Xinhua: Greek gov’t turns to e-auctions to get around protests against home foreclosures

After a wave of protests blocking home repossessions in courts across Greece in 2016, the Greek government promotes the formula of e-auctions to facilitate banks to reduce nonperforming loans and meet bailout targets.

Debtors risking to lose their homes, supported by anti-bailout activists, are seeking alternative ways to obstruct procedures.

The Greek Justice Ministry is seeing the last details in a bill that will clear the way for the start of electronic auctions this spring, Greek media have reported and ministry sources told Xinhua this week.

Greek notaries who have mainly faced the anger of protesters in recent months welcome the step.

Since autumn 2016 when notaries ended their own marathon protests against the social security system reform and returned to courthouses, they were met by a protest movement opposing auctions, in particular repossessions of primary residencies.

Following a long series of verbal attacks against them, notaries boycotted foreclosures hearings, requesting protection from the state.

“What we are witnessing since the start of our strike action against foreclosures six months ago is that certainly there is a percentage of our fellow citizens who indeed bear no responsibility and today face the risk of losing their primary residences,” Yorgos Rouskas, President of the Association of Notaries of Athens, Piraeus and Aegean Islands told Xinhua.

“Unfortunately, some other fellow citizens believe that the auction process should not take place for any property and unfortunately Greek notaries are the ones suffering from all attacks so far,” he explained.

Greek officials have repeatedly stressed that the primary residencies of recession-hit poor households are protected, but the law will be applied and people who can pay their debts will not be allowed to exploit the crisis and hide behind the debtors who are indeed suffering.

As a result of the notaries’ strikes, the total number of auctions nationwide fell to 4,800 last year versus 8,700 in 2015, “Kathimerini” (Daily) newspaper reported.

About 25,000 properties will be up for repossession in 2017 and 2018, “Ethnos” (Nation) daily reported, citing banking sources.

Under bailout conditions Greek banks must settle one out of three bad loans by 2020, meaning non-performing loans should be reduced by some 30 billion euros (32.3 billion U.S. dollars).

Currently about half of the one million Greeks who have taken loans are struggling to pay their monthly installments, according to central Bank of Greece estimates.

After cases of families with elderly patients and jobless members facing evictions for debts as low as 500 euros during the seven year debt crisis, a legal framework was created to protect the most vulnerable.

Two out of three homeowners are protected by the legislation, government sources underlined.

Protesters outside courthouses claim that the criteria set are so strict that only a few people qualify.

Among those protesting are groups like “Den Plirono” (I am not paying) which was born with the start of the debt crisis as a small pressure group of citizens angered by high highway tolls who blockaded toll booths to give drivers free passage.

The brothers Elias and Leonidas Papadopoulos are founding members of the movement “Den Plirono”.

The right to housing is a fundamental human right protected by international conventions and the Greek constitution, they noted speaking to Xinhua.

They are determined to keep blockading home repossessions. They review their strategy, planning rallies outside banks and notaries’ offices.

“Now that the crisis has deepened over the past three and a half years, we have proceeded to actions against the auctions, protecting workers’ houses and people’s properties.

“Also we have taken actions to reconnect the electricity and water supply to poor families. And it is worth mentioning that according to official data there are 350,000 households without electricity connection in Greece during the crisis,” Leonidas said.

“The truth is that perhaps the last refuge for a Greek citizen today is his home. He has lost his salary, his job, labor and human rights, he is a victim of bailout policies and his last refuge at the moment is a roof over his head,” Elias added.

Mary A., a painter and decorator, has been jobless since 2010. She has a son struggling to provide the basics for his two children. She lives alone in the apartment she inherited from her parents in Athens, fighting against eviction.

In 2002 she used her home as collateral asset for a business loan worth 60,000 euros her brother took out. Due to the debt crisis he could not keep up with the payments for long.

Since 2008 she struggles to avert foreclosure. Her hopes hang on a court ruling in April. If the verdict is negative she intends to hold a sit in protest inside her house, she told Xinhua. In the meantime she protests by the side of other homeowners.

“I believe we should all become a shield to protect the weak. I do not care only for my home. What is happening is unfair. People are welcome to follow us. I am defending my property title till the end,” she said.

Source: Xinhua