I’d heard on the radio that there was going to be an eviction at 11 am, just a five-minute walk from where I live. I turned on TeleMadrid and their cameras were already there. I put on my coat, grabbed my camera and said to my other half, “look out for me on the TV”.
Rosa, who’d been living in her three-bedroom flat on Calle Argumosa for more than 20 years, was the latest victim of property speculation. Her building had recently been bought up by investors demanding an increase in rent from €400 per month to €1,700 – a distorted hike with one objective: eviction.
I can’t pay it, so where do I go?
Lavapiés, the neighbourhood that both Rosa and I live in, has always been – and still is – a working-class barrio. Most residential buildings here were quickly erected centuries ago to house a flood of economic migrants from elsewhere in Spain but, today, these buildings host some of the smallest flats in the country.
In recent decades, Lavapiés has also become home to migrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Walk through the narrow, sloping streets of Lavapiés and see spice shops and Latin diners oscillating between old traditional Spanish shops – it’s a beautiful neighbourhood, if you ignore the crime, filth and inequality.
I squeezed through the TV cameras filming Rosa, who’d come to join the 100-strong protest outside her flat, and found Carlos, a core member of this tactical operation. He explained to me that he believes, for being an EU country, Spain is quite unique in its cruelty, evicting families with young children.
There appear to be no laws in Spain that protect tenants from investors buying up their rented property and throwing them out. These evictions – one occurs every eight minutes – are even more disturbing when you realise that around 3.5 million properties currently sit empty across Spain.
I spoke to several others in the crowd; they were all victims of evictions. Their trauma and misery had quickly turned to anger, which led them to join Stop Desahucios, where Carlos and his warriors convert rage into activism.
Stood outside the evictee’s home in their well-known red and green vests, the activists chant, scream and envelop the building in spray-painted bed sheets. They make the whole city aware of what the landlord is doing, which is humiliating and bad for business.
Stop Desahucios activists pull back tenants from the edge of losing everything. Their success further empowers them all and, in the process, they gain a new warrior.
Chanting suddenly turned to cheering and Rosa was absorbed into a crowd of hugs.
We’ve won! The landlords negotiated with Rosa and she’s been given one more month to stay. So, we’ll be back here again in a month.
In this building alone, Rosa is the tenth eviction that Stop Desahucios have either stopped or delayed, with a further two prevented in the last week, making Calle Argumosa 11 an iconic example of what this unstoppable force of people can achieve.
BE A WARRIOR
If your contract expires, your landlord wants to increase your rent and you accept their increase, you’ve become part of the problem. Negotiate hard. This comes with undeniable risk: if you lose, you’re out and someone else will turn up willing to pay the price you walked away from, so stop them: negotiate to stay for what you believe is a fair price.
If you anticipate eviction for any reason (speculation, job loss, personal crisis, rent increase), get in touch with Stop Desahucios. By fighting your battle, we come one step closer to winning the war.
Update: Fight lost on 22/02/19
Rosa and almost all of her neighbours were evicted from their flats on Calle Argumosa 11 on the afternoon of Friday 22 February.
Around 300 protesters were present, including me, but also between 50 and 70 national Spanish police were there to support the landlords, who had been granted permission by the court to use police force to eject all remaining occupants, at full cost to the Spanish tax payer.
The police had been in position since the night before to keep the crowd of protesters away from the building. It was to be one of the highest-profile evictions in the country since the 2008 financial crisis, and the police and the press knew it.
For most of the morning, the crowd on the street was eerily silent. A further dozen protesters were positioned inside the entrance of the building, sitting tight, using their own bodies to block police entry.
At around midday, the police stormed the building, smashing the glass in the door, seizing some of the protesters and pulling them out. Seven people were arrested.
The investors got in and tore down the hand-painted banners hanging from the balconies. The crowd reacted by screaming “¡fuera!” (get out!) including Podemos politician Alberto Rodriguez (pictured below), who was stood next to me, tall above the crowd.
Rosa was dragged out, along with her neighbours – one of whom had a one-month-old baby. Their belongings were thrown into the staircase of their building: clothes, furniture, fridges, washing machines and all. Two decades of life at Calle Argumosa 11 was torn up in front of the nation.
This was one of the most reported evictions in the last 10 years and even Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted about #Argumosa11 – be it too little too late.
Rosa had been fighting for her own home, but she also became an icon of Spain’s anti-eviction movement. She’s talked to press, remained organised and has dealt with extreme levels of stress. But, when her grieving for her home and her life alleviates a little, she’ll be back on the streets with Stop Desahucios and her fellow evictees, fighting to ensure that she never witnesses the same tragedy again.
Rosa is now living in Barrio Pilar, 20 km from Lavapiés in a three-bedroom flat with five other members of her family.
I will do everything I can to return to Lavapiés. This is where I was born, where I grew up. This is my home, my barrio.
- Follow PAH (Plataformas de Afectados por la Hipoteca) on Facebook and Twitter for all upcoming eviction notices and blockades.
- Stop Desahucios are Spain-wide. Find your city’s organisation here.
- For Madrid, find your neighbourhood group here and get involved by attending one of their upcoming events listed in the calendar.
See you there.