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Friday -- 10.11.13 -- From Eviction Defense to Reclaiming a Common(s) City -- Barcelona, Berlin, New York and Beyond

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Friday -- 10.11.13 -- From Eviction Defense to Reclaiming a Common(s) City -- Barcelona, Berlin, New York and Beyond

0. About Friday Night
1. About PAH
2. About Berlin
3. Useful or Related Links

Please note:
For those interested in the
Common(s) Course on Mondays,
you will find the reading for Week 5
meeting and discussion at:

0. About Friday Night

What: Presentation / Discussion
When: 7:00 October 11, 2013
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
Who: Free and open to all

As an extension of our inquiry into Commoning the City, we would like to invite individuals who are interested in exploring and bringing together different struggles around housing and land use in New York and beyond.

We will begin this week with a discussion with friends, activists and researchers from Spain, Germany, and New York.


After the various movements of the squares and occupations in cities, the imagination of reclaiming common spaces in the city and resisting various consequences of the mega-gentrification that Neil Smith described for us back in 2007 has become a central concern. The urban space has been a key engine for capital accumulation, investment, and 'development' in the last century. And these last twenty years have seen a huge magnification of those processes as returns from new enclosures, mass privatization schemes, and new financial instruments of speculation were constantly reinvested in urban spaces, transforming entire cities into virtual casinos.

5 years after the so-called crash of 2008, many questions remain around what forms of organization can combat and resist these ideas of 'development' and what processes and struggles can pose alternate paths to the casino-cities we live in.

To initiate the discussion, for this Friday's meeting, we are happy to invite a few friends who will be sharing experiences from Spain, from Germany and from New York.

Visiting us from Barcelona, we will be joined by Santi Mas de Xaxàs Faus. He has been involved in PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca), a very powerful anti-eviction and anti-mortgage movement that has taken hold all across Spain and brought together multitudes affected by mortgages to defend one another from evictions and push back against the state and banks using a variety of tactics.

Visiting us from Berlin, we will be joined by David Scheller, who is an activist and researcher and part of the Tenement Syndicate. He will try to give a brief introduction to some strategies and struggles on commoning houses that may be useful in the US and New York context and hopefully also beyond.

And from New York, in addition to all of the rich contributors who may come via this email, we have invited a few friends, who are active or knowledgeable in different struggles around land use and housing in the city, to join us.

Among them will be Rob Robinson, one of the key advocates for housing in the city, part of Picture the Homeless and Take Back the Land; Frank Morales, an integral part of the 80's squatters movements in the city and currently part of Organize for Occupation; and Desiree Fields, who has been interested in how renting is being transformed as hedge funds and private equity funds enter the rental market (in NYC and elsewhere). She would like to introduce questions about finance as a space for social and political action--and whether and how activists should engage with financial "terrain".

1. About PAH

Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)- Mortgage Holder's Platform / Platform of Affected People by Mortgages

The PAH was born in February 2009 in Barcelona as a citizen's movement focused in the right to housing. The main aim of the PAH is to denounce the dramatic situation suffered by thousands of families who are unable to pay their mortgages, facing foreclosure processes and evictions. The PAH makes visible the violence of such processes, informs the public opinion of the horror that is the perpetual debt that remains after losing your home according to the Spanish Mortgage's Law and demands political solutions to Public Administrations. The PAH is a political (but not belonging to a party) movement in which people directly affected and also supporters fight together against this problem. We take actions in many different fields (political, trials, communicative, emotional, etc.) to people's empowerment and promote legal changes that respond to those who are directly affected, and in a broader framework, propose solutions to fulfil the right to housing for all the citizenship. The 3 basic and emergency demands of the PAH are: 1-Cancelling mortgage debt upon handover of the property to the bank, 2-The immediately stop of evictions, 3- Transform the homes in hands of financial institutions into social rents. Given the centrality of mortgage debt to the expansion of financial capitalism in Spain, the PAH has come into direct conflict with the banking sector as well as the government which prioritizes that sector above all else.

Examples  of actions carried out

In Stop Evictions campaign we use the institutional mechanisms to delay the eviction and we put pressure on the bank using media and social networks. If none of it works, then we resist the evictions by making a public call to turn up on the day to block the legal authority and police.

Obra Social campaign denounces that while in Spain banks are starting foreclosure processes and accumulating empty houses, thousands of evicted people have no place to go and the Government refuses to give real solutions. The PAH recovers these buildings as social housing for these families.

With a People's legislative Initiative campaign we needed 500.000 signatures to propose a legislative change. We collected almost 1.5 million but the Government refused to discuss the proposal.

After, we started the Escrache campaign to persuade those politicians that had expressed their opposition. Diverse non-violent actions in the particular houses of these politicians were organized in which people explained their situation and asked them to vote “yes”.


Nowadays, in October 2013, there are 188 active nodes of the Platform in Spain. Every week, several hundred people attend to some of PAH meetings. The PAH has stopped more than 750 evictions and, in the frame of the Obra Social campaign, 13 empty buildings have been recovered by the PAH, and a total amount of 712 persons have been resettled. We are continuously carrying out not only local and regional actions but, often, we also organize massive coordinated actions at a national level.

Since 2007, more than 400.000 foreclosures have been initiated. The last statistics   indicate that there were 115 evictions per day in 2012. Nowadays, with an unemployment rate exceeding 22% and near to 6 million people unemployed it is easy to imagine the magnitude of the mortgage tragedy in Spain. However, even the origin of the PAH was apparently only connected with the housing rights of the mortgage holders, the PAH, along with many of other initiatives that emerged sharply on May 15-2011, has served to position very clearly in the centre of political discussion the responsibility of public authorities and financial system in the current economic crisis. The PAH is a very diverse movement, where certainly there is people with different sensibilities. But the PAH belongs to the 99% that has been ripped off and that is why we are collaborating with other groups to understand, discuss and share fights related with health, education, transparency, democracy, debt, etc.


2. “We’re All Staying!” Direct actions and long-term strategies of commoning in Berlin.

The housing situation within Berlin’s speculative real estate market has become very precarious, especially for tenants of lower incomes and for recipients of social welfare, which basically affects a high percentage of POC. Rents are dramatically rising while at the same time gentrification and displacement define the shape of former working class neighborhoods in the inner city like Kreuzberg, Neukölln or Wedding. Illustrations for the municipality’s investor-oriented policy are the privatization of 23 houses out of the public social housing program (GSW) and public spaces like the area at the river Spree called “Media Spree.”

Political instruments like official rent limits have been phased out on a national basis. Furthermore, the rights of landlords have been strengthened recently, allowing them to evict tenants easier. As a result of this uneven development in Berlin approximately 20 families/people have been evicted everyday in 2012 which makes around 6600 officially recorded evictions per year. At the same time, prices on the real estate market are booming due to a so-called “housing crisis” referring to a lack of apartments, especially in the lower-rent and social housing sector.

Nevertheless, in this field of neoliberal driven city policies and enhanced speculation, grassroots resistance is emerging in various forms. Two examples out of a citywide network of various initiatives and activists called “We’re All Staying!” (Wir bleiben alle!) will be presented as emblematic forms of direct action and long-term commoning models. 

On the one hand, the "Coalition Against Evictions" (Bündnis gegen Zwangsräumungen) is a gathering of around 40 activists who have been able to stop more then 20 evictions in Berlin in the past month and are in steady contact with a lot of people at risk of being evicted soon.

On the other hand, the "Tenement Syndicate" (Mietshäuser Syndikat) is a nationwide trust of currently around 100 collective-owned houses in Germany, which have been removed from the speculative real estate market. Moreover, it is a network of self-organized house projects, which have committed themselves to the idea of a solidarity transfer from established projects to new projects. The house projects are completely autonomous limited only by the Tenements Syndicate’s power to veto re-privatization and block a renewed marketing of the houses.


3. Useful or Related Links

Spain in the Circuit of European Capital by Brian Holmes



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