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Spain slammed over eviction of single mother and her six children

A UN committee has ordered Spain to compensate a single mother and her six children who were forcibly evicted during a housing crisis that saw tens of thousands forced from their homes.

Spain slammed over eviction of single mother and her six children
Archive photo of an anti-eviction protest in Barcelona. AFP

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said on Wednesday that Madrid had violated the family's right to housing by failing to consider their vulnerability and should prevent similar cases from happening.

The mother, Maribel Viviana Lopez Alban, filed a complaint with the committee in June 2018 after attempting for several years to go through the Spanish courts to block her family's eviction.

She maintained that she had been renting an apartment in Madrid for a year when she discovered that the person she had been paying rent to was not the property's legal owner, committee documents showed.

In December 2014, the financial institution that really owned the property initiated eviction proceedings.

The family then applied for social housing, but their request was denied on grounds that people illegally occupying property were barred from the regional social housing programme.

READ MORE: 

Children suffered panic attacks

The UN committee, which has no enforcement powers, is made up of 18 independent experts tasked with monitoring whether countries adhere to their commitments under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

It had requested that Spain not evict the family while they were examining the case but the family was forcibly removed from their home by police in anti-riot gear shortly afterwards.

They bounced between temporary shelters and Lopez Alban told the committee her children had suffered panic attacks and learning difficulties.   

They were among tens of thousands of people who have been evicted from their homes in Spain since the housing bubble burst and the global financial crisis began in 2007.

The country's national statistics institute NIE tallied that there were 34,680 evictions in 2014 alone at the height of the crisis.

Last year, some 6,500 people were evicted from their homes, according to the latest available statistics.   

In its ruling, the UN committee found that the Spanish courts failed to weigh the rights of the property owner against the consequences of an eviction on the family.   

It also found that the rejection of the family's request for social housing violated the Covenant.

The UN experts called on Spain to “compensate the victims and to create a legal framework to prevent similar violations in the future.”   

They gave Madrid six months to provide an update on its implementation of the ruling.

READ ALSO: Nearly 100 families lose homes each day in Spain

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HOUSING

INTERVIEW: International students ‘vulnerable’ to Swedish housing shortages

People moving to Malmö to study now have to wait as long as a year to receive accommodation, Milena Milosavljević, the president of the Student Union in the city, has told The Local. The situation, she says, is "urgent and acute".

INTERVIEW: International students 'vulnerable' to Swedish housing shortages

The Sofa Project, run by the Student Union Malmö, received 80 applications this year from students who wanted to rent short-term accommodation, showing just how acute the current housing shortage is.

These 80 applicants were vying for one of seven spots, ranging from a spare room to a sofa bed – from hosts who sign up to offer their spaces to new arrivals.  As the programme only had seven hosts registered this year, the project had to close its application page to others, otherwise the number would have surpassed 80.

“They are ready to come to Malmö and sleep on a sofa bed at a stranger’s house before they find accommodation,” Milosavljević told The Local. 

Malmö recently received a red designation from the Swedish National Union of Students, which publishes an annual report assessing the housing situation in university towns and cities across Sweden. A red designation means that finding suitable accommodation as a student takes more than one semester. The report found that 61 percent of students live in a city that has been designated a red ranking.

READ ALSO: Sweden’s student union warns that housing shortages are back this semester

“The reality of Malmö and the reason why it became red is that to find suitable accommodation you have to wait up to a year,” Milosavljević said.

Some individuals, she said might have to wait up to three years to find their own accommodation, making do with second-hand contracts, long commutes, and living with family members in the meantime. For newly-arrived international students, who lack personal numbers when they move here and so cannot join Swedish housing queues, looking for suitable housing becomes a complex task.

“International students are more vulnerable because they don’t have a personal number to enter the system before they come to Sweden,” Milosavljević explained.

Milosavljević herself moved to Malmö as an international, fee-paying student. Because she paid tuition, she was offered housing by Malmö University. Based in part on her own experience, Milosavljević explained that the housing issue cannot be reduced to a shortage in the number of flats and rooms. There is also a shortage of appropriate housing options for different needs.

“They offered me accommodation in a student building,” she said. “Not an apartment, but a room – and I came with my husband. The room was not enough for two of us.”

Student accommodation must accommodate the different needs of different members of the student body, Milosavljević said, including those who move with partners or spouses, or even with their children.

In the past year, one new student apartment building was built in Malmö, with 94 new spaces for the city’s student body. This is inadequate, Milosavljević said. While Malmö is growing, and there is residential construction being carried out around the city, it is unclear how many of those new buildings will prioritise the city’s student population.

The city’s student population, too, is growing. As the pandemic era ended in Sweden, students returned to campus. And new students joined them. While student ranks grew, housing options remained stagnant.

“From our perspective from the Student Union, we have talked about, in the previous years, how the situation after the pandemic is going to get even worse for the students,” Milosavljević said. “There’s an increase of students coming back, new students, and already not even enough housing.”

Milosavljević has fielded calls and emails from students who say that they cannot move to Malmö because they cannot find housing.

“They are already working on it,” Milosavljević told The Local of the university’s response.

There are plans to create more housing for international students, but these proposals focus mainly on students from European Union, leaving other international students out. All international students should be given priority for student accommodation, Milosavljević said, because none of them have access to the Swedish housing market.

“I do believe strongly that the City of Malmö and Malmö University need to have urgent negotiations and start building straight away,” she said.

Because Malmö University is a public university, it must follow the lead of the Ministry of Education and Research. Milosavljević acknowledged that in the aftermath of Sweden’s recent elections, which put the right-bloc in power, student housing shortages might not rank highly on a list of national priorities.

“The Student Union Malmö considers this situation quite urgent and acute,” Milosavljević said. “We are more than prepared to sit down and talk so we can actually do something, instead of just having meetings. The students will continue to suffer if the living conditions and the bostad [housing] situation in Malmö is not improved.”

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