Spain through the looking glass

Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

Spain’s walking dead

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From time to time I find myself thinking about the television show The Walking Dead and why I haven’t managed to stop watching it yet.

For those of you who have been lucky enough to miss the series, The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic zombie horror show set in the American south. Based on comic books, it centres on a group of people who have miraculously avoided catching a disease which has turned most humans on the planet into zombies, or ‘walkers’ as they are called in the series.

Photo: Franco Folini

It’s an irresistible premise: for me at least. As a child of the eighties, I grew up in the shadow of The Bomb (remember that?) and I was reared on a steady diet of post-nuclear holocaust disaster literature. The most brilliant of these stories was — and remains — Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, a novel about humanity 2,000 years post-Armageddon.

Before I was ready for Hoban, though, there was the early 50s novel The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham about the colonisation of earth by deadly plants. In Wyndham’s world, nearly everyone has been blinded by a spectacular but retina-burning meteorite shower. In the first scene of the novel, our hero wakes up in a hospital the morning after the celestial show which he was unable to watch because his eyes were bandaged. When he tries to summon a nurse or a doctor, no one comes. He soon discovers he has, in fact, been saved from blindness on two counts.

The Walking Dead borrows a lot from The Day of the Triffids; the first-ever episode even rephrased the opening scene of the Wyndham novel with the main character sheriff Rick Grimes waking alone in a hospital. This is not the only parallel between the two shows. Both, for example, have their own-eyed man who “is king in the land of the blind”. In John Wyndham’s novel, this situation is metaphorical. In The Walking Dead — an almost intolerably literal show — we have the character of the governor whose eye was removed in an act of revenge.

The television show and the 50s novel share one other key element. They are both almost quite dreadful, and I don’t mean in the horror sense.

Looking back at The Day of The Triffids now, I see that the writing is appalling clunky. In The Waking Dead, there are moments of technical brilliance—the zombies themselves are spectacular — but the show is generally awful. The acting is tolerable at best. The action is glacial in its progression, and the sets seem amazingly rickety for such a high profile show. So why do I keep watching?

Photo: James Fischer

Part of the answer is habit of course. And some of the fascination has to do with me wanting to see when the zombies are next going to turn some innocent victim into a gruesome mass of exposed tendons. But I also think there is some deeper subtext. I think The Walking Dead is popular because it serves as a useful metaphor for the current economic crisis.

The television show deals with a group of people who have lived through a Lehman Brothers-style cataclysmic event and must somehow find new meaning in life while also processing the guilt they feel at having survived the worst of it all. Meanwhile, the vast mass of humanity refuses to conveniently disappear. The streets of the brave new world in The Walking Dead are populated by zombies or ‘walkers’. In the show, these ‘people’ lurch around in the search for their next fleshy meal emitting agonising groans from time to time. In Spain, you can see them sleeping in doorways, begging at the portals of supermarkets, or selling tissues to cars stopped at traffic lights. Some have found solace in drink and drugs. Others stay at home and out of sight.

Meanwhile, the one percent — those, like me, with work and food and a home —try not to have too much contact with the zombies so as to avoid contagion. We keep our heads down on the streets and in the office. We keep the target small and forget to say thank you for our good luck as often as we should.

The really pending question in The Walking Dead, and the one that has been hinted at in series three, is that of a possible cure. Are the zombies an unchangeable feature of the landscape in the future, or will some magic formula restore our loved ones to us? If this is the case, then it’s not going to be a simple process. Expect more bailouts to follow.

And Happy Easter everyone, especially to the good people of Cyprus.


Written by georgemills25

March 31, 2013 at 12:37

Solidarity starts at home

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A Spanish couple are taking solidarity with their crisis-hit compatriots to a whole new level.

The couple from Bilbao have decided to offer up a two-bedroom attic flat in the northern Spanish coastal town of Gijón for free to the homeless family that needs it most. They have set just two conditions: the arrangement is to last only one year and the people who take over the apartment must be able to demonstrate that they are homeless because of the crisis.

‘We could no longer turn a blind eye to what was happening with the mortgage foreclosures,’ the family explained to Spain’s 20 Minutos newspaper.

The family’s decision to give up the flat came after a lot of debate around the kitchen table about the evictions taking place in Spain. Eventually, they decided to place an advertisement in La Nueva España offering up the flat at no charge.

They are giving up the furnished apartment – which is mainly used for holidays and stands empty most of the year – for a maximum of one year, a move which is designed to set clear limits and make clear that this isn’t a lifetime arrangement.

‘We don’t have any secret motive,’ family member Isabel told the newspaper 20 Minutos. ‘It’s a simple gesture from one family to another.’

Isabel is a civil servant and lawyer, and her husband a top business executive. Isabel explained to 20 Minutos that they were lucky enough to find themselves in a good economic position.

The family have received 800 calls since they placed their advertisement. They are now working through a list of candidates and interviews will be conducted this weekend. Isabel said preference would be given to families with children and people with disabilities.

‘We are acting responsibility and will take as long as we need to find the right family,’ said Isabel.

An estimated 400,000 people have been made homeless because of mortgage foreclosures since the beginning of the crisis in Spain.

If you can think of any other ways to help Spain’s crisis-hit families, leave a comment below.

Written by georgemills25

November 28, 2012 at 09:24

Fire sales r us

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The Spanish government is mulling over plans to offer residency to any foreigner willing to fork out at least €160,000 for a house or apartment in the country, Spain’s trade secretary Jaime García-Legaz said on Monday.

Speaking before business leaders about plans to help flog off some of the 700,000 plus vacant homes in Spain, García-Legaz pinpointed the burgeoning interest from Russian and Chinese buyers in Spain’s second home market. He said the government would spend the next few weeks studying changes to immigration rules which could see residency granted to non-EU citizens who are able to stump up the requisite amount of cash.

By Tuesday, this story was in The Times and from there it spread around the (English-speaking world) like wildfire. As early as Wednesday morning, the following notice was posted in one of my Spain-related LinkedIn groups:

SPAIN is opening the door to foreigners obtaining residence upon acquisition of property for just €160,000. We are offering prime distressed sale opportunities where people requiring legitimate residence in Spain may acquire 4 to 6 year old, “prime” property at 25% to 30% below cost…There is clearly a short window of opportunity to make some serious savings, and sort out ones immigration status!

While all of this talk is a little premature given the initiative is still firmly at the working group stage, the cash-for-residency idea is clearly generating exactly the sort of excitement the Spanish government wants.

At first glance, the proposal also makes a lot of sense. There are nearly three quarters of a million houses sitting empty in Spain and locals just aren’t buying. Although house prices have fallen 33 per cent since the crisis began here, most people either have no funds or no way to access credit. Those few Spaniards who are still in the market for property are circling like vultures as they wait for prices to slide even further. For now, the property market is in a coma and if it weren’t for the presence of cashed-up foreigners snapping up deals along the coast, the life support machine might have been switched off long ago. So why not give a little push to the economy by selling of some of stock that you can’t shift otherwise?

The plan is certainly better than the idea put forward by Spain’s peak banking body (the AEB) on Monday. In a press conference, the association’s president Miguel Martín said the way to solve Spain’s housing crisis was to build more houses and offer more mortgages. That’s right. They want to throw more money at the problem.

But there are still a couple of big question marks over the government’s plans. Here’s the first. On Monday evening, the trade secretary García-Legaz spent a quarter of an hour assuring the listeners of Cadena SER radio that the proposal had “nothing at all to do with the employment market” and that those foreigners who gained Spanish residency by buying one property here would have – in ningun caso (under no circumstances) – the right to work in Spain. He then told listeners that these new residents wouldn’t be able to send their children to school here or access the country’s hospitals.

Now presumably García-Legaz was trying to reassure the public that any new residents entering Spain via this new initiative wouldn’t represent any kind of economic burden. But the reasoning is very odd. It’s a little like inviting someone to live in your home and then telling them they can’t use the bathroom or the kitchen. In its current form, the result of the cash-for-residency proposal will be the creation of a class of – admittedly relatively wealthy – second-class residents who are not entitled to the privileges enjoyed by other people living in Spain. These people will end up living parallel lives, unaffected by, and disinterested, in the country where they are living. And what sort of people will want to reside in Spain under those conditions? The answer is rich people, of course.

For this is the real problem with Spanish plans to offer residency in exchange for property purchases. The process commercialises immigration. And this is exactly why Spain’s non-government forces and many immigrant groups have lined up against the idea.

Speaking to El Diario, the head of Spain’s National Federation of Immigrant and Refugee Associations (FERINE) Gilberto Torres said the move with its focus on Chinese and Russian buyers was discriminatory and would only serve the interests of the banks and big capital.

Meanwhile, Alla Didkoska, the spokesperson for Spain’s Slavic immigration group Cumbre Eslava and a Russian by background, said it wasn’t honourable to sell residency permits to rich Russians who came to Spain for a few weeks every year to enjoy the sun. Instead, the new plans were a slap in the face for the many people who had spent years working hard to make a life in this country.

Also speaking to El Diario, Alfonso Chao, member of the Committee for the Education and Integration of Chinese People in Spain said the move appeared to target the Forbes World’s Richest People list and had nothing to do normal Chinese people. ‘And if the move does target Chinese people living in Spain, what Chinese person is going to buy a second home? It makes no sense,’ said Chao.

Spain’s housing initiative comes in the wake of similar moves by Portugal and Ireland but introduces a far lower cash threshold than the €400,000 and €500,000 outlays required in those two countries.

Spain is increasingly popular among Russians tourists with 797,800 visitors from Russian visiting the country from June and September this year (44 per cent up from 2011) according to new Russian figures cited in the Financial Times on Monday. The latest Spanish figures put the year-to-date rise in Russian tourism at 41.3 per cent.

There are some 250 estate agents in Moscow dealing exclusively with the Spanish property market.

Written by georgemills25

November 22, 2012 at 13:35