Friday, August 2, 2013

The Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)

The PAH has been one of the strongest social movements in Spain since 2011, fighting for fair access to housing and social rents through a politics of networked mutual aid and campaigning. 

This entry focuses on the specific campaigns and organizational ways in which the PAH works, and briefly outlines the complex entwinings of different levels of crisis (housing, financial, sovereign debt, ...) in Spain as well as the legal situation surrounding mortgages (which involves host of old and new laws and many ongoing levels of contestation and reform). For now a summary description of the PAH from 15MPedia:

The Platform of People affected by mortgages / the subprime mortgage crisis, or PAH, is a social movement and platform struggling for decent housing, which emerged in Barcelona in February 2009 and now extends across the Spanish territory. It surged in response to the real estate crisis of 2008 that triggered the bursting of the Spanish housing bubble and became a strong part of the movements that later emerged in response to the sovereign debt crisis and austerity politics. It's part of the 15M movement, which kicked off in 2011.
The PAH brings together people who find it difficult to pay back their mortgages or find themselves in a process of eviction due to unpaid mortgages, and people in solidarity with this problem. It defines itself as 'a group of people who, unaffiliated with any party, recognizes that […] the current legal framework is designed to guarantee that banks cash in on debt, while at the same time the law gives no protection to the people with mortgages who are unable to cover their payments due to reasons such as unemployment or rising fees/interests'. It's a horizontal, non-violent and assembly-based movement unaffiliated with political parties.The PAH meets in assemblies that go through the different cases of people affected by the mortgage crisis and laws, to offer advice and mutual aid in order to give both practical and emotional support.In January 2013, the PAH was awarded the national prize for human rights. [i]

We are very interested in the organizational and everyday dimensions of the PAH, not just because struggling around housing is to struggle around a key dimension of social reproduction, but also because this is a movement that brings together collective care and popular support in a political practice that is both situated and widely networked.


Economic-political context
Spain has had a growing housing bubble since the 90s.

The housing bubble can be clearly divided in three periods: 1985-1991, in which the price nearly tripled, 1992-1996, in which the price remained somewhat stable, and 1996-2008, in which prices grew astonishingly again. Coinciding with the late 2000s financial crisis, prices began to fall.’[ii]

Nominal average prices of new housing in Spain (Euros/m2) Source:

It’s not least due to this establishing of this culture and market of homeownership that Spain has very little public housing. Instead of investing in public housing, the various social democrat (Aznar, 1996-2004) and conservative (Zapatero, 2004-2011) governments (variously entangled with real estate markets, with several corruption cases identified) have chosen to push for people buying private homes. This has lead to a construction boom since the 2000s.

All along, banks have given away cheap mortgages, and people have been encouraged to buy houses rather than rent them: the argument being that with increasing demand, prices will fall. However since the late 90s, prices increased, putting many people into trouble with paying back their mortgages. Since 1999, rents have gone up by 180%, making many people turn to buying a house via a mortgage. 80% of the population in Spain owns a house by now[iii]. Throughout the 20th century, along with urbanization, there has been an increase in home ownership – the flows and reasons for which are too complicated to lay out here[iv] - and since the 60s and 70s particularly, people have been encouraged to buy housing (via mortgage schemes, tax benefits etc).

Then in 2008 came the mortgage crisis in the US, which impacted on the Spanish market too, as well as the global financial crisis. With unemployment rising steeply in the context of the multiple crisis that started in 2008 many people can not afford to repay their mortgages and are thus at risk of eviction. Along with the financial crisis, which made banks reluctant to issue cheap and insecure loans, this made the speculative bubble stop and burst. Unemployment is now at 26,9% (May 2013 – for the first time, this slightly exceeds the Greek figures of the same time) and at 57,3% for young people (below 25 years of age).

Legal context and social consequences

The Spanish law has it that when a borrower can’t pay their mortgage, they must not only give up their home and return it to the lender, or to accept the loss of all the money they had already paid into the mortgage, but they will also be expected to repay the rest of the full loan to the borrower, being liable internationally to give any of their assets up for this repayment.

There have been about 400.000 new mortgage foreclosures since 2008, about half of which ended up in evictions[v]. Thousands of people are left paying loans of property they no longer own. A homelessness crisis has ensued with this dizzying pace of evictions, and there is no adequate sheltering system for the thousands who find themselves in the street[vi]. Some 23.000 people are using homeless’ services as of 2013, which is only a small proportion of those without a home however[vii].

Between 2008 and 2013, over 20 eviction-related suicides have been made public in the press.[xvii] The PAH's aims also include the creation of community support to avoid suicides.


This is why one of the core demands of the PAH has concerned the reform of the laws around mortgages, demanding for a ‘dacion en pago’[viii], a way of returning ones mortgaged property instead of having to keep paying the loan. In the concrete case of thousands of Spaniards who took a mortgage from a bank, this means handing the keys of their property over in order to be cleared of their remaining mortgage payments – escaping the endless spiral of debt that comes with being evicted whilst having to keep paying the bank. Alongside their community work and re-housing people, the PAH has helped hundreds of people win the dacion en pago, but it is ultimately in the hands of lenders (so in most cases, banks) to grant this procedure or not: the PAH demands the granting of the dacion en pago to all, including the retroactive application of the dacion en pago to those evicted.
From 2010 to 2012, together with a series of social and labour organizations, they ran various national and local efforts to change legislation and policy. The PAH demands the retroactive granting of the dacion en pago (letting people off the hook of having to keep repaying banks long after they left their house) along with a moratorium on evictions, the stopping of evictions and the encouragement of social rent. In 2010, a proposal for amendment to the law was taken to congress but rejected by the two main parties, PP and PSOE. In 2012, the PAH set out to gather half a million signatures across the Spanish state in order to formally constitute a Popular Legislative Initiative[ix] to force government, senate and congress to deal with the proposal. The PAH managed to gather 1.402.854 signatures[x], three times as much as required, and the case was presented to the Congress early on in 2013.

Video [es]: PAH hands 1.402.854 signatures to Congress, January 2013 

As Ada Colau, one of the key spokespersons of the PAH affirms in the midst of their campaign in 2012[xi], the PAH has tried everything - from protest to presenting motions at local councils, to individual legal appeals and proposals to congress, testing all means available to them as citizens in order to change an unjust situation. The new legislative initiative was an attempt to resort to the final and highest means of citizen demand, forcing those in power to take the issue seriously. As signatures were gathered, opinion polls indicated that some 90% of Spaniards are in favour of the PAH’s proposal to change the law[xii]. Many lawyers are supporting the cause.

Video [es]: Ada Colau speaks in the Deputies Congress, Madrid, February 2013
Once it came to voting on its proposals, in May 2013, the conservative party in power in Spain, the Partido Popular, rejected all of the Ppoular Initiative’s demands while it made it’s ‘law to protect people with mortgages’, which ignores all the PAH’s central claims: stopping all evictions now, social rent, and the Dacion en pago[xiii]. Speaking of a surpression of democracy, the PAH withdrew their Popular Legislative Initiative[xiv]. They affirm the undemocratic nature of the current political system and the corruption of the party in power. Indeed, the situation came to be increasingly visible internationally too as in March 2013, the European Court of Justice ruled that Spanish mortgage law is abusive, based on a Barcelona mortgage-based legal case[xv]. Colau spoke at the European Parliament about the situation[xvi]. While the Partido Popular formally took notice of this ruling and its obligation to include it in their reform, it passed its new law on evictions without taking the PAH’s key points into account – no retroactive mortgage cancellations, no social rent or end to evictions.


STOP DESAHUCIOS is key strand in the PAH's ongoing campaigns. Literally meaning 'stop evictions', this ongoing practice sets out to stop the forceful evictions of persons and families who are unable to repay their mortgages, and who find themselves affected by the heavily biased legal framework (see above). In 2011, a PAH-related web platform emerged from the broader housing movement, centered around an interactive map that records incidents of eviction (via 4 categories: eviction in progress, stopped eviction, evicted family, action). Across different cities and towns, people could register ongoing or past evictions or actions, write reports and updates about them and use the website to link in with social networks in their region, so as to mobilize support for blockading evictions and the likes. The map also functions as an archive, featuring a timeline via which one can browse how many evictions happened between any length of time. It was launched in 2011 and in use until december 2012 - a good example of the variety of initiatives that come to play into this struggle around housing and support the PAH movement. 

This map can be found at The PAH's own 'stop evictions' webpage, still active, similarly functions as a forum where people discuss legal issues, give account of evictions and mutual advice.
Since 2008 in Spain, there have been 400.000 evictions of people/families from their homes, while at the same time there are 3,5 million empty houses[xviii] in this country (2013) due to the real estate bubble that exploded in 2008. In 2012 in Spain, some 115 evictions took place every day[xix].

The PAH, in bringing together people in their neighbourhoods to defend individuals and families from being thrown out of their home, has stopped 725 evictions in total. It serves as a platform for people to gather and physically stop the bailiffs and eviction retinues from getting to the flat in question, as well as obstructing the police's work through passive resistance. It has also helped negotiate hundreds of DACIONES EN PAGO for people affected by the current situation around mortgages.

But through its local nodes and networks, the PAH also offers support and assistance to people who effectively get evicted, helping them find legal support, raising money for legal fees and other needs, building strong neighbourhood solidarity to defend and protect those most vulnerable. This leads into another area of the work of this movement, as described below.


Through its community work (obra social) campaign, launched after the hijacking of their popular legislative initiative in 2013 but well underway for the past years, the PAH focuses on strengthening the social support and survival structures it has put into place and to put pressure on government and banks via very concrete acts of recuperation. The PAH has taken to recuperating empty buildings owned by banks – the very same banks undertaking 115 evictions a day – to house people who have been evicted,  thus opening new spaces in neighbourhoods. As such, the movement has managed to re-house some 634 people so far (July 2013). 

The movement is launching these recuperations as legitimate acts in the face of an injust system, rather than as occupations, and is demanding social rent there. The reclaimed houses are sites of further community work and organizing, key resources for the movement and locality, and a strong and visible campaign targeting those who so far only benefited from the misery they produced: the banks. Reinvigorating empty buildings and neighbourhoods is only one aspect of this work, which has huge potentials for expansion and takes the PAH’s work of mutual support and campaigning one step further. The campaign around the Obra Social de la PAH has produced a civil-disobedience guidebook for reclaiming empty houses from financial entities[xx], encouraging this tactic to be taken up by anyone.


The horizontal, local and networked character of this movement is its strength, linking up struggles and resources pertaining to specific areas whilst encouraging the work to stay local: donations, for instance, are suggested to go to local nodes, and each of these nodes function as autonomous organizational and communicational platforms. There are 170 local PAH nodes across the Spanish state, each of which serves as unique site for support and political-organizational experimentation.

The assemblies work in various ways, some are for legal information, some for organizing, etc – many assemblies now are based around those affected by specific banks (see calendar Madrid). They are indoor and outdoor gatherings of different sizes, at regular intervals, usually once a week in each locality.

As the newspaper El Pais puts it in a blog about micropolitics, trust and social movements: 

Social movements, like the PAH, have based their political commitment in the personal and civic commitment of their activists. This nexus of solidarity-consciousness-politics has been nourished by the real proximity which in each of the more than 600 avoided evictions have come with episodes of profound social sensitivity. This commitment is not ideological, it is based in live and conviviality [vivencial], and this is where one of the keys of the legitimacy and credibility of the representational strategies [of the PAH] lies. It can only represent those that are near, where they need to be and when they need to be there. [...]  
These social movements speak in clear, strong and direct ways. Their language isn't reconciliatory or compliant. Conscious of the moral strength of their arguments - and now also of their legal solidity, via the ruling of the European Court - these movements don't seek to please, nor do they speculate. They speak clearly because they do so in a straightforward and accessible way. The choral narration of many of their campaigns has an impact due to the efficacy of those that speak: those who are themselves affected. They have the capacity to raise emotion and consciousness at the same time, with a clear and direct discourse. This politics of clarity flies in the face of the incomprehensible language of formal politics. [El Pais, 17th March 2013, A. Guiterrez-Rubi, Ocho claves de la confianza politica.]
One may add that at this point in Spain it is not just that the political discourses of the governing parties are imcomprehensible, but also that they are seen as plainly hypocritical, untruthful and corrupt. 'The crisis is a con' was a main slogan of the 15M movement that keeps echoing in Spain, and movements like the PAH address this corruption and con-politics in straightforward ways. Speaking for oneself is a key aspect here, as is speaking together and in strong solidarity: these double articulations of situated and networked politics is evidenced in the various platforms the PAH operates across.

There are hundreds of websites, facebook and twitter accounts, email addresses and phone contacts for local PAHs across Spain. Each has their own design, method and language, linking in with state-wide campaigns but also featuring locally specific ones. Below are some screenshots of the overall list of local PAH nodes, as well as of a few local PAH websites, to just give you an idea of the multiplicity of aesthetics, approaches and situations.


In early 2013, in order to render visible who would vote ‘yes’ and who would vote ‘no’ to their popular legislative amendment in the Congress, the PAH adopted another strategy for calling attention to the injustice done through the system of mortgage law, corrupt financial speculation and popular repression: the model of the ‘escrache’. Escraches are popular gatherings in front of the workplaces or dwellings of specific persons who hold responsibilities for certain actions. It has been much used during and after the dictatorship in Argentina, calling for the persecution of people involved in genocidal policies who still run free. In the case of the PAH, it was in front of the houses of MPs who were not going to vote in favour of the popular amendment that protests took place: gatherings of a dozen to hundred people equipped with the PAH’s logos, chanting the slogan ‘Si se puede’ that has become the movement’s refrain. ‘Yes we can’ refers to the possibility of changing the law, improving the situation of thousands of people, of creating better access to housing and saving the lives of those despairing over their situations of eviction and homelessness.

As the legislative initiative had such widespread support, not even conservative MPs quite dared to speak in favour of the current mortgage system anymore. Finding themselves cornered, they attacked the Escrache campaign as intimidating and terrorist, accusing the PAH movement of violence – a clear signal for the scarcity of arguments available to the Conservative Party at that point, since the Escraches were purely auditory and visual means, based in pointing out culprits through graphic materials or banging pots and pans, never using physical force. The government however prohibited escraches taking place closer than 300m to politicians[xxi], in April 2013, a month of heated contestation.

Video [es]: Escrache a Jorge Moragas, April 2013


For Videos from each of the campaigns, see the PAH’s YouTube Page:

[xi] You can listen to her interview in this radio show, partly translated into English and German, at minute 24 of the show:
[xvi] Ada Colau at the European Parliament

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