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Housing

Evictions in Spain prompt spate of suicides

In Spain, several recent suicides have prompted authorities to declare a two-year moratorium on some home repossessions, for humanitarian reasons. But others still face losing their homes, and public anger is growing.

The suicide in November of a 53-old-woman sparked public fury in Spain and forced authorities to put a halt to some house evictions, for humanitarian reasons. The woman threw herself from a her window as bailiffs were climbing the stairs to evict her. Her bank had just foreclosed on her home.

It's not an isolated case. Several recent suicides apparently related to evictions have shocked the country. And with Spanish unemployment above 25 percent, an average of 300 people are losing their homes each day, putting a massive strain on many families.

Support from neighbors

Jobless and defaulting on their mortgage, Rolando and Luda Jimenez didn't want their young kids to see them evicted. So a day before officials came to foreclose on their home, the couple went to their bank to volunteer the keys. Jimenez burst into tears when she saw a crowd of protesters there to support them.

Protesters shout slogans at a demonstration in Murcia, southeastern Spain, during the general strike on 14 November 2012. EPA/ISRAEL SANCHEZ +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Protesters in Spain are angry about massive bank bailouts

"Your village is with you!" they chant, blocking a street in downtown Madrid. Such flash mobs have become a fixture in Spain. Protesters often form a human chain, forcibly blocking bank officials from evicting residents. Sometimes it turns violent.

Foreclosure is a devastating thing for a family anywhere to go through, but Spain's 100-year-old mortgage laws have made matters worse: Borrowers like Luda Jimenez are required to keep paying their mortgage even after the bank takes away their home.

"You're paying for a house that's no longer yours, that you have to leave - even after you've left. It's not fair," she said.

Anger at bank bailout

At least four people in Jimenez's situation have killed themselves in recent weeks - sparking candlelight vigils and more angry protests elsewhere in the country.

Home ownership is deeply important to Spaniards, and many live with their parents well into their 30s, to save up for a down payment. So these evictions hurt, says economist Gayle Allard - especially since Spanish banks just got an up to 100 billion euro bailout from the EU.

For sale sign on a Spanish house. Foto: Bodo Marks +++(c) dpa - Report+++

Some lose their homes after defaulting on their mortgages

"This really touches them at the core. Security is important, home ownership is important, the family is important. And there's a lot of outrage right now, about the fact that the banks have received so much help, and yet they are not then helping the citizen in trouble, to be able to stay in their home," said Allard.

Last month, Spanish banks gave in and declared a two-year moratorium on certain evictions, for "humanitarian reasons." The freeze covers Spaniards in "extreme" conditions. The president of the Association of Spanish Banks, Miguel Martin, explains.

"Cases of illness - serious ones - cases in which people are dependent on others, cases in which people are elderly, or have young children," he explained.

Worried homeowners

Outside the headquarters of Spain's biggest failed lender, Bankia, protesters say the moratorium doesn't go far enough. They want all evictions halted, and want banks to forgive defaulters' debt.

Melchorita Garcia hopes she qualifies for the moratorium. But she's already received an eviction notice by mail. She has a 14-year-old son with autism - and she stopped paying her mortgage a year ago when she lost her job.

"I'm really scared! I'm so worried about what will happen and where I'll go if they take away my house, and leave me in the street!" she said.

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