The squatter-friendly attitude of the left-wing city council led by Mayoress Ada Colau was always going to lead to trouble, and now it looks like a change of direction might be on the cards.
Former squatter Ada Colau came to prominence as a housing activist fighting against mortgage foreclosures before she went into politics. From the beginning she has been on the side of squatters, including the anti-sistem groups of middle-class kids enjoying an alternative lifestyle at the expense of property owners and tax payers.
During her time in power, the problem of squatting has exploded in Barcelona, and her team have taken every opportunity to indulge and support squatters groups taking over private property, including municipal property.
For example, a former police station (pictured above) in Barcelona’s Gracia district belonging to a municipal housing institution was occupied five years ago by squatters, known in Spain as okupas, who have been disturbing the neighbourhood ever since.
Rather than take steps to have the squatters evicted, the authorities allowed them to stay on the condition of a peppercorn rent, and getting a municipal licence to operate as a youth organisation. According to press reports, Colau’s administration also renovated the property for the okupas, landing the taxpayers of Barcelona with a bill of almost €100,000.
The squatters have never paid the rent, and couldn’t be bothered to get the licence, but they did make life hell for the neighbourhood for five years.
In the end, local outrage and pressure has forced the authorities to take steps to close the squat.
“It’s been five wasted years,” says a neighbour, quoted in the local press. “Basically all they did was sell beer…and if the city government has finally told them to go it’s only because of our persistence. The worst of it hasn’t been the noise and parties and urinating in the streets. The worst has been the indifference of the town hall, who left us defenceless.”
The squatters are talking tough and issuing warnings, which means it will probably end in a forcible eviction in several months time.
It’s a similar story in other municipal buildings that Colau has allowed squatters to take over since she came to power. At first her people talked about “new modes of communal management,” for public buildings occupied by squatter groups, but in the end nobody takes any care of the buildings, they end up a public health hazard, and the squatters make life hell for the local residents, who vote and pay taxes.
Barcelona City Hall under Ada Colau has always sided with anti-system squatter groups, which is an unsustainable policy, and helps explain why Barcelona is the squatter capital of Europe. Now it looks like the authorities are getting less tolerant of these groups, but a lot of damage has already been done.