Portrait of an elderly couple facing eviction at sunrise

Author: Leah Pattem

Jose (or Pepe, as he’s affectionately known), 78, tells me about when he met María, 82.

I used to work in a bar and that’s where I met María. She’d come in to see me and we chatted for a few months. Fifty-five years later, here we are, being evicted from the house we’ve called home ever since we got married.

Pepe and María are modern Madrid.

He’s from Extremadura and she’s from Andalucía. Not only did they both arrive during the migration boom that saw their barrio of Carabanchel expand into the blocks adorned with green awnings we see today, but they were also part of the generation that created the architecture, culture and character of Madrid that I know and love.

Something else that defines modern Madrid is evictions – a side of this city that they never expected to be a part of. Every day, hundreds of people of all ages, nationalities and abilities across the city are evicted and, tomorrow morning at 7.30am, it’s Pepe and María’s turn.

“I can’t eat,” says María. “Just a coffee and an apple – that’s all I can manage at the moment.” But María is strong; she walks me through her house, showing me every detail that catches her attention. “Here’s my wardrobe. It’s beautiful isn’t it? It doesn’t have many clothes in it – just what we need at the moment.”

Their small, two-bedroom flat on Via Carpetana 109 is almost empty. They’ve moved most of their furniture, clothes and belongings into storage, and all that remains are two chairs, the TV, a gas heater, their bed and some kitchen things, as well as two pairs of shoes each and one pair of slippers each.

A few other belongings remain to make the place still feel like a home: a cuckoo clock, fridge magnets and a lone Christmas decoration, but all of their paintings and photos are gone, with just hooks remaining.

Pepe and María signed a rental contract in 1968 but, when the owner of the flat passed away, the oldest of his heirs sued the couple for non-payments to the community, which they’re unable to afford. This eviction occurs without a housing alternative, and the couple will spend tomorrow night at their son’s flat. From thereon, they don’t know where they’ll go.

Their offence: being unable to pay a bill. Their punishment – by law: homelessness.

  • Just 2.5% of homes in Spain are social housing.
  • 30% of all empty housing in Europe is in Spain – around 3.5 million homes.
  • In Madrid, 280,000 homes lie empty.
  • The PP have sold 4,800 council homes to vulture funds.
  • Since 2008, over 2.5 million people have been evicted from their homes across Spain.

“This wasn’t what we were expecting”, explains Pepe, who hoped to spend the rest of their lives in their home of over half a century. “We like walking, although María can’t walk so far these days. We just want to stay here.”

The Abueles of Karabanchel

Here’s a behind-the-scenes moment at the casa of Pepe y María this morning. We’d just about wrapped up the interview and photography when Pepe comes out with one of the few objects remaining in their home: a box of cherry liquor chocolates.

I just want to say thank you to all of you for coming today and for telling our story. Really, thank you.

Their eviction has been supported by the Union of tenants in Carabanchel. They have supported Pepe and María every step of their journey and even taught this elderly couple to be part of the newest generation of housing activists. Tomorrow’s sunrise will be one of the saddest, stressful and most traumatic moments of their lives, but also one of the most defiant. They have chosen to stay and fight, to go through being physically pulled out of their home by police, and to be in the press and known by thousands of us.


Photo by Alberto Astudillo
Photo by Alberto Astudillo
Photo by Alberto Astudillo
Photo by Alberto Astudillo


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