Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Homeless take over abandoned houses in Spanish building site

Around 60 homeless families have taken over an unfinished housing complex in southern Spain. While they have no water or electricity, they at least have a roof over their heads.

Plaza in the town of Bollullos Par del Condado

Spain's past building boom left the country with many empty homes, many of which are unfinished. With the recession and economic crisis in the country, the poorest Spaniards are now moving into these abandoned houses, mostly without any electricity or running water.
A recent example of this can be found on the outskirts of Bollullos Par del Condado, a town between Seville and Huelva in Andalucia, southern Spain. The urbanization is unfinished, but there are 80 elegantly painted, three-bedroom houses just standing empty.
Now several local homeless families are moving in.
53-year-old Juana Alonso is an unemployed care assistant. She explains why she has moved into one of the abandoned homes: 
"I got to the point where I couldn't pay the rent. It was impossible. This place was open, so we came in and here we are."
According to Juana, around 60-70 families have moved into the estate just in the last three weeks. "I'm hoping something will budge and they'll give us light and water and an affordable rent," she said. "That's all we're asking for. We're humans, not dogs." 
Many of the houses have no doors or toilets, but at least all have a roof to shelter the families from the hot sun of early summer. 
 This urbanization is just one of countless construction projects all across Spain, which were abandoned by property developers when the bank loans dried up during the 2008 financial crisis. 
The farming region where the homes are located is suffering from an unemployment rate of almost 37%, which is above the overall Spanish unemployment figure of 27%, so these particular empty homes have drawn the poorest of the poor. 
In April, Andalucia's regional government did pass a measure to temporarily stop evictions from homes belonging to banks or real estate companies and to allow poor families to live in them at a modest rent. This new measure also imposes fines between €1,000 and €9,000 ($1,300 and $12,000) on such banks and real estate firms that hold on to empty homes which are fit and suitable for occupation, in a bid to increase this pool of affordable housing.
However, the measure came too late for Juana and her neighbors and they now hope that the authorities will allow then to stay in the unfinished homes. One of Juana's neighbors, 23-year-old Toni Garcia has occupied a house with her three-month old baby. Toni used to work as a farm laborer in the region's olive groves, but lost her employment. 
She told the media, "We had to come here because we had no other choice." "I don't mind sleeping on a park bench, but I don't want that for my children. I at least want them to have a roof over them."
"We were paying €225 a month, which is the cheapest rent you can find."
"But since I'm not earning and neither is my partner, they were going to throw us out," added Toni. 
"We saw all the doors open here and realized there was no one in the houses. These houses were just going to fall to pieces," she says. "So we moved in." 
Close by, residents can fill buckets from a large plastic barrel of water, to use for washing or making coffee, and food and kitchen supplies have been donated by local charities. 
Another neighbor, Jose Manuel Rodriguez, 34, has occupied a house with his partner and his 11-year-old daughter. Jose used to work in the strawberry fields that cover much of the surrounding Huelva area, but work has dried up.
"We entered here without causing any damage, quite the opposite," he says. "We called the police and the town hall, telling them that we are here. We said all we want is to negotiate a dignified solution, a home - either in this house or another," he adds. "Let the town hall or the regional government, or whoever this place belongs to, get a move on and find a solution to this social problem."
However, the mayor of Bollullos, Francisco Diaz, has indicated that this issue was addressed at the last local Security Board and recalled the "legal limbo" of these homes due to the difficult situation of the construction industry.
Diaz did point out that the council "may do little" about the situation as the complex is privately owned, but that authorities will collect the data of people who are in the houses in order to somehow control the situation. Diaz further deplored "the lack of responsibility" of the United Left party who "encouraged" these people to take this action without taking into account the "complicated situation that leaves the owners in now" since "27 homes were sold and are now taken over". 
According to the regional government, there are as many as 700,000 empty homes in Andalucia and it only makes sense to allow families to move in and have a roof over their heads in these difficult times.

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