¡Sí, se puede! Defending the right to homes

¡Sí, se puede! Defending the right to homes

Date: 26 February 2015

Having worked in housing for over five years – homeless hostels, local authority referrals – I eagerly awaited the screening of ‘Si se puede’ at Take Back Our World. Following a week in Barcelona with the Spanish social movement Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH – Platform for People Affected by Mortgages), a grassroots campaign resisting the national housing crisis, the film begins with the visceral punch of one family’s eviction followed by another and then another – in the past seven years Spain has seen over 550,000 repossessions.

And needless to say the dominant justification is a familiar one – there’s no alternative, people have failed, good citizens pay off their debts and responsible governments must dole out some tough love. This shaming and blaming of ordinary people caught up in an economic crisis not of their making has an insidious and disabling effect on people’s ability to organise and resist. What resonated for me personally was the emotional support the PAH groups seemed to offer. We hear the moving story of a grandmother who took her daughter and four grandchildren in and then suffered the threat of repossession herself.  Prescribed antidepressants and feeling terrified she came across the PAH at a mass rally in Barcelona and attended one of their meetings with her husband.

“You have come to the right place.” She is told by the man sitting next to her.

The point the film makes is that this is a movement that has empowered and transformed people. There’s a passion and commitment coming from an unshakeable belief that housing is a human right, not a luxury commodity. Teams of volunteers rally to homes under the threat of eviction using non-violent direct action to resist. The obvious truth is that without a home we cannot meet our other basic needs. We cannot work, we cannot thrive, and it’s extremely difficult to support your families, friends and communities.  According to research by Shelter, homeless children who have lived in temporary accommodation for more than a year are three times as likely to suffer mental health problems.

After the screening I spoke to Pau Faus one of the film’s directors. He explained how the PAH created a nation-wide anti-eviction movement.

“Protests are the tip of the iceberg; this horizontal movement has organised and worked hard, day by day, helping people, giving them advice. The government was saying they wanted to help but were doing nothing. So the movement shows them up.”

In the UK we are seeing the Focus E15 mothers, New Era Estate, Guinness Occupation and Brighton’s Living Rent actions. Radical Housing Network is proposing a vision for housing justice from below. All of these campaigns highlight the insanity of a speculative housing market and grossly unequal land distribution.

If we can mobilise and learn from the successes of these campaigns and set the agenda we may just be at the start of something. ‘Sí se puede’ – yes we can. Watch the trailer and get inspired.