Spain suspends home evictions for most needy

Protestors holding signs that read 'Stop evictions'.

MADRID - Spain approved measures on Thursday to help the most needy families facing eviction, a growing problem in the recession-bound nation highlighted last week by the suicide of a woman whose home bailiffs came to seize.

The government said it would suspend evictions for two years for vulnerable homeowners who can no longer pay back debt, including those with small children, the disabled and long-term unemployed.

"This is an emergency response to mitigate the effects of the worst of the economic crisis," Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said at a weekly press conference.

In a country where a million homes lie empty, the legacy of a decade-long housing boom that crashed in 2008, she said the government would also increase the amount of social housing available at low rents for people who have lost their homes.

The Spanish banking association (AEB) said its members understood the latest measures, but noted that their cost would fall exclusively on the banks.

The AEB agreed with the government last week to suspend evictions for two years for those most in need.

Spanish banks, many of which are about to receive the first funds from a 100 billion euro ($127 billion) credit line from a European bailout, have repossessed 400,000 properties since 2008, though not all of those are residential.

The trend is growing, with 50,000 repossessions in the first half of this year, compared with 77,000 for the whole of 2011.

Though most evictions following the real estate crash involved immigrants, more Spaniards are now losing their homes, experts say, as unemployment benefit runs out and family networks fray in the worst recession in half a century.

"Over the last year, more and more Spaniards have been affected rather than immigrants who have less family support," said Mauricio Valiente, a lawyer who helps evicted people.

The death last Friday of 53-year-old Amaia Egana, who jumped from her fourth-floor flat in the Basque Country as bailiffs came to turn her out of her home, grabbed headlines and pushed the issue to the top of the political agenda.

It was the second such suicide in as many months.

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