PAH or ‘The Platform of Those Affected by the Mortgage’ is a partnership and social movement advocating the right to decent housing. It was formed in February 2009, first in Barcelona and thereafter in the whole of Spain. The movement arose in response to the Spanish real estate crisis (2008-2013) that was triggered by the housing bubble and subsequent protests in Spain (2011-2012). PAH brings together people with great difficulties to pay off their mortgage: “Before the Platform’s observation that the current legal framework was designed solely to ensure that the banks could charge outstanding debts, the mortgaged people, who for reasons such as unemployment and the rise of quotas could not cope with the debs, were left legally unprotected.”
PAH is a horizontally structured, non-partisan and non-violent movement. It organises meetings to discuss the cases of those affected by the mortgage, provides practical and emotional support as well as legal assistance. When we contacted the platform for an interview appointment with the people in charge of PAH Santander, we got a very clear response: “We are all responsible and in charge. You can come to our weekly meeting on Tuesday evening.” Thus, we travelled to a suburb of Santander in the Spanish region Cantabria, where about 25 PAH people were gathering in a small room.
Several experts in the field of housing problems are active in PAH, yet most of the members are experience experts and have worked on specific cases of housing problems. “The goal of these meetings is to talk about problems some people might have, and try to solve them. We are a local group, led by a regional coordinator. So we are a part of a greater whole,” the chairwoman of PAH Santander says. As she starts to list the agenda items of the meeting, a newcomer immediately interrupts the meeting and fires off a series of questions and comments. “I have been renting a house for one year now, but it’s a slum. We live with six people in two rooms and a small shop. The owner asks 300 euro a month. I cannot take it anymore and that is why I am here. I am here to inform myself about what I should do. The owner owns many, many homes in Santander. Some are empty, others he rents out. The Red Cross and the parish house want to pay the rent for a month. But do I have to pay rent for a shack?”
People patiently listen to each other and exchange experiences and tips. Experts and former victims answer several individual questions. For complicated questions, such as questions about mortgages with clauses that protect the banks instead of the client, one is redirected towards a lawyer within the organisation. The members are reminded of the importance of documenting their abominable living situation with images. We notice how this meeting serves as an interactive course in collective self-organisation. “What is your complaint? Utilities consumption? What we can do is go to the bank and re-mortgage. We’re accompanying you to the bank. Would you like to give us the clause? Is this your first time here? Give us a copy of the contract. And utilities consumption? Give us a copy of the mortgage contract. Do you have any questions or uncertainties?”
A global action plan for the improvement of the living conditions transcends individual cases. PAH works with and sometimes against local and supralocal authorities. They also have a clear-cut strategy to deal with the banks: the banks cannot drop a claim of PAH as easily as when it comes from one private citizen. The power of the collective. “We can contact the municipality and the owner. The heart of the problem are the bad living conditions. Shall we make an appointment to go to the City Council?”
In addition to legal interventions, the fight on the streets is fundamental for PAH. They often organise protests on the stairs of the banks or the City Hall to condemn the financial stranglehold of the banks. “We’ve sometimes occupied banks and town halls, we’ll do anything to offer solutions for better and fairer housing. We are there to sing and we’re non-violent. We then ask for the bank manager. We tell him about the personal problems of the people and their payments. We continue to make noise until we have a solution,” says Antonio.
A recent victory of PAH was the reason for a party. PAH had just signed an agreement with the Government of Cantabria on the regulation against evictions. Years of campaigning by the platform led to this result. Antonia proudly shows us the contract and thundering roar of applause follows. “Muy bien trabajo chicos!!!”
Interview and Photos by Victoria Deluxe
Interview and photos by Victoria Deluxe