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Tato, the opera singer with no income who was saved by Barcelona activists from eviction

They never gave him the cakes of opera to earn a lot of money to the baritone Joan Sebastià Colomer, known in the Raval district of Barcelona as Tato. “I lived in a very precarious way, but I could always pay my share of the rent for the shared flat,” says the 47-year-old man. But with the pandemic the tap of the concerts was closed, also that of a group of rock versions in Catalan, and ten months ago he stopped paying the rent after, progressively, his three roommates were losing their respective jobs and with them the ability to pay the monthly payment of 1,000 euros. On March 29, about a hundred neighbors stood at the door of his house and stopped his eviction. “Not even the tato is going from here,” the activists celebrated victoriously.

“Yes, if the neighbors hadn’t come, they would surely have evicted me,” acknowledges Joan Sebastià, who is an activist in the Raval Habitat Union, a group that helped stop the eviction as he himself has helped stop several others. “What I did not expect is that I would present my case to the Union,” he says with a resigned smile. Despite the fact that decree-law 37/2020 of the central government sought to stop evictions in Spain of families in vulnerable situations, reports that prove this circumstance are not always accepted. Lawyers and activists for housing lament the “arbitrariness” of justice to dismiss them, as was the case of Joan Sebastià, while the owner’s lawyer assures that “she did not meet the requirements” to be considered vulnerable and thus justifies the final judgment .

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The owner’s lawyer, Ira Font, outraged by the version of the Sindicat d’Habitatge, criticizes that Sebastià raised the negotiation “once the lawsuit was filed”, after October last year, when the execution date was approaching of the eviction, “and without making a financial contribution that can help convince the owner, who is an elderly woman who needs this income to pay a caregiver.” According to her, Sebastià did not warn that he could not pay, an extreme that the tenant denies. “If he had seen on the part of the tenant a willingness to solve it, we could have fixed it,” says Font, contrary to what the singer defends. It also regrets that the first communication they received was from the Sindicat de l’Habitatge itself and not from the tenant. “We didn’t hear from him until the eviction date was approaching,” he says.

After the total confinement of the months of March and April, Sebastià got some sporadic jobs singing at the doors of shops in the municipal project of ‘Òpera al Comerç’ and as a nursing assistant in the Duran i Reynals hospital, but with the salary ” It is also not possible to pay the 1,000 euros of rent. ” Now he is waiting to collect the unemployment, once his last period as an auxiliary is over. Before the pandemic, she was able to sing as a showgirl in major venues and even conduct some works in small venues.

“The world of opera is uneven, those who could have survived better are those who are deeply involved in the circuits of the great halls,” he explains. Two of his colleagues left the apartment after losing their jobs and the one who was left still has no income. “Once in default, you accumulate debt and it would not have resolved the situation to find a colleague who could pay or pay only a part without solving the debt,” says Sebastià, whose salary goes to his daughter’s expenses. 11 years old, who lives with the mother. “I don’t explain to her that they can evict me so as not to worry her.”

On the same day March 29 that his eviction was to be carried out in Sant Antoni, another was scheduled in Raval and another three in the neighboring Poble-sec neighborhood. In one of them, Virgen was evicted along with her family, while the others were stopped. There was still another order in Barceloneta. In other words, despite the brake on evictions from the new decree-law, there were five in one day in less than two square kilometers. This Thursday, the neighborhood platforms were called to try to stop one in the Free Zone and the other in Poble-Sec.

In total, the vulnerability reports served to stop 418 evictions in Barcelona between January 18 and February 28, according to figures from the City Council presented on March 25. Since the approval of the state moratorium, 80% are paralyzed before reaching the scheduled date and 77% are not executed due to mediation agreements. 55% were due to non-payment of rent, 32% due to precarious occupation and 13% due to contract terminations. Last year, 29,406 evictions were carried out throughout Spain, 45.6% less than the 54,006 registered the previous year, according to figures released by the General Council of the Judiciary.

In some cases, like that of Tato, it is neighborhood action that slows down the eviction, although it is also a form of pressure to force negotiation. “Let’s hope that now the owner wants to negotiate, because now is the time,” says Sebastià, “worried” about where he will go to live and will leave his belongings if he is finally evicted. “I could go to my girlfriend’s house, but four people already live there, it would be temporary,” he explains. The singer considers the option of occupying as the only alternative to the complicated rental market, unaffordable with average wages even with price regulation. “What big companies and banks cannot squeeze, screw us to the bottom,” he laments, and foresees “a bigger wave” of illegal occupations in the near future. If, as Pedro Sánchez predicted last Tuesday, the state of alarm ends on May 9, so will the moratorium on evictions, which could skyrocket the number of people who are left homeless.

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