Errekaleor Bizrik! Errekaleor Alive! Errekaleor Vivo!
In January, I had the pleasure of staying in Errekaleor, one of the biggest occupied neighbourhoods in the Basque Country and Spain more generally, with a total of 192 homes. Spain was one of the countries worst hit by the global economic crisis of 2009 and as a result, hundreds of thousands of homes continue to lay empty across the country. Errekaleor provides fresh hope to those who believe that the current housing model is broken and gives new meaning to notions such as cooperative living, community and solidarity in defiance of the seemingly ever-expanding grip of neoliberalism. Despite heavy-handed attempts by the authorities to stop their alternative way of life, the inhabitants of Errekaleor continue to live co-operatively, self-sufficiently and are an example that community-based living is possible in Europe in the year 2018.
In the 1950s, the neighbourhood of Errekaleor was built on the outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz to house working-class families that had migrated from southern Spain to the Basque Country in search for work, given the expanding industrial developments in the region. During the early 2000s, an urban redevelopment programme was announced in southern Vitoria, which included demolishing Errekaleor. Families were forced out of the neighbourhood and rehoused in preparation for the new developments to be built. Shortly after, the housing bubble burst leading to the redevelopment plan to be scrapped and the houses of Errekaleor subsequently lay empty.
In 2013, ten students from Vitoria-Gasteiz, who were affected by the housing crisis decided to move into the unoccupied neighbourhood and establish their alternative housing project named “Errekaleor Bizirik (Errekaleor Alive).” The houses were in dire conditions and needed rebuilding, work which was carried out collectively and is still ongoing. Nowadays, over 120 people make-up the project, which houses students, artists, families and some of Errekaleor’s original inhabitants.
In early 2017, the electricity supply was cut by the local government forcing them to look into sustainable and self-sufficient forms of energy. This did not stop them however, they promptly embarked on a process of installing solar panels that currently provide five hours of electricity a day. The neighbourhood is surrounded by collective allotments, allowing the inhabitants of Errekaleor to grow their own food. They also have converted the old church into a social space for holding events such as concerts, dance and theatre performances. The space is also open to other activists or socio-political movements, demonstrating their commitment to challenging the status quo. They also have a school, a library, an arts-and-crafts space and a bar, the latter whose funds go towards raising money for the maintenance of the neighbourhood.
Having been in Errekaleor during winter, I can testify to the frosty weather which at times feels like it has seeped into your bones. Life in Errekaleor is not easy by any means. It is a continual work in progress that is under the watchful eye of the authorities, who are constantly looking for ways to bring the project to an end. There have been various violent attempts from the local authority of Vitoria-Gasteiz to evict the inhabitants; they argue that the homes do not reach decent living standards. Such attempts have so far proved unsuccessful.