The province of Barcelona, a paradise for squatting mafias
A woman in her 80s, wearing a blue jacket and carrying a crutch, looks for her dropped key on the stairs. The building in which he lives, owned by the Barcelona City Council, has been without power since December 31, when an overload caused the meter box to explode and a subsequent fire. The cause was the illegal hooking of several squatters. as you remember Eduard, also a tenant of the property, more than three years have passed since the bustle of burglars began in Nou de la Rambla, 39. «We’ve seen it all, fights, stabs», narrates on the portal. What they did not expect, neither he nor the rest of his neighbors,
it was to say goodbye to the year and survive for two weeks without light. Most of them are elderly. “In an hour, when the sun goes down, I won’t be able to go outside anymore,” he explains.
For a few days, the council has posted several security guards there. “When we arrived there were people pricking themselves on the stairs, mattresses all over the porch», relates one of them. “Before we didn’t leave the house,” says the tenant next to him. During the day, for fear of being squatted, and after sunset, moreover, because of the impossibility of moving around in the dark.
When Eduard goes up several steps to show the charred meter chart, a woman in an apron appears crying on the landing. Is Magdalena Urrea, 76 years old. «I have never felt so unprotected, I can’t take it anymore. What does the City Council do? What does Ada Colau do?», he questions between sobs. She lives with her sick husband, and shows her house by candlelight. He has prepared a suitcase with some belongings for when the council relocates them to a temporary location, until the repair of the electrical installation is completed. The transfers began on Friday, to the desperation of all the residents, not knowing when their turn would be.
Magdalena’s crying alerts German, who opens the door of his home equipped with a headlamp, coat and cigarette in his mouth. It thus illuminates the landing, already plunged into darkness. Asked about his situation, he draws irony. «Cojonudo! Now I was going to open the Iranian champagne and caviar!», he announces unperturbed, despite the fact that one of the squatters climbs the stairs accompanied by a pit bull. His irony is helped by a few solar batteries, which even allow him to watch television. After a while, although it costs him, he sheds his humor to explain his story. He worked as an electrician, his company was doing well until a partner “played it” and scammed him, which is why he lives in this municipally owned building with his sick mother. «He did not want to go to a residence and that is why he is here with me. I have lost everything. All of us here,” he says.
Eduard, who worked in several bookmakers, tries to calm Magdalena, who regrets that no one can guarantee the date of the temporary transfer. Night has already fallen and the bustle of squatters on the stairs continues despite the darkness. «These two sell drugs», Germán muses as a couple passes by his door. «It was the one from the house next door, also a squat, who sold them the key. I see how they throw the drug bags out the window, ”he says, pointing to the open glass of the landing. “Have you read anything about chaos theory? Well this is what it is », he slips before returning to his apartment.
As ABC explained, the province of Barcelona brings together almost a third of the squats that are reported in Spain. There were 4,229 of the total of 13,389 throughout the country during the first nine months of 2021. And that is not counting those that escape the police radar, since, according to real estate agents, owners and neighbors, the activity of the mafias does not stop growing. «It has become a very profitable business. We are talking about the professionalization of squatting in areas such as the Raval neighborhood, Santa Coloma, Badalona or Tarrasa. They get inside buildings and sell keys to people who don’t have papers or a payroll. It’s a reality,” he warns. Montse Moreno, vice president of the Spanish Association of Real Estate Personal Shopper (AEPSI), who points out that Barcelona heads the list of raids for various reasons. «We call the City Council in the sector ‘friendly squat’ because of its tolerance. In addition, the Catalan housing law is too permissive, because although the flats are managed by mafias, until Social Services carry out an assessment of the vulnerability of those who have settled there, the eviction is not carried out, and on many occasions they are saturated, which further delays the legal process, which can take more than a year. And it is that, effectively, there is a problem of access to housing, especially in large population centers ». For her part, the lawyer Paz Vallès, from the Molins office, provides similar arguments: “In Catalonia, and especially in Barcelona, there are pro-squatting movements and associations that are fully organized and have had the support of both the local and regional administrations for years.” An associative movement that helps vulnerable families, it indicates, often in “collusion” with mafias that, illegally, sublet empty apartments and premises.
Vallès believes that this widespread “tolerance” towards squatting has led to the appearance of criminals who take advantage of the business. «It is a growing activity during the last years», Second Ferran Font, from the real estate portal Pisos.com, which explains that they are “organized gangs with legal knowledge. We are talking about the professionalization of squatting. In addition to second homes or empty flats in the capital, Font explains that lately mafias squat new housing developments to extort money from developers. “In order to carry out the sale and ensure the viability of their business, they usually pay extortion, because the legal process takes time,” he says. «With those rules the squatters play». This is how it feeds back. Extortion is not reported to speed up the process, so it does not add to the list of complaints and becomes a profitable business for thieves.
The consequences of this proliferation are well known by the residents of the Raval neighbourhood. Fabio Ferlito He abandoned his home to move to another area of Barcelona. «You can no longer live there and I have more and more problems renting the apartment, because of the area it is in, the insecurity and the dirt. Every time it breaks free, I panic. I have installed an alarm, but I usually go there every day, I hang clothes on the balcony and turn on the lights, so that no one knows that it is empty and they can squat it, “he says. Some of those who resist, like Carmela, have suffered the phenomenon of the so-called ‘narco-speculation’. Until last year, in his building there were three “narcoup” floors. Imagine the activity. The continuous movement of people, fights, a horror, “he recalls. It was a neighborhood association, Raval action, which came together to combat this phenomenon, which is still going on, but with less intensity than years ago. Your spokesperson, angel lamb, explains that after the wave of evictions due to non-payment with the crisis «the mafias began to squat empty houses to traffic drugs. We were able to count up to 100, when now it can be a ten. We are no longer talking about narco-flats, but about trouble spots, also about the sale of stolen material,” he details.
The other side of the coin is that of vulnerable families. “The majority of people who come to our assemblies and are squatting have been deceived, paying rent below the market price to someone who later disappears, or who pay an amount to enter a squatted house. They are people with little income who, even having a job, cannot access social housing because there is none and the emergency table in Catalonia drags a three-year waiting list”, he says Lucia Delgado, spokesman for the Mortgage Affected Platform (PAH) in Barcelona. The diagnosis of both is the same: absence of a social housing stock or other housing alternative. “The State cannot make the need to protect a vulnerable family fall on an individual, alien to that squatting, and it is evident that it is done,” reproaches the judge Jose Maria Asencio, which advocates a law to protect private property.