At the turn of the millennium Spain embarked upon an aggressive programme of property speculation. For more than a decade the country experienced a construction boom. People took jobs as bricklayers, painters, carpenters, cleaners. Wages were better than ever. Many invested their earnings in homes of their own. In short, they’d never had it so good.
In 2008, the global financial crash brought this to an abrupt end. The market flatlined, construction companies went bankrupt, wages were left unpaid, unemployment rocketed and, after punishing cuts to social welfare, thousands of families found themselves struggling to keep roofs over their heads.
Andalusia, historically the poorest of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, was hit especially hard. As banks that had received government bailouts evicted thousands from their houses, homelessness rose to epidemic levels. Yet in Seville alone, 130,000 properties lie empty.
In response, one group of people found a simple yet audacious solution. Gathering together 36 families in the Macarena district of Seville on 14 May 2012, they occupied a vacant apartment block now officially owned by the Zaragoza-based bank iberCaja. In doing so they established a new kind of community and set a precedent that many more would follow. This is their story so far.