Author: María José Gayón / Photos: Leah Pattem (ver traducción castellana)
José, 71, is a lifelong tenant of Calle Tribulete 7 in Lavapiés. His daughter Blanca, who José calls ‘Blankita’, spent the first 30 years of her life here. Despite no longer living here, she has taken up the mantle – along with her mother Blanca – of defending the apartment in which her parents have lived for more than 40 years.
These decades hang on the walls and fill the bookshelves; photos of Blankita and her daughters, Nerea and Leire, practically eliminate the need for wallpaper and make the dining room feel like it’s suspended in time.
As is to be expected for a building with 52 units – all of them rentals – Blankita tells me that there are very few tenants left who have been there as long as her parents, and that they didn’t tend to see much of each other until the news came that they might be evicted. Blankita’s mother suspected it, and even before receiving the notice she warned her daughter that she had seen “people in suits around here, which is very strange.”
It was not just conspicuous outfit choices that gave away what was to come; in Tribulete 7 there are other tenants whose apartments, like José and Blanca’s, are rent-controlled. The couple have been paying a fixed price of €300 since they first signed their contracts in 1981, which is now much lower than average in the Spanish capital. But a change in ownership of the property doesn’t carry the same contract rights, giving new owners the opportunity to raise rents and, therefore, pricing old tenants out.
This is likely to be how Elix Rental Housing, the property management company purchasing Tribulete 7, takes over the building in two weeks. Elix is in the business of speculation. They acquire centrally located buildings with a single owner, evict tenants, renovate the apartments and put them back on the rental market for a much higher price. In some cases, they’re used as tourist rentals.
But, after decades of witnessing property investors colonise Lavapiés, the tenants are wise to their methods and have mobilised resistance, supported by the veterans tenants union Sindicato de Inquilinas, and prolific housing lawyer Alejandra Jacinto. Neighbours are also organising a concert to raise awareness of the possible building-wide eviction and foster unity in the neighbourhood. They’ve invited politicians, journalists and local activists to the building to make as much noise as possible. Brand-new social media account @vecinostribulete is where you can find all information and get involved.
Despite her fighting spirit, Blankita’s words reveal a sense of inevitability: “When the sale is closed and it feels more real, the neighbours will start to mobilise more.” Her father José is already thinking about the move: the logistics and expense of such a monumental task, not to mention the emotional toll of leaving the place he’s lived in from five years old, as he grew up with his parents in a second-floor apartment.
It is hard for him to comprehend that the building in which, in 1981, the late landlord personally offered him the apartment in which he would raise a family, is the same one from which they could now be thrown out so unceremoniously.
There have been a lot of improvements made to the 40-square-metre apartment over the past four decades, and not just the paintings – some of them original works by a 12-year-old Blankita – that cover every surface. José has, over the years, gone above and beyond to turn the space into a cosy home. There was something José had improved on or added in every corner of the apartment: he set up the lighting in the dining room, he installed the heating in the bedrooms, he did a complete overhaul of part of the kitchen in order to make more space for the bathroom, which had no shower when he first got the apartment.
In Blankita’s old room, the years crowd together as her childhood toys mingle with those of her daughters’, who often sleep over at their grandparents’ after having lunch together there like every Saturday. The times jostle uncomfortably together only where a poster, incongruous among stuffed animals and dolls, urges, “No more evictions from our neighbourhoods. Tribulete 7 is not for sale!”
The apartment is lived in. It contains the lives of a family and the individual people in it, as surely the other 51 apartments of the building do as well. The cost of abruptly erasing so many home projects, visits, family meals, hobbies and memories cannot be as little as what a property management company is willing to pay, and that is what Blankita, her parents, and the neighbours of Tribulete 7 are fighting for.
“If it’s not them, it will be someone else,” says Blankita. “If they want to sell, they will, but we won’t make it easy for them.”
María José Gayón is an independent journalist based in Madrid. She has an MA in Investigative Journalism and has reported for various magazines and news outlets both in Spain and internationally, including BBC Scotland Radio and Times Radio.