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Housing Injustice in Madrid

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

In 2007, Spain had 551 houses for every 1000 inhabitants, more than France (508) and Germany (485), according to data published by CF+S. This figure is the result of a giant real estate bubble that kept Spain's economy artificially growing for approximately ten years. Neither economic growth nor the real estate business generated any lasting benefit for the many thousands of families who still live in slums.

Low-income Santa Catalina neighborhood.

High-income La Moraleja neighborhood.

The situation is especially acute in the capital city of Madrid, the largest and wealthiest urban agglomeration in Spain, where 1,000 families were living in slums in 2008 when the city and regional governments approved a plan to resettle informal dwellers. By the end of 2009, Madrid's Institute for Resettlement and Social Integration (IRIS) had resettled some 600 families from informal settlements to social housing developments. The resettlement of residents from Santa Catalina, pictured above, was completed in 2011. The low-income neighborhood pictured below — part La Cañada Real, a long strip of informal housing in Madrid's southeastern periphery — was not included in the government's resettlement plan.

Low-income La Cañada Real neighborhood.

High-income Barrio Salamanca neighborhood.

Similar to the case in Quito, Ecuador, high-income neighborhoods correspond with greener landscapes and more regulated urbanization, while low-income neighborhoods show a clear absence of the state. Today, economic crisis and massive government budget cuts have reduced the possibility of public investment in the remaining city slums. Moreover, predictions of a devastating economic collapse for most of southern Europe raise the possibility that Spain could experience a process of rapid housing informalization similar to those that took place in parts of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. This can be prevented through adequate public policy to deal with the inflated housing stock, as the majority of empty properties are owned by banks, many of them taken through evictions.

Credits: Images from Google Earth and Google Maps.

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