In a narrow street near the Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a building with balconies covered by pieces of cement that have come off, a wooden door over three meters long that is somewhat degraded and a painting dull yellow present the home of José and Mari, a retired couple who have been living there for more than 40 years, in the heart of the capital of Gran Canaria.
The evictions of the last inhabitants of some tenements adjoining the Canarian beach filled with sand from the Sahara
The façade of the block on the north side is neglected, as if no one had touched it in decades. On a back road, the property looks like another. The wall color is bright and the windows are redone. It even gets the sun that sets between the colorful neighborhoods of San Juan and San Roque. Despite being the same construction, the differences between one part and another are quite evident.
José waits in front of the gate. Behind, there is no light. He takes out his cell phone and puts on the flashlight. More than once he has fallen off the small step just inside, so he doesn’t want any trouble. The first two floors of the building, on the ground floor, are empty. The next two, more of the same. After going up to the third, Mari waits at the entrance. And her first reaction is to point upstairs, where she sees the dilapidated and cracked ceiling. “Look how this is… And they want to kick us out, like dirty water,” she laments.
The house is old, “wonderful”, they both exclaim. The living room is big. The room of the two of them. The animal room. There are up to two cockatoos and a room that functions as a giant suitcase, where this couple with nearly 48 years of marriage keeps their essential belongings before they are evicted. In principle they were going to be in March. Now they have to wait until September. Procrastination does not allow them to fall asleep. “This is sinvivir,” adds José.
At the beginning of the year, the Government of Spain approved an extension of the anti-eviction decree that was agreed upon when the pandemic broke out. That rule ends on September 30. And as the coronavirus crisis ceases to occupy pages on the Moncloa agenda, it seems increasingly unlikely that it will be renewed again.
It is also true that its application has been somewhat disappointing. In fact, in some sections of the health emergency, more releases (change of possession of a property) have been notified than before, probably due to the lack of information and the refusal of many families to continue postponing the suffering of the delay. The Canarian Executive announced a year ago that at the time the moratorium fell, it would draw up its own anti-eviction law. But there have been no further statements on the matter.
Indicators of social exclusion and poverty, through the roof
The Canary Islands is one of the communities that has suffered the most from the explosion of a virus invisible to the eye that shook the world for two years. The economy is beginning to walk, but it fell so much that it still remains behind the European Union (EU). The latest report from the Foundation for the Promotion of Social Studies and Applied Sociology (FOESSA) details that 29.1% of Canarians are in a situation of “significant disadvantage” after the epidemic.
According to recent data from the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the number of launches registered in the Archipelago during the first quarter of 2022 amounts to 676, an increase of 10% compared to the same dates last year and a ratio of 31 .3 per 100,000 inhabitants, the third highest value in the entire country. The fear of many social associations is that this figure will skyrocket when the protection measures that were deployed while COVID-19 wreaked havoc end.
“The ban on cutting basic supplies to vulnerable households also ends,” recalls Fernando Rodríguez, director of Provivienda in the Canary Islands. “From here we have asked ourselves throughout these two years of the social shield: and when it is withdrawn, what will happen?”
“I am very concerned about the case of families that have been notified to be evicted, that it has been possible to paralyze that launch in court alleging the measures that the government has approved as a result of the pandemic, but that, every time there are 20 days left or 30 so they know if this is going to stop, they don’t sleep. They have a terrible time”, reflects Isabel Saavedra, lawyer of the Gran Canaria Tenants Union in the program Tropic Report.
The predictable spate of forced evictions is expected without a support network in public housing. The Archipelago is the autonomous community that has least increased the number of protected apartments with respect to the total number of homes built between 1981 and 2019, according to the Special Social Housing Bulletin published in 2020. To make a comparison between two regions: in Asturias, of all the homes that were built in those four decades, 60% were officially protected; in the Canary Islands, just over 10%.
Leasing is also not in a position to offer a helping hand. The only income that José and Mari receive are the 800 euros that the former receives as a pension. They have already gotten used to the idea that they are going to have to leave their home and have been wandering around Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for weeks in search of an affordable flat. But so far nothing.
In the Canary Islands, the rental price has grown in all municipalities between 2011 and 2020, but especially among the poorest regions, according to data from the Rental Housing Price Index (IPVA), a statistic compiled by the National Institute of Statistics (INE).
A somewhat peculiar eviction
Mari walks around the house announcing what is hers and what is not too. “See those doors? We put them. Bathroom? We reform it. Before there was only one hole. This has cost us half a life.” She and José, who refer to each other as “negrillo” and “negrilla”, live in the heart of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and only pay 100 euros for rent.
Forty years ago, the couple established a friendly relationship with Fernando Bello, a wealthy man who presided over one of the most important private clinics in the city. He, they say, fell in love with José because of a recommendation he made to him. And Bello, by way of reply, offered to be the collector of the rents that he had for some of the streets in the neighborhood.
The deal was quite simple: José did this job, and, in return, he and Mari could settle in one of his apartments facing the Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana for a small amount. According to the real estate portal Idealistic, the cheapest rental housing in this area of the capital costs 650 euros per month; the least, 2,500. They pay 100.
The lease agreement between José and Fernando Bello (“Don Fernando”, as he calls it), signed in 1980, is one of the old rental agreements, those agreements that were signed before 1985 and that as a general rule are extended according to the will of the tenant without changes in the price.
But Fernando Bello died. And one of his children inherited the management of the property, beginning the “ordeal” that the couple denounces suffering. First, he turned off José as a rent collector. And second, he filed an eviction lawsuit against the couple for non-payment of the Real Estate Tax (IBI) between 2015 and 2018, an amount that rises to 1,277 euros.
According to Urban lease law, in old rental contracts it is the tenant who must pay this tax, and not the owner, as is usual. José and Mari maintain that they were unaware of this fact and defend that said tribute had never been demanded of them before. After all, they also did not have enough money to afford the demanded payment.
The lawyer for both has filed a new appeal with the Supreme Court, after being dismissed by the Provincial Court and the Court of First Instance, in which he requests that the eviction be withdrawn so that the tenants can pay the amounts owed.
In the brief, he alleges that the amount to be claimed by the owner was not specified and that his main interest is not the collection of the debt, but “to resolve an old rental lease that curbs the real estate, speculative and economic desire of the actor”. The document is awaiting admission for processing.
Meanwhile, José and Mari continue in the home they have created together, but everything indicates that they will say goodbye in September. “I had a depression… I was lying in bed, not wanting anything. The upstairs neighbor told me: if you get evicted, one of the rooms, for you”, she says. “But my idea is to celebrate my golden anniversary in this house. I have two years left!”