Letter of actions against real-estate and urban violence
Dreaming on a well-conditioned apartment has become a nightmare for many people in Barcelona. According to official data, from the end of 1997 to the present, the prices of the apartments have raised more than 150%, while the net earnings in those sectors with agreed salaries, have increased only 34%. The average debt of families rose from 45% in 1990 to more than 60% in 2004. The average rents in the metropolitan area rose from 355 euros in 1999 to 617 euros in 2004.
The conversion of housing into simple commerce and target of speculation has created a vicious circle of pressures and fears that makes life conditions worse for many people. There are more and more people that are obliged to leave the city and settle 50km. far from it because they can’t find an accessible apartment. And there are more people obliged to work long and exhausting hours in precarious jobs in order to pay their mortgage or rent. Even though, for most of them is not enough: only in 2002 there were 3.675 evictions in Barcelona.
As we were going deeper into the problem of mobbing, we could see the magnitude of impunity in this real-estate and urban jungle. All this managed by the power of money and which existence is due to the inhibition and promotion of the public administrations. We realized that there is a common practice which consists in scaring and harassing low social classes: housing price increment, precarious contracts and abusive rents, expulsion of poor neighbors, privatization and commercialization of public spaces, destruction of social nets.
Discussion of experiences and strategies. Ways of intervention of real-estate violence and possible campaigns and actions.
The idea of elaborating a Charter of actions against real-estate and urban violence started to emerged in Barcelona at the end of 2004 around those groups that fight against real-estate speculation, the neighborhood’s destruction under urban reforms as well as real-estate mobbing phenomenon (1) that had extended like a plague over the fashion, beautiful and civic Barcelona.
From different implicated groups in territorial fights, emerged the necessity of making the struggle against speculation a political issue and do it from a common process that allowed abstracting from every specific struggle the general political conditions. And, on the contrary, the necessity of materializing small specific fights that proliferate around the territory in a more abstract demanding frame.
From the discussion initiated by the Plataforma Veïnal Contra l’Especulació (2) in Barcelona about the model of city we suffer and the one we want, a dossier was written related to the problem. It was the first proposition of the Charter, and the first Activity against real-estate and urban violence was convoked. Many people attended the activity: mobbing affected, neighbor unions, architects, urban designers, lawyers and squatters.
In the last years the limits of a reactive defense had been stated when referring real-estate cases and urban plans. Getting into juridical labyrinths, although necessary and imperative in order to follow a real-estate or urban violence process day by day, it normally means a few results, to fall into debt after paying the lawyers and a personal damage as people have to face an economical power sheltered by an Administration that has more time and resources. On the other hand, the means of communications work, done from specific cases, reduced to an anecdotic level or a chance event, ways of violence that come from a general frame of housing and urban spaces commercialization. Finally, the rhythm of ups and downs in each conflict (many times with unfortunate endings) gave us the idea of starting from zero. A process of consulting, debate and propositions was required.
The process of consults and debate realized during the next months led to the Charter of actions’ version that we summarize at the end of this text. This Charter contains, firstly, a criticism to real-estate and urban violence together with a bunch of demands addressed to the Administration. Collective and individual demands have been attached to the Charter. This model, used in many occasions, has some peculiarities though. In the first place, the document has been written from a collective process dilated for a long time in order to try to listen to all the implicated voices but, at the same time, paying attention to a list of occasional and concrete demands. In the second place, the Charter goes beyond the reformation or the possible things, from demands that would stop real-estate speculation. On the other side, these demands are “possible” and enumerated.
Finally, it is a Charter for action; its commitment consists in implement the right of a house and the city from civil disobedience and, therefore, it constitutes a threat from collective practices while the demands are not accepted.
The Charter’s claims are divided in two main blocks; the first one demands three possible legal actions, but they are completely opposite to the dominant speculative capitalism supported by the Estate. The applications of these actions would stop real-estate speculation because it would take out housing and territorial management from the commercialization circuit. This would create a legal frame where the housing and city rights would be universal. All this, would help to make effective other universal rights such as the right of free development of the personality, of mental and physical integrity, of health and so on.
Proposals for a global action
The process of consults and debates about the Charter included some adhesions to it. Once the writing process concluded, the adhesions campaign was intensified including the diffusion of the Charter to different means of social communications, in Barcelona as well as in the rest of Catalonia.
Although this Charter was written in Barcelona, its contents can be perfectly extensive to the rest of the country. In the case of the first block of actions, this extension is essential so the actions are not reduced in what could have been but it is not. In this context two points are remarked: 1) real-estate and urban violence will continue increasing and widely spreading all over Spain; 2) the partial actions anticipated by the public Administration will not introduce any essential change in the situation.
In this way it may be worth to search ways of coordination in order to reinforce the already existing local fights and to allow, at the same time, to put a finger on the sore spot so the scandalous issue exposed in this Charter gets the public opinion. In this direction, the activities constitute a constant platform of debate that is constituted according to the necessities of each neighborhood.
Letter of actions against real-estate and urban violence
The Charter demands to the Government Parties to stop harming the Spanish Constitution precepts. And also demands that they accomplish the commitments acquired when signing international treaties that protect the right to the city. For this, the following actions are proposed:
1.Limitation of the price of rents and the price of apartments, so we do not have to pay more than 30% of our income for the rent or mortgage. In those cases which people do not earn more than 1.283 euros per month (2.5 times the minimum wage), the price of the rent or mortgage will not have to exceed the 20% of the income.
2.Moratorium of PERIs[>3] and urban reforms, until a social and environmental impact study is realized in each action and until ways to guarantee the real participation of neighbors in any decision that affects their vital environment are elaborated.
3.Urban Rents Law (LAU) Reform. Specifically, revocation of art.9th of Decree Boyer that establishes the elimination of the unavoidable extension, as well as section 1 art.9th of LAU 1994 that establishes the contracts of rent in maximum use of 5 years. And the beginning of a wide process of debate and consults that will have to lead to the elaboration of a new LAU and will have to make effective and guaranteed the housing right.
Actions that make the Register of Deeds transparent; for example, the obligation to inform to all the implicated people about the selling of a property or an apartment. And the publication of the buying-selling operations realized in a specific register every month or trimester (and divided into properties).
The condition to the concession of subsidies to rehabilitate buildings. A moratorium of five years in the price of rents and an exact adjustment of the IPC once the term has finished.
The penalization for empty, without use or abandoned real estates (through the increment of IBI (4), menace of expropriation or forced cession).
To abolish the penalty on the occupation of abandoned apartments, abolition of fines, of prison and of sentences legally accepted nowadays.
The revocation of those documents that belong to a real estate after five years of abandon.
To avoid selling the public land.
To list every mobbing practice as an injury to the housing right and to apply its correspondent sanction.
The intervention of the municipal and regional institutions in those cases of harassment denounced by the neighbors. This is a dissuasive action to balance the unpunished way enterprises and individuals from this sector act.
Because of the extreme seriousness of the situation and while the actions demanded by this document are not applied, the signers of this document call everybody to start civil actions of disobedience to show the instability of the present model, and to generate nets of defense, fight and resistance against real-estate and urban violence.
Behind the glamorous and the fashionable Barcelona, we find the proliferation of real-estate and urban violence. This kind of violence provoked by the “free market” and controlled by the Administration through its urban transformation plans, has led to a devastation of the urban net that produces displacements, evictions and the kidnapping of public spaces.
In this context of urban and real-estate violence, the means of communications and social actions are not enough: the idea is to transform the habitat issue into a political and social conflict that impulses a deep debate about how to face the fight related to territory and municipality. From the collective arguments of groups of neighbors, a fighting platform is constituted in order to fight against real-estate violence by realizing occasional activities. Nevertheless, these activities transcend the specific and become a lab of ideas and propositions of actions.