She was heard screaming "you've taken everything from me, I've lost everything because of you" and she is now being treated for burns covering nearly half her body.
She was apparently one of the thousands of people across Spain facing foreclosure on their mortgages. The extremely harsh terms of the Spanish Mortgage Act can hold people liable for their whole debt plus all legal costs, even after the property is seized. This means that in one sweep people are made homeless and can end up facing a debt greater than their original mortgage.
It is hard to find exact figures for how many people are in this situation, or of how many mortgage related suicides there have been in the country, though it appears that at least four people have killed themselves over foreclosures this month alone. Spain's leading mortgage campaign group, PAH (Platform for those Affected by Mortgages), estimates that there have been around 350.000 evictions in Spain since 2009 approximately 200 families are being evicted every day. Estimates suggest that the country currently has between 1 million and 5 million empty properties.
On Saturday (Feb 16th) PAH led demonstrations across the country to campaign for a Citizen Initiated Legistlation to: free people from debt once their houses have been seized; halt evictions for mortgage defaults; and allow the state to seize empty properties from the banks to use as social housing. I joined the march in Barcelona and watched as every bank along the route received pictures of mortgage victims, or a distortion of their own logo, or spray-painted slogans.
In the two weeks I've been here I have visited a number of places offering free and immediate clothing, food and housing to those who need it and it is clear to see that there are a great number of people who rely on this service. The housing crisis which has caused a huge rise in the number of empty buildings has made squatting a viable option for a lot of people who can no longer afford property. It is a difficult thing to quantify but there are estimated to be about 300 squats in the city at the moment though it has been suggested that the number could be much higher.
One of the cities active political squatters told me how he had fallen in love with the direct empowerment of the squatting movement, "All these people excluded by society can be connected and can support each other to realise their plans." The Catalan government is currently engaged in a crackdown on squats and social centres in the centre of Barcelona and a number of the places I have seen are facing imminent eviction.
I asked a local campaigner why the authorities are attacking squats now when they seem to be offering real support to citizens in need. With echoes of the Big Society rhetoric in the UK he explained that while the Spanish government is cutting state support it wants to redirect the needs of the people onto the church and other officially sanctioned NGOs and charities. It is doubtful how well these organisations can cope with the massive needs already existing within the population and that need is set to grow as Prime Minister Rajoy's 2013 austerity budget starts to bite.
I am not a journalist, I am an art photographer. Over the next few months I will be photographing the squats and vacant buildings in Spain and visiting different community groups that are finding their own ways to survive the crisis. This blog entry is intended to explain the current situation acting as a background to this project and the issues that drew me to this subject.
For more information see references below.
http://afectadosporlahipoteca.com/ (website in Spanish)
Citizen Initiated Legislation
Spanish Financial Crisis
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/spain/index.html?inline=nyt-geo (2013 budget)
The Citizen's Initiated Legislaion Spanish Mortgage Act