Claiming property as use: House okupations in Madrid

The occupation of empty, bank owned houses in spain, under the name of Obra Social, appeared in the wake of the creation 15M neighbourhood assemblies and parallel movements that came together initially to address the mass evictions in the country, resulting from the economic crisis. At first limited to blocking evictions, the movements then embraced the need for a more robust challenge, in the form of occupations. In this way, not only is an immediate social emergency addressed, but networks of autonomous and self-managed mutual aid are created, prefiguring alternatives to authoritarian relations of power, and thus, in turn, putting into question more fundamental elements of State-Capital. If the occupations have often then sought legal recognition from public and private authorities, thus perhaps limiting their radical potential, this should be seen in light of the serious needs that they respond to and such recognition does not exclude the creation of political possibilities that go beyond such limits.

What follows is a partial translation of the occupation movement in Madrid (Periódico Diagonal 03/10/2014)

On the morning of the 3rd of October, a group of some fifty people gathered in front of a building of residential apartments, until then empty, located in the neighbourhood of Carabanchel. Number 7 of Julio Llompard Street opened to receive its first neighbours: six families who, for various reasons, lacked a dignified home. So was born Cadete7 which today celebrates its first anniversary.

The process of recuperation of the building was planned by the Asamblea de Vivienda de Carabanchel and of Lavapiés and inspired by the Obra Social campaign of the PAH at the national level: the recuperation of housing blocks for families that have been evicted, turned out or who don’t have the possibility of acquiring a dignified home. Cadete was the staring signal of the Obra Social de Madrid which, today, holds a total of eight liberated buildings in the region: three in the centre, three in Vallecas and one in Móstoles. It is estimated that more than two hundred people have been housed in Madrid, thanks to the initiative of the neighbourhood housing assemblies and to a few PAHs integrated in the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid, which is the coordinating body of this campaign. At the national level, more than twenty buildings have been liberated under the umbrella of the Obra Social, which translates into approximately 1200 persons re-housed in empty apartment blocks and apartments, properties of banks.

This cycle of occupations, fruit of the labour of neighbourhood populations and of those directly concerned, make manifest the strength of the new popular “institutions”. In the words of Júlia, participant in the Asamblea de Vivienda Centro, “this process demonstrates that a strong social movement, structured, coordinated at the national level, with a politics of local dimensions and using direct action can exercise sufficient to be able to contest large banking institutions and modify their policies”. Furthermore, the Obra Social campaign does not have as its sole objective the immediate re-housing of families, but also to foster the cohesion of a group and the implication of those directly concerned with the resolution of their more daily problems. “To be able to bring together a concrete problem of a housing emergency with other problems related to housing, greatly enriches the occupiers of the different housing blocks who understand that the solution does not lie with getting a momentary roof, but in the collective organisation to eradicate the problem in a global manner”, says Júlia.

To find oneself suddenly without a roof beneath which shelter can be found radically changes the way that one sees the world. “When you find yourself without a home, you feel like a failure. For me it meant a family rupture and I felt very demoralised until I began to join with others also affected and I realised that I was not the only one”, tells us one of the inhabitants of the liberated building Cadete7. “But it also supposed beginning to give less importance to what is material. The whole process of occupation and the work with the neighbourhood assemblies made me develop a more critical and clearer thought; a whole process of political learning”.

After a year of progress, the Obra Social de Madrid renders evident the serious housing difficulties that the region suffers, but also the existence of popular initiatives that seek to resolve them. In the words of one resident of Cadete7, “social problems concern us all, whether we are affected or not, and we are all responsible for the solution”.

Images of occupations, Madrid …

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