“All the women you see here are homeless,” she said as she gestured to several women as they prepared vegetables for lunch, washed dishes and polished tiles around her in the kitchen.
“This place has been shut up for more than two years, no one has come by. Why do they want to shut up these apartments when there are so many people in the street with nothing?” added Corrales.
The developer of the building has disappeared and no one has claimed the property.
The 32 families moved into the building with the aid of members of Spain’s popular movement known as “the indignants,” which emerged last year to protest against economic inequality, corruption and sky-high unemployment.
“Demanding a home is a constitutional right. The Spanish constitution says that all Spaniards, all citizens, have the right to decent housing,” said “indignant” activist Antonio Perez.
So far, police had let the squatters stay, he said.
“The police know that if a judge issues an eviction order, they will have to execute it. But up until now they have protected us.”
There are about one million vacant homes left over from the property crash in Spain, where the number of home evictions last year amounted to more than 58,000.
‘Not a happy future’
With Spain’s unemployment rate of 24.4 percent, the highest in the industrialized world, home evictions are expected to rise further.
The southwestern region of Andalucia, of which Seville is the capital, has been especially hard-hit by the crisis, with a jobless rate of over 33 percent.
“There must be many other people in our situation. This is an example for those who find a house that has been empty for two or three years,” said Corrales, who has been dubbed “the heart of the neighbors.”
“We did not know each other before but we are united now like a family, for better or worse we get along well. Our strength comes from our unity.”
Corrales’ 35-year-old daughter Ana Lopez also lives in a flat in the building, where she is struggling to raise her two children, aged six and 18, on a monthly family allowance of 426 euros.
“We want a rent that we would be able to afford,” she said.
No one knows how long they will stay in the building.
“We will be here the time we need, for as long as my family does not have a decent roof over its head,” said Aguasanta Quero Reyes, 38, who lives in a flat on the fourth floor with her husband and three children.
“My children joined me here two days ago and I can see they’re very happy. When I opened the door, my eight-year-old son said: ‘Thank you so much, mummy, thanks to everything you’ve done we’ve got a home’.”
Reyes, who earns just 250 euros a month working as a saleswoman, said her family moved into the flat after they were evicted for falling six months behind on their rent.
Raquel Machuca Rodriguez, who is pregnant with her fourth child, said she planned to buy second-hand furniture for the flat she occupies on the fourth floor.
“This is not a happy future but you have to take what you can get,” the 29-year-old said.
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