Catalonia is in the grip of major protests with nightly riots in Barcelona following the harsh sentencing of Catalan independence leaders for sedition and misuse of public funds after a disputed referendum and declaration of independence back in 2017. Shocking scenes of violence in the Catalan capital have flashed across the globe. What has life been like in Barcelona this last week, and what impact might the new situation have on the local housing market?
Living in the centre of Barcelona has not been easy for the last week. During the day it has been a struggle dealing with roadblocks and demonstrations interfering with the school run and getting my wife to hospital, plus a whole bunch of other related inconveniences.
At night the sounds and smells of rioting are all around: choppers overhead, police sirens screaming, riot-control weapons being fired, and the constant smell of burning trash as young rioters torch all the rubbish containers in the area.
On Friday night there was trouble on our street, with some neighbours watching from balconies screaming insults at the police, and some at the protestors. I never imagined Barcelona could be like this.
As a result of just one week of nightly riots the city centre is looking beaten up and filthy. There’s political graffiti everywhere, the air is dirty and smelly, trash is building up where rubbish containers used to be, and you can see burnt trees and other scars of violence all around. The municipal cleaners are doing a heroic job of sorting out the mess each morning, but it’s going to take months for the scars of just one week’s rioting to disappear.
The leading Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia reports that the police expect the rioting and violence to get worse. That said, things were quieter on Saturday night, thought what will happen now is anyone’s guess.
There’s hasn’t been any looting of shops, though some Spanish retail chains like Zara have been attacked, as have bank branches that are obvious symbols of the ‘capitalist patriarchy’. When there are riots in the US and the UK, one of the first things the rioters do is help themselves to a new flat screen TV, but not here.
Banks in the centre are now having to protect their facades with steel cladding.
On Friday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of protesters from all over Catalonia descended on Barcelona. The procession of protestors from all age groups wrapped in Catalan nationalist flags seemed to go on forever. It brought home to me once again how deep-rooted the independence drive has become in Catalan society. Millions of Catalans want to break away from Spain, and have been led to believe it can be achieved. At the same time millions of Catalans want nothing to do with independence. From what I can tell the region is somewhat evenly split. In this respect, it’s all a bit like the UK and Brexit.
I’ve described what it’s been like living here this week to show how real the problems have been, at least in the city centre where all the trouble has taken place in the 1.5 km2 area between Airbau, Diagonal, Passeig de Sant Joan, and Gran Via, plus Via Laietana. Anyone visiting or living in the area would have been affected.
Impact of riots on Barcelona’s housing market
What does this all mean for the housing market in Barcelona? I don’t see everything in life through the lens of the housing market, but that’s what this blog’s about.
The political conflict won’t be resolved anytime soon. Catalan independence is an existential threat for Spain, so no Spanish Government will ever allow Catalonia to break away, or even hold a referendum (that would implicitly recognise the possibility of breaking up Spain), but millions of Catalans will never give up trying. The violence of the last week just reflects the underlying pressures that have been around for a long time.
On the one had this is going to harm the local economy, consumer confidence, wealth and purchasing power, which at some point will trickle down to the housing market, and reduce capable demand for both rent and purchase.
And on the other hand, I can’t see how the images of violence don’t deter foreign investors, who, I presume, have no interest in this kind of Barcelona. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this will significantly reduce foreign demand for property in the centre, which is where most foreigners buy. There are several housing developments on the market with at least half an eye on foreign demand. They might now struggle to attract foreign buyers, like they did in the aftermath to the disputed referendum in 2017. Those projects now might take longer to sell.