Madrid residents fight against evictions with musical protest

A building that activists say is being eyed for tourist accommodation hosts performances of jazz, flamenco or poetry in each apartment, while protesters outside chanted: ‘Neighbourhoods aren't for sale, they're to be protected’

Catarina DemonyDavid LatonaReuters
Published : 6 Feb 2024, 05:06 AM
Updated : 6 Feb 2024, 05:06 AM

Hundreds of people crowded a central Madrid street as musicians regaled them with tunes from balconies above to support more than 50 families who face eviction from a building that activists say is being eyed for tourist accommodation.

The four-storey complex in the multicultural Lavapies neighbourhood on Saturday hosted performances of jazz, flamenco or poetry in each apartment, while protesters outside chanted: "Neighbourhoods aren't for sale, they're to be protected."

As in other European cities, the gentrification of Madrid has been unfolding for years, pushing out local people as private developers turn homes into luxury flats and short-term rentals. There are now 62,580 beds in short-term rentals in Madrid, travel industry group Exceltur said.

According to Madrid's tenants union, real estate investment trust Elix Rental Housing - co-managed by asset managers AltamarCAM and Elix - is looking to buy the four-storey Lavapies building, with the board expected to approve the deal on Feb 13.

In a statement sent to Reuters, Elix said it has expressed interest in buying the building but that it currently does not own it.

"If Elix finally buys the building, its objective, as demonstrated by its more than 20 years of experience, is to talk with the neighbours to reach the best solution for everyone, always through dialogue and the utmost respect," it added. "Elix's willingness to discuss the matter is total."

Jaime Otayza, who lives in the building, said residents had found out about Elix's plans after they were leaked to the media.

"These funds want to keep a low media profile for these kinds of purchases. So if they want silence, we decided we're going to make noise," he said.

Joana Iglesias, a 35-year-old single mother of three, said finding somewhere else to live on her salary would be impossible due to the capital's soaring rents.

Rent prices in Spain are at their highest ever - having risen 10.8% over 2023 - with Madrid the second-most expensive city after Barcelona, according to data from online real estate platform Idealista.

"It's becoming harder and harder to live in this city," said another resident, 40-year-old screenwriter Cristina Gomez.

Carlos Martin, a lawmaker for the government's junior coalition partner, Sumar, said his party would push to curb tourist apartments in areas with high demand for housing and exclude from certain tax benefits landlords who overcharge.

He added that other measures, such as forcing buyers to live for at least five years in the flat they purchase, were also under consideration.