MADRID – Antonio has been living in social housing in Alcorcón (Madrid) for 22 years and loves his home. However, now, it is out of the hands of the Madrid region. He sold it more than two decades ago and a few owners later it is now owned by a vulture fund.
This is the real estate subsidiary of the American investment fund Blackstone. Gradually, Antonio’s rent increased further and further. First from €200 to €400 and then little by little. Because his house is still under special protection 25 years after he moved in, the fund can no longer raise the rent under current law. That is why the fund wants Antonio to move to another, smaller house in their portfolio. However, the old man does not want to leave at all, because he has everything he knows nearby.
Asset manager as manager of social rental housing
Over the past 22 years, the CPI, which rents are normally indexed to, has risen by about 60%. But Antonio’s rent has increased by more than 200%. He is therefore very critical of the VPO concept: VPO stands for Vivienda de Protección Oficial (officially protected homes). “Moving into such a VPO home gives you a feeling of protection,” says Antonio. But in practice, it turns out to be different.
Exceeding the rent from 35% to 40%
In 1999, the Community of Madrid granted the final social housing classification to the plots that now occupy the block where Antonio lives. It involved a promotion of 159 homes without an option to purchase. There were two regimes: general, with 10 years of protection, and special, with 25 years of protection. For this reason, today Antonio enjoys more protection than his neighbours, whose protection has already expired and who are facing eviction procedures. Testa asks for amounts that exceed between 35% and 40% of their rent, a demand that the residents do not accept.
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Antonio, aware of his special protection, refuses to negotiate individually with the real estate fund. “I am convinced that if I leave, they will rent this for almost double. It is nonsense! They ask me to leave, but if I do not accept, what will happen to him will happen to me,” he criticises, pointing to one of his neighbours.
Living between the taxi and the risk of eviction
The neighbour Antonio is talking about is called Jesus. A 57-year-old taxi driver who has lived in the building for 12 years. Although the fund has wanted more for four years, he pays a tidy sum of €675 every month. “I started with €500 and now they want €875.” Jesús is divorced and pays child support for his daughters in addition to the rent. Currently, his 85-year-old mother lives with him, who is ill. “To cover all costs I have to invoice €2,000 per month. That will only work if I work at least 12 hours a day,” he complains. Testa now wants to deport him. But Jesus has already endured two deportation procedures with all the stress that entails.
The taxi driver indicates that he has always continued to pay the rent. If Testa returned those payments, he made them again. In this way, he wants to avoid being accused of non-payment and being evicted on that basis. In six months there will be a new case with which Testa will try to deport him.
Increasing social outrage
Blackstone is considered the largest landlord in Spain, with an estimated stock of 40,000 properties. These are managed through commercial companies, including the aforementioned Testa. Given the increasing social indignation about the housing situation and the fact that government services are paying more and more attention to it, the company is starting to distance itself from this patrimony. Also considering the complications that the housing law would entail for the real estate company. According to the economic newspaper Cinco Días, the fund has put Testa up for sale.
More such cases
“This case does not only occur in Alcorcón. It happens in Getafe, in Torrejón de Ardoz, in Carabanchel, in Vallecas…”, says Víctor Palomo, a lawyer for the Tenants Union. “Blackstone bought social housing that was for rent through her daughters Testa and Fidere. The Community of Madrid ceded the land to a company that operated the leases under public protection.
Tenants who have to pay IBI
Antonio, the 84-year-old tenant pays the IBI despite not owning his home. “Am I the owner of something?” he wonders. He also pays the Municipal Waste Tax, something usually paid by homeowners. “It is controversial that the tenant pays the IBI. There is no case law, but logically it is the owner’s obligation,” explains Víctor Palomo.
“She said it´s very radical,” adds the lawyer. “If you read a contract, you see that they force tenants to solve everything themselves. Tenants are even required to take out civil liability insurance for the home and its contents. That would be voluntary There are also criminal provisions, with penalties of €150 for, for example, not delivering a document.
InfoLibre had access to one of the contracts. This shows that the tenant must take care of the basic facilities (water, electricity, heating, telephone), as well as the aforementioned waste rate, the installation, maintenance and repair of the electricity meters, the maintenance and maintenance of the boiler and the costs of the mandatory inspections. In addition, the tenant appears not only to be responsible for replacing objects that wear out through normal use, such as light bulbs. They have to replace or repair everything from shutters and toilet bowls to boilers and electrical appliances.
Finally action with municipal elections in sight
The PSOE, which governs the municipality, took the matter to the plenary session of the city council. The college promised to mediate. However, residents are sceptical. They know that the municipal elections are coming. However, they are happy that after years there is finally at least a response: “Hope is the last thing that is lost,” says taxi driver Jesús.