Terrassa launched in January the first Office of Mortgage Intermediation in the state, thus opening the ban for the municipalities to enter a field that until now watched from a distance. The creation of this new service responds to a reality that has multiplied its visibility since the beginning of the crisis. According to the municipality councilor Lluisa Melgares, between 2008 and 2010 there were 3,000 evictions in the city, a figure that “has gone to more.” The reception of the office also shows the problem: in almost three months of activity 348 lawsuits have been attended. Terrassa became the pioneer of a model that some consistories look at carefully and others have already assimilated.
“The problem we find is the inheritance of the past, when we hired mortgages without having or understanding all the necessary information. Now, many neighbors are without floor and with a debt for the old value of housing, “explains Melgares. According to the council, the City Council’s decision to intervene in mortgage disputes responds to the “concern to see how your population is losing their homes.” And the key concept is to intermediate, not to mediate, since the consistory understands that it is not a negotiation between two equal parts, but the bank starts from a position of advantage over the owner.
The Mortgage Intermediation Office of Terrassa offers two levels of attention; the first, the collection of information to address the case, and the second, the legal. The initial intention of the City Council was to create a service in direct link with the banks, to which they refused. “In the end we got the collaboration with the Col·legi d’Advocats, who lend us their dependencies and give us their advice,” says Melgares. The councilor explains another advantage of this agreement, and is that, he explains, “people prefer to approach the school than Social Services, as it happened before.”
According to Melgares, there are two profiles of applicants for advice
“On the one hand there are those who have seen their income drop and need to be refinanced, and on the other hand there are those who will never again be able to pay 800 euros a month for a house, and who are the majority”. It is in these cases where the City Council becomes important and proposes the negotiation to the bank. To date, 141 interviews have been arranged between the parties and 36 cases have been closed, not always positive. “There are cases in which there is no way to find the person in charge of the entity, or in which the bank does not accept new proposals or that there is an excess of debt.” Even so, in cases of success, the suspension of eviction orders, refinancing agreements, changes in ownership by social rent, and even dations in payment have been achieved.
But the determining point of the service is the willingness of the banks to negotiate. In this sense, the short experience suggests that having the City Council at the negotiating table opens the doors. “What we try from the office is to avoid a judicial process that is also harmful to banks, since they invest money they do not recover,” says Melgares. Not only that, banks have a real estate backpack with no exit to which they can not add more homes, so they are also an interested party in the negotiation. “The banks are beginning to understand that they are more willing to offer their empty apartments in cheap rents than to try to sell them because they will never place them; at present we meet every month and we are trying to move forward to make a project of social floors with some of these vacant homes “.
The City Council of Terrassa is in negotiations with the Col·legi d’Advocats to make the Intermediation Office grow from the ten cases that are attended weekly to the present until the age of sixteen.
A model imitated
The operation of the Terrassa office has aroused the interest of populations such as Cerdanyola and even Madrid, and has also created the first duplicities. This is the case of Rubí, who five weeks ago opened his own Mortgage Intermediation Office, following the Terrasse model. The project is part of the motion passed in the municipal plenary session in November, which called for initiatives to assist residents with difficulties in paying their mortgages.
The consistory does not enter to give data on the number of people with mortgage problems, since it considers that the figures handled by the Platform of Affected by Mortgage (PAH) does not correspond to the total number of cases and because banks reserve the information . As a guide, the coordinator of Social Policies and Citizenship of the municipality, José Luís Ariño, points out that the main demand of the last five years in Social Services has been housing. “About four out of ten requests are for these cases, some for payment problems and others directly for lack of home.”
Faced with this situation, the City Council has designed two lines of action; the first, the office itself, and the second, a table with the banking entities of the city in which the intermediation service is presented. “What we seek is to open spaces for dialogue and solutions for both parties; what we do not assume is the debt … we only have packages of economic aid for cases of urgency, “says Ariño.
So far, the Rubin service has served about ninety families, and negotiations are taking place with banking entities that go in the same direction as in the case of Terrassa. Still, Ariño believes that people should know when to go to the office. “Ideally, they should come as soon as possible, before the situation is really very complicated and this is not happening.” According to the coordinator, 60% of the petitions come with a process of eviction in progress with the legal complications involved.
Ariño agrees with Melgares on the added value of having the municipality at the negotiating table, especially in regard to the deal. “In principle, entities have by protocol to contact the owner when the first problems in the payment, but the truth is that with us through the reception is more attentive and careful.”
The model followed by Sabadell is something different. The problem exists, since according to the local PAH each week between five and ten owners attend, but there is no Intermediation Office as such. In this case, the city is committed to the Sabadell Habitatge, a service that unifies all issues related to housing, from registration to social services. “The intention is to unite in an office the services of the different regidurías”, indicates the deputy mayor of Urbanism and Public Spaces, Joan Manau.
In Sabadell, the reference to know the situation is the Ofideute, the intermediation service that imitates and completes the model created by the Generalitat in 2009. Only in the first quarter of 2012 228 people have come to the service, 68 since it is underway the Sabadell Habitatge. The big difference with the offices of Terrassa and Rubí is that, apart from the negotiation with the bank, the economic education of the owners is discussed. “We understand that behind the cases of evictions there are some economic habits to correct and we try to educate the owners to change their behavior,” says Manau. In order to do so, the City Council has reached agreements with entities such as Cáritas or Creu Roja, which deal with the formation of families in the domestic economy.
Entering in the pure negotiation with the bank, Sabadell is one of the first populations that decided to intervene, already in 2011. In this sense, Manau also considers that there has been a change in the attitude of the banks. “They confess that they are the first ones interested in avoiding evictions, because they find themselves as owners of more homes with which they do not know what to do anymore.”