MORTGAGE MISERY

Rebel mayors threaten banks that continue with eviction policy

Canarian city leader withdraws 1.2 million euros from Bankia over foreclosure row

/ Madrid / Santa Cruz de Tenerife 13 NOV 2012 - 18:51 CET

A woman bursts into tears after an eviction against her is stopped in Zaragoza Thursday. / J. CEBOLLADA (EFE)

As the eviction row rumbles on, a number of Spanish mayors are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to their citizens being thrown out onto the street for mortgage non-payment. City leaders across the country are warning they will close their accounts with banks that continue a policy of carrying out eviction orders without giving those affected an alternative.

The mayor of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, José Manuel Bermúdez of the Canarian Coalition, last Thursday became a hero across the island after he decided to withdraw 1.5 million euros from Bankia to prevent the eviction of Carmen Omaña, a 48-year-old mother of two.

“We tried to meet and look for a solution with the bank, but it didn’t reply,” Bermúdez explained. “We warned Bankia that there would be consequences, and Carmen Omaña began a hunger strike. After these events I ordered 1.5 million euros to be withdrawn from the bank, because we refuse to accept that banks that have been bailed out with the money of all citizens do not even deign to answer the administration.”

Now, other city leaders are following suit. The Socialist mayor of Vigo, Abel Caballero, has told EL PAÍS that he will not hesitate to take similar action, as well as creating initiatives to ease the extremely vulnerable situations in which many evicted citizens live.

The treasury department of the Galician city is preparing an amendment to its public tender conditions so that any bank executing an eviction order will face a contract termination lawsuit. “It cannot be that a person who has lost their job, and as a consequence cannot pay the mortgage on their home, is thrown out of that home, and, what’s more, still be in debt,” Caballero said.

In the majority of cases, the home from which a family has been expelled remains empty. “Instead of throwing people out of their home, it could allow them to pay rent at a decent price,” the mayor continued. He also plans to offer free legal advice by City Hall lawyers to those who have already been affected by eviction orders and will be conducting a draw for 35 rental homes especially for those who have been thrown out of their properties. Caballero has also told the Galicia regional government that Vigo local police “would not help carry out eviction orders.”

Meanwhile, the Socialist mayor of Zaragoza, Juan Alberto Belloch, on Monday said he would argue for a grand city-wide political and social pact against the problem, predicting a 10-million-euro package.

The movement among mayors looks like becoming unstoppable. City leaders will examine the adoption of specific anti-eviction measures at the next board meeting of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP), of which Caballero is vice-president, on November 27. FEMP President Íñigo de la Serna, the Popular Party mayor of Santander, has also shown his intentions of moving to the forefront of the fight.

Ultimately, says Bermúdez, change has to come via a reform of the mortgage law. But he admitted much could be done at the local council level. “We have set up an anti-eviction protocol that has been pioneered in Spain,” said the Santa Cruz mayor. “Thanks to this mechanism we can mediate between citizens and the banks, above all in cases in which local residents find themselves with no means of support. [...] What I would like is for this to serve to create a different policy.”

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