A tale of two cities: Squatting explodes in Barcelona and declines in Madrid

squat in barcelona

Barcelona, under Mayoress Ada Colau, a former squatter and housing activist, has allowed squatters to keep a municipal building they occupied, whilst Madrid invests €1.4m in protecting municipal real estate from the squatting threat, which is exploding in Barcelona under Colau, but declining in Madrid.

A former police station in Barcelona’s Gracia district belonging to a municipal housing institution (Patronato Municipal de la Vivienda) was occupied five years ago by squatters, known in Spain as okupas, who have been disturbing the neighbourhood ever since. Neighbours have been desperate for the squatters to be evicted, according to press reports.

However, Barcelona City Hall, headed by Ada Colau, a former squatter and housing activist before she went into politics, has decided to allow the squatters, now dressed up as a ‘youth organisation’, to stay in the 3-floor commercial space in calle Nil i Fabra, 17-19, paying a peppercorn rent of €666/year, which they don’t even bother to pay. Colau’s administration has also renovated the property for the okupas,  landing the taxpayers of Barcelona with a bill of almost €100,000. 

This is just another example of “political favours by Colau’s administration towards anti-system groups,” say neighbours, quoted in the press. 

Squatting problem explodes in Barcelona

Cases of Adverse Possession, a.k.a. squatting, reported to the police in Barcelona this July and August were up 41% to 365, an average of 6 cases a day, according to figures just released by City Hall. “It’s a problem that worries us,” said Deputy Mayor Albert Battle in charge of security. But Mayoress Colau said this week in a TV interview that they have not noticed “a big increase in [illegal] occupations.” Many cases of adverse possession are not reported to the police, as it can be cheaper and quicker to use other means to get squatters out. 

Madrid beefs up protection against squatters

Meanwhile, in Madrid, the city council has increased the budget for protecting municipal property by €1.4m, with a new security contract lasting until 2022. 

Justifying the need for extra spending on protection against okupas, the city authorities argue that municipal properties occupied by squatters are impossible to maintain, and quickly deteriorate into public health hazards. Squatters also tend to rig up illegal connections to water and electricity, which can be lethal,  and the costs of squatters are always paid for by someone else.

Squatting on the rise in Spain

squatter okupa numbers in Spain
New cases of squatting reported to the police. Source. Spanish Home Office

Squatting is on the rise in Spain, as illustrated by recent figures from Home Office in this chart, with second homes owned by foreigners a target for squatters controlled by Mafias, according to the Spanish press. 

However, cases of Adverse Possession declined slightly in the Madrid region last year, whilst it rose the most in Catalonia, particularly in Barcelona, which is now the squatting capital of Europe.

Barcelona and Madrid are divided by many things, and the attitude of the city authorities towards squatters is one of them. The policy of Madrid is to protect public and private property from adverse possession, whilst Barcelona, under former squatter and PAH activist Ada Colau, is more on the side of squatters. These different attitudes and policies explain why the problem of squatting is falling in Madrid and exploding in Barcelona, though Colau denies it is happening, and doesn’t see Adverse Possession as a problem.

Ada Colau, Mayoress of Barcelona, former squatter and housing activist PAH
Former squatter and housing activist Ada Colau, Mayoress of Barcelona

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