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Spanish tenants fight back against Blackstone

Residents in the Vallecas, Carabanchel and Torrejón areas of Madrid have refused to accept rent increases after their public homes were sold to the vulture fund Blackstone.

In 2013 Blackstone’s Spanish subsidiary Fidere acquired 5,314 public properties – including 1,860 social housing units – from the Empresa Municipal de la Vivienda y Suelo (EMVS, or Municipal Housing and Land Company) for €128.5m. By 2017 the value of the homes had increased fourfold.

Last year Spain’s Court of Auditors found that the former mayor Ana Botella of the Partido Popular and seven other members of her management team had sold the properties below market rates, devaluing other public property in the process. Botella and her team were fined almost €26m, though this was later overturned.

Changes

Originally, under the EMVS, tenants paid a maximum of €400 per month and had the right to buy the property after a number of years living there.

Rafael, a 42 year old man living with his wife and daughter in one of the social housing units told 20minutos.es that “In the summer of 2013 we knew that the apartments were going to be sold, but Botella went on television saying that the conditions were going to be the same and that there wouldn’t be any changes for residents in terms of rent or sale.”

Conditions changed gradually. Almost all residents lost the right to purchase but rent increases were generally considered acceptable and the majority of tenants renewed for three years.

The changes have since become stark, with rents doubling over three years despite what tenants refer to as the low quality of the apartments.

Luis Miguel lives in Vallecas. In April he was told that his rent would increase from €432 to €675 per month within the first year of the new contract. Within three years, once maintenance payments, etc. are included, his rent will be €780 per month, according to 20minutos.es.

The Fightback

The Vallecas residents were the first who decided to organise collectively. They contacted the Tenants’ Union and many decided to stay in their homes, continuing to pay the rent they had always paid.

The tenants’ objective is for Fidere to accept linking rent increases to CPI.

After a month the vulture fund sat down for the first time with the residents. After the second meeting it offered a 8-10% reduction in the increases. The tenants rejected it as insufficient.

The Protest Spreads

Word soon spread to other apartment blocks owned by the vulture fund in Carabanchel and Torrejón.

Now, hundreds of residents have joined the mobilisation and are not paying Fidere’s increased rates. More pressure will come on Fidere as other blocks are deciding to join in the coming days.

“If we don’t get them to link with CPI I don’t know what we’ll do, because we decided to stay here,” said Diana, a 34 year old hospitality worker who has been living for seven years in one of the Fidere blocks in Torrejón.

Another tenant, Marco Antonio said to 20minutos: “They are going to try to separate us, to threaten us, I know it, but they’re not going to succeed. We’ll fight until the end.”


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