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Housing Activists take over in Spain

Encouraging news for the housing sector?

Barcelona, 27 May 2015 | Social, Economy
Victorious Ada Colau | Picture: Telesur
Victorious Ada Colau | Picture: Telesur

The regional elections in Spain last Sunday made clear that the political balance in the country has changed. Why is Ada Colau’s victory in Barcelona important and what could it mean for one of the most problematic housing markets in the EU?

The Spanish “Indignados” seem to be ready to move from the streets and squares to the rooms of power. The political party that was more the outcome of the movement, Podemos (in English: we can), did extremely well in the regional elections that took place on Sunday, May 24th and most probably its representatives will soon be the ones making the decisions in the two biggest cities.

Ada Colau, the 41 year-old activist who made her name campaigning against home foreclosures, described the result as “A victory for David over Goliath”. The leader of “Barcelona En Comu” will be the mayor of the Catalan capital over the next few days, provided that she manages to forge a coalition among a mixture of small rival parties who could unite to block her. If she makes it, she will be the first female mayor of the city.

More than 176,000 people voted for Colau, convinced by her campaign to make Barcelona “the spearhead of democratic change in Spain and southern Europe”, giving to her party 11 of the 41 seats on the city council.

Born on March 3rd 1974 in Barcelona, Ada Colau says she has committed herself to fight for social change, also because her birthday coincides with the execution of the last prisoner of the Franco dictatorship, of a Catalan activist. She has followed a modest way of living, claiming that she has never earned more than 1,500 Euros/month, while she still lives in rent with her husband and their 4-year old son.

Having risen to prominence as leader of the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), that earned her the European Parliament’s Citizen Prize in 2013, Colau vowed her first measures if elected would be to defend poor families. Authorities seized 95 homes a day in 2014 from inhabitants who defaulted on their mortgage payments, according to official data. Colau proposes to turn empty homes into social housing, set a minimum monthly wage of €600 and make utility companies lower the price of gas, water and electricity.

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If Ada Colau indeed follows her electoral agenda, then Barcelona and Spain in general might be the starting point for a totally different approach in housing policies.

Housing Europe had highlighted in a joint statement with the International Union of Tenants the need for an alternative path in housing related policy making, setting out three basic pillars.

BBC reported that “Barcelona is an incredible story in itself” and if what happened in Madrid is taken into consideration as well, then the full picture of the political change in Spain is shaped. In the capital, the 71-year-old former judge and communist, Manuela Carmena, interrupted her retirement last year when friends asked her to run for mayor of Madrid. Her Podemos-backed coalition Ahora Madrid came a close second but she could now wrestle power from the PP if her party were to form an alliance with the Socialists. “The vote for change has won a majority,” she said.

Is it about time for Spain to follow the lead of the Irish “Mortgage to Rent” scheme and to generate other socially innovative measures? All eyes are on Colau at the moment…

Sources: The Local, The Guardian, BBC 

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