Living between luggage and currencies

Llegeix aquest contingut en català aquí
Translated by Álvaro Rodríguez Huguet

Neighbours keep their residence in a hotel in the centre of Via Laietana.

The flat of J. and M. measures 150 square metres. IRENE LÓPEZ

Every week hundreds of tourists with their luggage pass by the reception desk, getting in and out the hotel Ilunion Almirante of Via Laietana, to visit Barcelona. They lodge in one of the 73 rooms to enjoy their holidays. But travellers are not the only tenants of this hotel. In the fourth floor lives, for more than 45 years, a married couple with a flat of their own. J. and M. get in by the hotel reception, they cannot open the front portal as they do not have the key. They say hello to the receptionist, who keeps their mailing, and get into the lift to go to their floor. In the floor landing, to the right, there is a hallway with six rooms and in the left a fireproof door that leads to their residence.

From a block of flats to a hotel
J. lives in Via Laietana 42 since he was a one-year-old. In that moment, it was a residential building like any other. There were apartments, an academy and a guest house of the building owner. “Bit by bit, the leaseholder made the neighbours leave their houses. She managed to make that happen and build a hotel”, explains M.. “In 1991, there was only three neighbours left, elderly, but over the years they passed”. Around their flat, the structure has changed to become the current hotel.

They never heard of an explicit proposition of leaving, although, since the hotel project is in force, the couple assures that the owners have been a pain trying to make them abandon the building: damages that last moths to be repaired, noisy works that seem endless… The couple explains that, during a work, the dining room ceiling fell off because of some adaptations of the floor above it. “It was like what remains after an earthquake”, says M., it was a problem that took a long time to be solved to make the tenants change their mind.

J. and M. do not want to change residence. This flat is their home. They hold an old rental open-ended contract; therefore, they cannot be put out. This type of contracts is current until death or retirement of the holder, spouse or descendants. In this case, the rent of the apartment was entitled by the name of J.’s parents, but now is his since they passed.

Staying home, a daily fight
Núria lives in a block of Ronda de Sant Pere, with other three students. As M. and J., she is a property speculation victim as the result of the tourism in Barcelona. The block is a real state of Murzuk SL. Three years ago, the enterprise only owned 25 % of the building; but, after a expulsion process of the neighbours, the block is now full of refurbished flats between 40 and 70 m2 that cost from 1.200 to 1.500 euros and a hostel that occupies all the first floor of the building.

The four girls constantly face illegal attempts of eviction. Moreover, Murzuk SL put some people in one of the free flats to create a hostility environment in the building so they leave home. However, Nuria has it for sure that “neighbourhood is for whom defends it and not for whom sells it to the capital interests”. She resists every day to accomplish that right to housing become a reality.

They hold an old rental open-ended contract; therefore, they cannot be put out. “If a pavement is repaired is because of there is a hotel, without considering us, the neighbours”

“Neighbours” come and go they do not know them. Over the years they shared building with thousands of tourists, the marriage has had to face some coexistence issues: drunk youth groups knocking their door late at night because they missed their rooms, tenants that left taps open and that provoked floods… M. assures that currently they are more calmed, since they get used to it and the hotel owners “ignore” them.

Fighting speculation
However, that Via Laietana has become a theme park of the tourism is what really bothers the couple. “If a pavement is repaired is because of there is a hotel in front, without considering us, the ones who live here. All is done for the tourists to be happy”, states M. explaining the negative effects that has tourism into the neighbourhood. She acknowledges that the main problem is the price of the rent: “Rents are not renewed anymore, and they take advantage of it to build touristic apartments, price raises and people must leave”.

In order to fight tourism inconvenients and property speculation in the town, the neighbours of different districts have come together to defend their neighbourhoods. In autumn 2019, was found the Old City Housing Union (Sindicat d’Habitatge del Casc Antic), formed by people that meet in protests and actions to stop evictions. They gather every Thursday for assembling and treating personal cases collectively.

On the other hand, neighbours’ associations have created the Neighbourhoods for the Touristic Decrease Assembly (Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turístic). According to the spokesperson of the association , Daniel Pardo, their goal is taking action for the “economic disestablishment” of the tourism and avoid that touristic industry get rich at town’s expense. Since its foundation in 2015, they have given talks, protests and an occupation of the Soho House even. In 2016, they blocked touristic bus lines for 30 minutes, considered by the assembly as a “symbol of the rent’s extractions”. In the same year, they reserved an illegal flat of the Airbnb platform to show the course of action of some leaseholders.

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