Special Report: Why Madrid's poor fear Goldman Sachs and Blackstone

Fri Oct 24, 2014 3:32am EDT
 
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By Sonya Dowsett

Madrid (Reuters) - Last year Madrid’s city and regional governments sold almost 5,000 rent-controlled flats to private equity investors including Goldman Sachs and Blackstone. At the time, the tenants were told their rental conditions would remain the same.

But as old contracts expire, dozens of people have received demands for higher rent, been told their rents will increase dramatically, been threatened with eviction or moved out to escape the insecurity. Thousands of Spain’s poor now depend for their homes on the generosity of private equity.

Jamila Bouzelmat is one of them.

The mother of six lives in a four-bedroom flat on the outskirts of the Spanish capital that was bought jointly by Goldman and a Spanish firm. The 44-year-old said that until March her family paid 58 euros ($73) a month in rent out of her husband’s 500-euro unemployment benefit. In April, her bank statement shows, her new landlords suddenly took 436 euros from her bank account.

She discovered the payment when she tried to pay an electricity bill.

“We went to take money out and there wasn’t a cent left in the bank,” she said, her 18-month-old daughter playing at her feet. She got charity hand-outs to feed her children, aged between 18 months and 19 years, and now lives in fear of the rent bill. Goldman declined to comment.

In the buildings sold to the funds, Reuters has spoken to more than 40 households who face similar difficulties. They include some of Madrid’s most vulnerable people: an unemployed single mother of five with a severely disabled daughter, for example, and an HIV patient with one lung. Both faced evictions that were temporarily halted at the last minute.

There is no suggestion the buyers have acted illegally. Having bought around 15 percent of Madrid’s publicly held social housing, the new owners are simply exercising their right to charge commercial rents once reduced rents that tenants have paid expire.   Continued...

 
Unemployed hairdresser and mother-of-three Yasmin Rubiano looks at documents at her flat in Madrid June 30, 2014. Picture taken June 30, 2014.    REUTERS/Juan Medina