President Carles Puigdemont,
We address this letter to you as new President of Catalonia’s Government, and on behalf of the Advocacy Group of the People’s Legislative Initiative (ILP) on emergency housing and energy poverty. For the past six years we have decried the housing crisis and the worrying inaction of different governments and public administration offices. We have warned of daily violations of the right to adequate housing, and we have been forced to urgently react in order to stop thousands of evictions. We have tirelessly worked to negotiate with banks, debt cancellations and social rent access for families in deep economic trouble. We have re-house hundreds of families left homeless, and where no solutions were available. If this were not enough, for the past two years we have been working to end fuel and water poverty, advocating against indiscriminate cuts to the supply from companies that behave like banking institutions do with housing: maximum benefit and no responsibility. As you may be aware, we have also made a number of sound and feasible legislative proposals to end with these injustices because lives really are at stake, and because no society should be left to bear the negative consequences of a social crisis and housing emergency like we have for the past eight years.
Last July, a civil society driven legal initiative, known as the “ILP Habitatge,” or “Housing ILP,” achieved a historic milestone. The initiative included necessary measures to halt Catalonia’s housing emergency and fuel poverty. It was the first time a legal initiate of this nature and based on principles of basic human rights became law. On July 29th, Law 24/2015 on urgent measures to address the ongoing housing and fuel poverty emergencies was unanimously approved by Parliament. This is no small feat; we are speaking of the most comprehensive law concerning housing rights on the whole of the Spanish State, and the only one with a regulatory framework in place with effective measures against fuel poverty. It addition, besides the unanimous support of Catalonia’s Parliament, this legal text was endorsed by over 150,000 Catalans who signed in support of our legislative initiative. Law 24/2015 is here to stay, and most importantly, this law guaranties and safeguards adequate housing access as a human right.
Once the law was passed, we set out to continue our work, because we knew that a new law would not transform reality immediately. We have developed and published a series of legal documents to help people know and claim their rights. We have approached senior judges to promote the implementation of law 24/2015. We have also worked closely with the Generalitat, Catalonia’s Housing Agency (AHC), and Catalonia’s Consumer Agency, in order to develop user-friendly guides that will aid City Councils, citizens, and financial institutions to become aware and implement the new law at the local level. We have taken part of nine training programs across Catalonia benefiting more than a thousand local government workers. A joint effort for the diligent application of a law we all needed and have found invaluable. But there is still much work ahead.
President, in some of your first interviews to the media, we have noticed you’ve been vague, or maybe just confused, regarding the relevance and validity of this new law. Since the new government’s emergency plan has been the focus of debate in recent days, we would like to remind you of, and clarify for you, that Law 24/2015 is fully in force. Despite having an encompassing and powerful law, it is true that evictions, supply cuts, and lifelong indebtedness have not yet cessed in Catalonia. This is the reason why we ask you determination and political courage to implement it. The responsibility of Catalonia’s Generalitat does not end with forming a government and establishing new guidelines for City Councils. Therefore, we urge you to take a public and firm commitment for implementing the following actions to fully enforce the application of Law 24/2015:
- Develop the regulatory framework that will provide Catalan families with a real second opportunity to overcome housing-related over-indebtedness and start anew. Without this regulation, the second opportunity mechanisms established by the law in its initial articles are mere rhetoric, making this crucial petition irrelevant and reducing its efficacy. This further gives carte blanche to financial institutions to continue blackmailing families, condemning them to continued social exclusion, and preventing them from leaving the informal economy if they cannot avoid wage garnishment due to ongoing housing debts (often for a home that has already been repossessed). We would like to point out that Law 24/2015 established a three-month limit for providing extra judiciary mechanisms of second opportunity, and a year for presenting a bill that will develop measures against consumer over-indebtedness in housing related matters.
- The law requires City Councils and the Generalitat to enforce it by making available empty housing in the hands of financial institutions and large property holders where they do not uphold it of their own accord; this, in order to protect the right to housing for homeless families and housing’s social function as contemplated in the law. Otherwise we will be limiting the possibilities the law provides as well as preventing an end to the country’s ongoing housing emergency. With more than 65,000 families evicted, social housing at les than 1 per cent, and more than 480,000 empty homes in Catalonia according to the IDESCAT, the transferral of part of this housing stock is urgent and indispensable. To make this effective, a census of empty houses is needed as well as enforcing a mandatory transferral of empty properties from banking institutions and large property holders to overcome the current emergency given that most City Councils do not have enough resources to solve this on their own. Your government has the possibility of showing their will to solve Catalonia’s underfunded social housing problem and protect families from becoming homeless by initiating the transfer of the 47,000 empty houses knowingly in the hands of large property holders in Catalonia.
- Cancel households debts derived from fuel poverty by signing agreements with suppliers of water, electricity, and gas as the law provides, so supply companies take responsibility for providing the necessary assistance programs as well as discounts to families in risk of homelessness. It makes little sense for each City Council to draft its own agreement with supply companies, this task should be undertaken by the Generalitat and we need to have agreements that give equal coverage to all Catalan citizens. As former mayor of Girona, you know well the needs and difficulties of the City Councils in pressing large companies to undertake their legal commitments. As long as these agreements are not in place, household debts will continue to rise or City Councils will end up spending their resources overtaking these responsibilities –with public funding that could be used elsewhere. What makes absolutely no sense is to transfer 1.1 million euros of public money to these large companies instead of enforcing the law –which is what has happened with the Generalitat’s Fund. These companies must assume their responsibilities of managing basic services. Thus, they should take care of household debts for families who cannot afford to do so as established in Law 24/2015, even more so in light of these companies’ vast earning increases and soaring profits.
- Sanction breaches of the law to encourage its enforcement and in order to achieve its objectives. We cannot tolerate impunity in cases of violation of Law 24/2015. Therefore, we demand the Government to initiate the necessary procedures for punishing energy, gas, or water companies that cut a service without taking into account the precautionary principle. That is, when you cut the supply without having contacted social services, as required by law, to check if it is a family at risk of homelessness. The enforcement mechanism is necessary to avoid supply companies overlooking their responsibilities while continuing to make cuts to basic services. The same control mechanism needs to be enforced on financial institutions that do not stop home evictions and make mandatory social rent offers. The law provides mechanisms to correct breaches and flagrant violations of the rights established and these should be carried out.
- Provide sufficient budget allocation to ensure for all purposes and as determined by the law, the right to housing of families in risk of homelessness. This means taking into account the budget required to cover what is determined by law, such as in the following applications: rent subsidies for families who cannot cover their rent in instances of small property holders; instituting indebtedness committees, and increase of the registry and social servants working in the development of this law.
When we first started our work on the “Housing ILP,” we longed for the end, once and for all, of Catalonia’s leadership in the ‘ranking of shame’ in evictions, supply cuts, indebted households, and empty flats that do not fulfil their social function. Without a clear determination to enforce Law 24/2015 by the President of the Government of Catalonia and the entire parliamentary group as well as City Councils, this will not be possible. We, the affected people, the civil society, are firm in believing and wanting a Catalonia that leads the ranking in the conquest of rights, not of impoverishment. That is why, with full determination, we will continue taking all necessary actions to ensure full implementation of Law 24/2015.
In what concerns housing rights, the Emergency Plan has long been enacted by civil society. The new government and the new Parliament must give priority to halting and reversing housing shortfalls and fuel poverty in Catalonia. We have a powerful tool to achieve this: it is Law 24/2015.
To continue working on the enforcement of Law 24/2015, we hope to meet with you, the Minister of Interior –who oversees Housing, and the Minister of Economy in the near future. President, we await your response.
Advocacy Group of the People’s Legislative Initiative (ILP)
Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH)
Energy Poverty Alliance (APE)#CartaAPuigdemont