Cabildo confronts banks that repossess and evict
Update 20 February: It’s beyond any particular Ayuntamiento now. The Tenerife Cabildo, the island council itself, has requested the Consorcio de Bomberos not to participate in any bank evictions. The fire brigade are often the first called in order to break down doors of those who are resisting being forced out of their homes. Some bomberos on the mainland have already said they will not do so. Now, in Tenerife, they’re under official instructions to refuse to help the banks.
Update 4 February: Members of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) have removed their camp in Santa Cruz since it would be a security risk with the main part of carnaval about to start. They staged a demonstration today through the streets of the city between the two banks involved, carrying a banner saying “when injustice becomes law, rebellion is an obligation”. Protesters said that although the 49-day-old camp has been lifted, they would continue to mobilize protests on a daily basis in front of the banks during their opening times.
Update 6 January 2013: San Miguel Ayuntamiento has now joined the fray, threatening the removal of municipal funds from those banks that evict those in mortgage arrears in San Miguel. The measure, presented by the mayor, was passed unanimously by the council. Mayor Valentín González said that with the explosion of the economic crisis and the increase in unemployment, it was essential to support families devastated by a situation in which they cannot afford even the most basic necessities. He called for the state to change the legal framework regulating the mortgage market to allow people who cannot pay their mortgages through no fault of their own not to be evicted from their homes.
Update 31 December: The Bankia camp has started up again, with the original three tents back. This is in addition to what are now eight tents camped outside BBVA.
Update 30 December: The camp outside BBVA now comprises eight tents, though the Bankia one has disappeared, leaving placards in its place. I don’t know whether the two have merged, but the BBVA camp is now larger than the two previous ones combined. There are increasing stories of Tenerife families closing accounts with these banks. Meanwhile, though not the Canaries, the national press is reporting that locksmiths in Pamplona have agreed in their entirety to refuse to change locks on repossessed properties. This is a story that is going to grow and grow in 2013, in my opinion.
Update 22 December: Here are a couple of photos of these protest camps in Santa Cruz. The first is the camp outside BBVA in C/. de la Marina, and the other is of the camp outside Bankia in C/. de Valentin Sanz, the same branch that Mayor Bermúdez took on before. This is home for Christmas for these protesters, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the camps grow over the next few weeks. I hope they get the support, and the result, they so want, and so deserve.
Update 20 December: The banks are still at it … and so is Mayor Bermúdez, who is now threatening BBVA that Santa Cruz Ayuntamiento will close the municipality’s official accounts with the bank unless it stops eight threatened evictions. The mayor, and finance councillor, Alberto Bernabé, have also demanded explanations from the bank as to why it has not complied with agreements adopted in November to resolve another three such cases of mortgage defaults due to unemployment.
The mayor’s action comes as yet again tents have been pitched outside both Bankia and BBVA in the capital, with the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca de Tenerife accusing the banks of deception in the case particularly of two of those affected who are trying to negotiate their way out of their situation. The action group say they won’t be moving their camp even if it means seeing in the new year on the street. Meanwhile, only one bank has joined the mayor’s Mortgage Mediation Service, but that is, at least, one bank more than none! The bank is Cajasiete Caja Rural.
Update 28 November: Mayor Bermúdez is keeping the pressure on the banks and wants to force them to accept the Ayuntamiento’s new Mortgage Mediation Service which will come into force on 15 December. Not only that, but he will require the banks to pay half of the costs incurred by the lawyer provided by the council to those in mortgage difficulties, on the grounds that mediation brings benefits both to householder and bank alike. Since the Ayuntamiento itself will pay the other half of the legal fee for those who cannot afford it, the mediation will therefore not cost many affected individuals anything. The mayor said that it gave the banks an opportunity to recover some of the reputation they had lost. I like this guy!
The agreement between council and College of Abogados was signed yesterday by Mayor Bermúdez and the Dean of the College of Abogados, Víctor Medina. From 15 December, a telephone number will be available for those in difficulties with mortgages; the Ayuntamiento will then contact the College of Abogados to assign a lawyer to their case. The public will also be able to go direct to the Viviendas Municipales offices without calling first.
Update 15 November: Madrid has approved a Decree-Law to protect mortgage debtors which will see a “social housing fund” created to help people who have lost their home acquire a rental property. The new law also legislates for the stoppage of evictions for two years for those with income less than three times the minimum wage index (this is some €1,600 per month, an annual income of €19,00), and who have large families or children under three years of age, or disabled or dependent members, or who are unemployed.
Deputy PM Soraya Saénz de Santamaría said that the social rentals will have low prices, and explained that the Government will undertake widespread dialogue during the legislative process for the new decree. Economy minister Luis de Guindos said that the properties for social rentals will come from those repossessed by the banks. One can’t help but wonder why those in mortgage arrears can’t therefore stay in their own properties and pay rent to the banks instead of going through the repossession process in the first place! At least, however, people in such straits will now be guaranteed a roof over their head.
Update14 November: The Government and the opposition PSOE have reached agreement tonight on the income level that will be the maximum to avoid evictions. Both sides are still to discuss further measures, and the final threshold is still to be determined, but it seems that it will be around €19,000, roughly 3 times the minimum wage index. The government wants the measure to be applied to the most vulnerable, including the elderly, disabled or families with dependent children. The Cabinet is expected to approve a decree on evictions this Thursday.
Update 12 November: Spanish banks say they are prepared to suspend evictions for two years in what they call extreme cases. The announcement comes in the wake of widespread protests and two suicides on the mainland, as well as the hunger strikers in Santa Cruz. An incredible 350,000 or so homes have been repossessed and families evicted in the last four years since the property bubble burst in Spain. The banks proposal will be answered very soon by the Government, which is meeting this afternoon and evening with the opposition socialist party to try to find a solution to an increasingly tragic problem.
Update 9 November: Bankia has stopped three planned evictions in Tenerife, one of them the property of Carmen Omaña, the first of the hunger strikers in Santa Cruz. The spokesperson of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca de Tenerife announced the decision after a meeting between bank representatives and the man who is going to be heroized after this, Santa Cruz mayor, José Manuel Bermúdez. Sr Bermúdez yesterday pulled 1.5 million Euros out of the Ayuntamiento’s accounts with Bankia and cut off all dealing with the bank on the part of the municipality.
Sra Omaña has said that she will accept the offer of moving to social housing with a flexible rent where her income, or lack of it, will be taken into account for rent assessment purposes. She expressed deep gratitude for the support she has received from the public. The bank tried to cover its back by insisting that these negotiations were not a platform for other cases, but specific to the people affected, but I don’t think that anyone will believe that has any force at all. The bank has had to climb down, and it is thanks to the courage of Carmen Omaña, the other hunger strikers, and the mayor of Santa Cruz himself.
Update 8 November: Bermúdez means business! 1.5 million Euros has been withdrawn from the bank today by the Ayuntamiento, the total balance in its current accounts with Bankia. The Council said that 90% of its banking is done with BBVA, Caixabank and Santander, but Bankia has lost what business it did have with the local authority. There are now seven people on hunger strike camped outside the bank, one of them left-wing Santa Cruz councillor José Manuel Corrales. This is a movement that seems to be growing.
Update 7 November: Three other people have joined Carmen Omaña in her hunger strike while camping outside the bank. They are the spokesperson for the Plataforma de Afectados por las Hipotecas de Tenerife, Inma Évora, and two other members of the group, Zebenzui Pérez y Alejandro Remiro, both immersed over the past year in repossession and eviction procedures.
Original post 6 November: Santa Cruz Ayuntamiento has become the first in Spain to sign an anti-eviction protocol, a document that the mayor, José Manuel Bermúdez, introduced by saying that reprisals will be taken against banks which fail to answer the Ayuntamiento on the matter of social housing for those who have their property repossessed and who are now being evicted. The mayor said that the municipality will not work with any bank that does not even dignify the Ayuntamiento with the courtesy of a reply on a matter as delicate as this, and that the Ayuntamiento will not put with a single further case of such injustice.
Bankia is the first bank to fall foul of this new protocol as a result of its decision to evict Carmen Omaña, a single mother without work and whose unemployment benefit has expired. Instead of dealing with the municipality to solve the problem of a home for her and children, the bank ignored the Ayuntamiento’s communications, going to Court for a fifth time to evict the woman from her property in Los Gladiolos in the capital. She has now been dispossessed of her home and has gone on hunger strike, setting up a tent outside the Bankia branch in Santa Cruz. All she is asking for is that Bankia should write off her debt: she is in negative equity and the bank has already taken her property back.
Mayor Bermúdez said that it was unacceptable that the banks should ignore local authorities when they have been rescued with public money, and that the Ayuntamiento was working at an agreement with the Colegio de Abogados which would advise people affected with negotiations with banks to achieve agreement for a dación en pago, or application for social rentals, or mortgage payment holidays for those on low incomes. There will be many more cases like that of Carmen Omaña, Santa Cruz municipality itself is facing some 5,000 cases, and it is, to me, outrageous that the Spanish Government can turn the clock back on women’s rights by altering abortion legislation while arguing that they cannot overturn this draconian legislation on the grounds that …. they cannot alter legislation …