Squatting as Claiming the Right to the City

Written by Diana Bogado, Noel Manzano and Marta Solanas


The phenomena of squatting and occupying currently constitute global methods of resisting the “neoliberal” dynamic of the global metropolis. We use the term occupy to refer to housing occupations that seek to guarantee shelter for populations without resources, and the term squat to allude to occupation processes that try to generate spaces for public meetings and political discussions. In Brazil and Spain, both kind of spaces push towards claiming social rights. Some essential similarities and differences between them will be described in this article.

The neoliberal city is built on a new form of “entrepreneurial” urban management, whose consequences are, among others, the accentuation of territorial segregation (Harvey, 2005, 2011). In the current global context, the action of civil society culminates in movements demanding the accomplishment not only of basic needs, but also the quality of urban life: the right to the city (Lefebvre, 1968). This right is under constant threat by the gradual imposition of financial interests in global cities (Sassen, 2001).

However, insurgent social networks make possible to endorse local struggles on a global scale. Both local and global trends, occupying and squatting have been described together as a single phenomenon, a product of comparable economic and institutional processes, in both the global North and South (Aguilera and Smart, 2016). This essay presents the hypothesis that the similarities between occupying and squatting in Spanish and Brazilian metropolises are the counterpart to the homogeneous processes of transforming housing and the city into speculative objects (Rolnik, 2016; Harvey, 2005; 2011), with specific, but equivalent, popular reactions.

In recent years, significant success has been achieved by the public space squatting and occupy movements in both countries, in their struggles for the right to decent housing and to the city, but along different dimensions. In Spain, the so-called 15M movement, starting in May 2011, contributed to the birth of the PAH,1 the main housing movement in Spain. In Brazil, the demonstrations of June 2013, known as the June Days, began in Rio de Janeiro and spread throughout the country and other Latin American countries, inspiring a whole generation to engage in socio-political struggles. These movements represented key moments in each location, and a new cycle of social revindications, with significant political consequences and global impacts, and appeared related to the global wave of popular resistance movements that began in Tunisia (2010) and Egypt (2011) known as the Arab Spring, with further manifestations in Europe and Latin America. These movements also represented a variation of traditional occupational forms by occupying public spaces instead of buildings (Erensü, Karaman, 2017). Furthermore, they claimed shared roots—the struggle for fundamental urban rights.

Related to these, a process of legitimizing housing occupation occurred in a context of accelerated dispossession processes (Harvey, 2005), both in Spain and in Brazil. In this text, we will compare their similarities and differences, studying the explicitly political occupy and squatting movements.

Our purpose will be to contextualize the global transformations in housing and city rights, both in Brazil and Spain, relating them to “the era of finance” (Rolnik, 2016), and the occupying/squatting patterns that emerged as reaction to it.2 In the context of financial capitalism, housing policies, housing complexes, public spaces and their idiosyncrasies become affected by the political process of financializing life. Public space becomes speculative and housing becomes a luxury item, transformed by speculation and gentrification, both in Brazil and in Spain, as a consequence of the commodification of cities for the global market (Rolnik, 2016). Such a management model leads to violations of civil rights, particularly with respect to the right to decent housing.3 Precarious populations were expelled to the extreme metropolitan periphery, threatening the right to the city both in Rio de Janeiro and in Spain.

These urban changes lead us to address the following issues: How have cities threatened the popular classes in both countries by transforming the city to allow the attraction of international speculative capital? How have local populations reacted in order to maintain their rights to the city?

Methodological Frame

This article is based on the personal and activist experiences of its three authors, as well as on materials collected during their respective academic trajectories. The methodology includes direct and participant observation (Becker, 1993; Whyte, 1943), or observant participation (Wacquant, 2000) in the occupy and squatting movements. At the same time, militancy and research were carried out in occupations for the right to housing and to the city (Lefebvre, 2001) in Rio de Janeiro, Seville and Madrid. In addition, at various moments, over the last few years, free conversations and structured interviews were conducted in different “squats” as part of the master’s and doctoral theses of the authors.

Diana Bogado’s (2011) master’s thesis was entitled The Okupa movement: Resistance and autonomy in occupy buildings in central urban areas. This text, written between Seville and Rio de Janeiro, comprises a theoretical analysis of occupying and squatting, using the existing literature and developing hypotheses linked to the experiences of the author-activist in squats and occupations in Brazil and Spain. She then wrote a Ph.D. thesis about the right to the city. The author participated in the 15M movement, in Spain, and in the demonstrations of June 2013 in Brazil, among other manifestations, and participated intensely in the fight against eviction and removal of the “favelas” in Rio de Janeiro from 2013 to 2016. The author built a museum of popular resistance with the community of the Vila Autódromo favela in Rio de Janeiro: The Museu das Remoções (Eviction Museum).

Noel Manzano’s (2015) master’s thesis in sociology was entitled People without houses, houses without people: Urban financialisation and housing appropriation in the new Madrilenian periphery. His research was carried out between Paris, Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro, and contains a strong empirical component based on a participative immersion in the social housing movements of Madrid, and 68 semi-structured interviews with urbanists, activists and members of informal occupations.

Marta Solanas’ doctoral thesis, Uruguayan housing cooperatives as a system of social production of habitat and neighborhood self-management, examined the horizontal and self-organized forms of popular housing in Latin America, with fieldwork in Montevideo. This experience was put into practice in spaces such as the “Corrala Utopia” in Seville—a building occupied by squatters at the beginning of the Spanish economic crisis (2012–2014).

This article is born, therefore, from the crossroads of theoretical research, fieldwork, and transnational experiences on the right to the city of the three authors. The activism practice within social movements permitted the authors to observe the squats’ dynamics, as well as enabling access for interviews. In an action-research process, practical actions constitute the initial provision of inputs, as well as a base with which to verify conclusions (Tripp, 2005). Dealing with the debate of subjectivity and objectivity, and also about the illusion of scientific neutrality, the path adopted is an exercise of objectification—not of objectivity—(Bourdieu, 1977), which does not treat reality as objective and admits that it can be treated as in search of objectification. In this way, the scientific principle upon which the methodology is grounded is not objectivity, but reflexivity. Our academic production is based on the theory of “ecology of knowledge” (Boaventura de Sousa Santos, 2010), which proposes the fusion of popular and scientific knowledge.

For this reflection we considered the everyday micro-processes that developed in the heart of the case studies, adopting them as key elements for understanding and explaining complex global macro-processes. We have considered squatting, and its logics, as spaces of struggle for the right to the city and conflict against neoliberal interests. This assessment was based on the regressive-progressive method, as designed by Lefebvre (1949, 1953, 1960, 1968), which allows for sketching the historicity of social processes, from a look at daily life and the spatialization of social dynamics (Lefebvre, 1991).

Our hypothesis is that the processes of exclusion— the consequence of market management of cities—generates new dynamics of struggle in social movements, and explains the plurality of forms of occupation and emerging squatting practices. In other words, new forms of entrepreneurial management and their impacts require the creative re-articulation of social movements, which subsequently leads to the emergence of different claims to the right to the city.

Financial Urban Management and the Right to the City in Brazil and Spain

The current era differs from other moments of the capitalist system lifecycle by some unique characteristics related to economic and financial dynamics. During the last decades, urban life has been increasingly mediated by the consumption of urban life, turning relationships and spaces into spectacles (Debord, 1969) and pressing them into competition. Competitiveness is not only restricted to the sphere of individual relations; it also becomes the predominant hegemonic logic that justifies itself (Santos, 2011). Within this logic fit the cities—they compete among themselves to become more attractive.

Urban planning, theoretically responsible for providing basic infrastructure, is managed as a tool for transforming spaces into international showcases. The emergence of the entrepreneurial protagonist within the urban management landscape is determined by its direct relationship with international financial capital, highlighting the speed of business processes and the presence of authoritarianism by a state of emergency in the execution of measures that serve corporate interests (Agamben, 2005; Aguilera and Naredo, 2009).

In Brazil, the traditional context of the chronic housing deficit was aggravated by initiatives trying to position the Brazilian metropolis as a priority focus for speculative real estate investments: the organization of macro-events, mainly the 2014 World Football Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Commuting global capital into local real estate projects, the increase in real estate prices produced, as a consequence, an urban policy of “evictions”,4 which was undertaken in several informal urbanizations (favela), such as the famous “Vila Autodromo” of Rio de Janeiro (Bogado, 2017). Producing both an alarming increase in rates of eviction and expulsions of low-income families (Azevedo and Faulhaber, 2015), the gentrification of already built areas, such as the port area of Rio de Janeiro,5 and the speculative construction of new buildings, which remain currently empty. This process was accompanied by a violent eviction policy to occupations and favelas.

In Spain, entry to the Eurozone in 2001 facilitated the raising of international capital and, as a result, the generation of a colossal real estate bubble. The national urban planning frame was transformed, deregulating the whole country by the national Land Law of 1997, which declared suitable to build on any land not specifically protected. In Madrid, the modification of the General Plan of Urban Planning, foresaw since 1995 the construction of new speculative neighborhoods and infrastructure, frequently (as in the Brazilian case) justified by unsuccessful applications to host the Olympic Games. Allowing local and regional housing companies, EMVS6 and IVIMA,7 to speculate on residential land prices.

The explosion of the real estate bubble, linked to the global subprime crisis in 2008, led to the privatization of a large part of social housing, and to a great number of evictions, producing a “housing emergency” (PAH, 2013) that remains today.

Faced with the rational use of housing, the massive non-payment of debts provoked a “promotion of high levels of indebtedness that reduced the whole populations to a condition of credit slavery” (Harvey 2005, p.173–174), thanks to the coercive mechanism of “mortgage evictions”. At the “macro” level, various financial speculative mechanisms privileged the maintenance of empty houses in the whole country to increase market prices of real estate, forbidding their social use (Manzano, 2015). This contradiction was visible in the most part of Spanish cities by the presence of abandoned urbanizations and empty blocks (Observatorio Metropolitano, 2013) being illegally, but rightfully, used both by social housing movements and individuals as a shelter solution.

In Spain, the sudden arrival of global capital to the real estate market, and the further dramatic capital outflow produced a huge economic crisis, stopping social housing programs and accelerating asset accumulation through a dispossession process (Harvey, 2005). The absence of a public housing park for rent (Naredo, 2013) forced the use of empty buildings as a precarious alternative to social housing.

In Rio de Janeiro, the construction of the neoliberal city is characterized not only by the commercialization of urban territory, but by the absence of public power in the construction of adequate housing units, as well as the lack of distribution to those who really need them. Although in Brazil there are programs focused on social housing, they are not efficient due to a range of factors: the dramatic housing shortage; the existence of a large stock of empty buildings for speculation; abandonment of central areas by the State; tourism; gentrification; the absence of social housing in or close to the central areas (with employment opportunities); and real estate interests in areas earmarked for social housing. Entrepreneurial public management is responsible for intensifying the production of urban segregation, a situation that, when combined with the inefficiency of social housing programs, has led to a gradual increase in the occupation of idle buildings and informal constructions in the great metropolis (Bogado, 2011).

Squats and Occupations

Squatting and occupying, both in Spain and Brazil, are booming practices. Although originating from very different socioeconomic realities, the problems from rampant real estate speculation and the lack of public housing forces people to use empty buildings as a precarious alternative to social housing. The basic difference is that a squat is an empty building used as common space to claim social rights. We refer to occupied buildings as a practice with the direct purpose of using a building as a dwelling, and afterwards developing other claims.

These different forms of occupation, squat and occupy, are alternatives to access the use of space, and claim the right to housing and the right to the city. The phenomenon of occupation of empty buildings is the direct response to the reproduction of “exceptions” and lack of access caused by real estate speculation and urban sprawl in large metropolises. We consider occupying the public space as one more face of the squat and occupy movements. To illustrate it, we point out that the “reclaim the street” in London and the “Ocupa Minc”, held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, are demands that, besides the right to housing, presented guidelines on urban social rights and the rights to cities. All forms of occupation contradict the tenets of the neoliberal and commodified city (Harvey, 2005).

The emergence of social organizations that use occupation or squat as a means to claim the use value of buildings is a process with parallel instances and historical evolutions between the two countries. From the emergence of the first “Centros Sociales Okupados” (Squatted Social Centers), in Spain in the late 70s (García, Martinez, 2014), through the “Movimento Nacional de Luta pela Moradia” [National Movement for Housing Struggle] (MNLM), initiated in the main Brazilian capitals in the early 1980s (Martins, 2011), this method of reaction against the speculative logic of the real estate market has been increasing until today.

The squats movement is different from housing movements, and essentially questions the behavior established by the language of the capitalist economy and proposes another language, an alternative language to consumer behavior, presenting other perceptions and community organizations for everyday life. The squats proposals resemble many other proposals brought by other movements, such as the movement of occupation of real estate in central areas and, especially, the principle of autonomous society. We observe the affinity of the squats movement with the principle of autonomy in its most fundamental aspect: the conference of autonomy to the subjects through the passage of knowledge that confers the possibility of discernment and criticism, fundamental factors for a self-managed social organization, as proposed by different kinds of squatters. The squatter philosophy is not an exclusive claim to the process of gentrification and maintenance of the local population of a neighborhood, but a claim against the kind of segregation produced by neoliberal economic logic, which puts the capital and exchange value variable above the value of use and all other variables of the social life equation.

The interest of the squats movement is not to become the dominant language, it is to encourage people to decide on their own reality. The movement organizes its action as an open system—one that seeks to modify the performance of the subjects in society towards social transformation. In Spain, the links between occupation and squatting is a traditional dichotomy, identified by the terms “okupa” and “ocupa” (Bogado, 2011). The first occupy buildings mainly as a tool to establish social centers, which are open to the neighborhood, in central and peripheral areas to vindicate the common use of the buildings and the city. The second refers to housing squats used mainly as a shelter to impoverished populations (Manzano, 2015), frequently opened or supported by popular housing social movements. In Brazil, although squatted social centers also exist, most of the squatting initiatives are housing occupations, comparable with the Spanish “ocupa” houses, using empty buildings, as a pragmatic housing solution and claim for the right to the city.

Facing the already described speculative logic, social movements have acquired, in the last years, a double role. Firstly, they constitute platforms for the expression of discontent and pressure to change the regulatory framework. The fight for the Urban Reform, the control of capitalist urban logics in the Brazilian case, and the demands for modifying the Law Against Evictions in Spain, have been conveyed by social movements and are part of the current political debate in both countries, fighting the local consequences of the global-financial economy. Moreover, it presents disobedient resources and practices to circumvent the model dictated by the theory of consumption, or “tyranny of money in its pure state”, according to Brazilian geographer Milton Santos (2013).

Secondly, sectors of these same movements in both countries promote, support and organize collective occupations as a temporary solution for families without resources. In the face of militant squatting, which develops squatted social centers frequently open to citizenship, “collective occupations” would be generalized as a direct and pragmatic action whose study is still embryonic.

The Struggle for Housing in Spain

In Spain, the chronification of the “crisis” in the popular classes and the desperate situation of many families provoked a popular reaction, both in Madrid and the whole of the State. It took shape under several housing rights initiatives—La Corrala in Seville, the 15M groups of housing and, mainly, Plataforma de Afectados de la Hipoteca [Affected by the Mortgage Platform] (PAH). Originally born in Barcelona, in the same days that gave rise to the movement of 15 May 2011, this movement took place in a decentralized way, spreading rapidly throughout Spain. The platform is based on mutual legal and psychological assistance among its members. The experience of older members, having learned all the legal mechanisms and passive resistance techniques to stop an eviction, allows it to incorporate new members. The PAH also organizes an occupation movement called the “Obra Social” (Social Work).8 Heir to the protesting tradition of militant squats, the okupa movement (Martinez, 2002), and based on squats dedicated exclusively to housing, the “Social Work” of the PAH promotes the use of buildings owned by the financial sector, and kept empty for speculative reasons. Their appropriation makes it possible to publicize their demands for legislative change and to negotiate “social rentals” from a strong position when they confront the financial owners.

Spanish occupations are generally undertaken by families weakened by the crisis, perhaps facing foreclosures or claims for the non-payment of rent. Spanish legislation makes it difficult to expel squatter families after 48 hours following their entrance into an empty building, with long judicial procedures, often more than one year, producing a “legal limbo”. This allows a large number of precar ous people to live in housing squats, even though they may periodically need to change houses. In contrast, PAH “Social Work” fights for families to stay permanently in houses and buildings belonging to banks “rescued” by the Spanish state, or the SAREB,9 the national “bad bank”, that purchased—with public money—unprofitable houses and buildings for the financial and real estate sectors.

For this purpose, activists promote two types of squats: individual and collective. Individual squats begin with the entry of a family into an empty dwelling, supported in this case by one or more activists. Once housed, however, it is relatively independent of the PAH assembly, being supported in particular at the legal level. PAH also helps to regulate individual squats opened by individuals, as long as they are housed in bank properties (previously cleared out after evicting a family that was unable to continue paying their mortgage). Collective squats are directly opened by experienced members of the PAH and serve as a home to households in need of emergency shelter. The buildings occupied are often small, and generally the selection of candidates requires previous assembly work to prepare the entrance and create common links, making easier the adaptation of households to their new life in the collective squat. Involving neighbors is a key element to avoid an early denunciation, reducing enormously the risk of eviction. Sympathy towards PAH in the media also minimizes the risk of expulsion.

The Social Housing Movements in Brazil

In Brazil, movements such as the MNLM10 and the MTST (Movement of Homeless Workers),11 frequently occupy empty buildings located in central areas. An important amount of organizational work is usually needed to cope with the creation of collective infrastructures within the housing complexes, such as gardens, libraries, soup kitchens, etc., and to deal with external risks such as police action and infiltrations.

In this country, the occupy phenomenon has strengthened, multiplied and gained more visibility from the various initiatives and forms of occupation carried out over recent years. Faced with the institutional bills approved by the current president, Michel Temer (2016–2018), and the retreat of the social rights they imply, the various manifestations and forms of occupation have become fundamental political actions (e.g. the occupied schools movement). The episode “Occupy Minc” stands out as a symbol of pl ralization among the occupation forms and is responsible for spreading the phrase “Fora Temer” throughout Brazil.

Movements of occupation of empty buildings in Brazil are opposed to the interests of the real estate market and seek to provide access to housing for all as an universal right. Opposing the idea of housing as a commodity, occupying empty buildings in central areas, in addition to promoting awareness raising activities. The National Movement for Housing, the MNLM,and the MTST demand observation of Article 6 of the Brazilian Constitution, which establishes housing as a social right. Moreover, theyrepresentthe protest for the right to live and enjoy the city. The slogan of the movement, expresses the government’s disregard for housing provision: “If living is a right, occupying is a duty”, justifying civil disobedience for the exercise of the social function of property. The MNLM organized itself as an entity in the period of the promulgation of the Federal Constitution, although previously its founders already militated in the National Movement for Urban Reform (MNRU). Before the military dictatorship in Brazil (1964–1985), the militants of the struggle for urban and agrarian reform were linked to the Catholic Church (Souza, 2009). The Central de Movimentos Populares (CMP), together with the MNLM, linked to discussion forums and debates promoting popular mobilization to occupy public buildings (Souza, 2009).

The CMP, which is national in scope and operates in several areas, selects abandoned public buildings available for occupation, although they also organize the occupation of private properties indebted to the municipality. These debts sometimes exceed the value of the property, and in some situations belong to the State (Souza, 2009). The lack of public commitment to housing is the trigger for the action of social movements, which arbitrarily enforce the rights described in the Constitution. However, this action is severely repressed by the police. In attempting to evict families and dismantle the movement the authorities cut the electricity and water supplies and threaten members. The occupation movements in Brazil act against the advance of real estate speculation in the central lands, and represent a radical route of action of re-appropriation of the city through civil disobedience. The existence of innumerable organized occupations in the metropolitan urban centers, mainly in the southeast of the country, testifies to the representativeness of the movements in the struggle for realizing the right to housing. Occupy movements exert significant pressure on governments to enforce the right to the city, although, in recent years, state action has focused more on evicting families than on regulating occupied housing. This conduct of the State is directly related to certain mega-events—the World Cup, 2014 and the 2016 Olympics—and with the troubled political scenario with the appointment of the country’s president without elections, accompanied by measures that prioritize individual interests to the detriment of public and collective interests.

A Transnational Comparison between Brazilian and Spanish Practices of Occupation and Squatting

An in-depth comparison of struggles for the right to housing in Brazil and Spain is a project still to be carried out. However, we can point to some schematic similarities and differences between Brazilian and Spanish squats. Predominantly organized or related to housing movements, but also informally executed by individuals, in both countries squatting and occupations are a pragmatic answer to the speculative dynamics that have produced empty buildings. In this way, inhabitants claim their rights to the city. Used as a tool of hard negotiations, in both countries squats and occupied buildings are inhabited for several years, with few expulsions.

Some differences, however, can be pointed out. Firstly, the kind of buildings used and their ownership characteristics. Spanish housing occupations used to be of a small size, re-using empty residential buildings owned by the financial sector, mainly in peripheral areas, to provide individual flats. Brazilian housing social movements frequently occupy much bigger buildings, usually reconfiguring the spaces to provide individual apartments, but also installing basic infrastructure and creating common spaces of collective management.

Secondly, the origin of populations presents some differences. While the Spanish housing squats provide single flats to impoverished populations due to the economic crisis, the Brazilian equivalents house historically disadvantaged and precarious populations, with a more shared ideological background than the Spanish ones. Thirdly, these kinds of social initiatives, linked to the PAH movement, seem to enjoy huge popular support in Spain. In Brazil, the informal occupation of housing has historically been subject to stigma (Gonçalves, 2012) and, since around 2013, evictions accompanied by stigmata have accentuated—mainly during sports mega-events, when inappropriate housing practices were consciously linked, by authorities and the private sector, to marginal populations.

The Brazilian and Spanish legal frames are also different. In Spain, there is no institutionalized regulation to allow squats or occupations to obtain a long-term right to occupy empty buildings, being an object of case-by-case negotiations with public authorities and building owners. The Spanish “okupa” movement, whose motto is “un desalojo, otra ocupación” (one eviction, a new squat) is based on a continuous process of eviction– resettlement. The “ocupa” practices, not related to housing movements, are founded in a situation of high precarity and inhabitants are able to stay just a few months in their occupied houses—the time needed to get a new eviction court order. Although lacking empirical evidence, we estimate that a huge population is currently moving through the empty real estate housing stock, in a continuous process of fighting for survival (Manzano, 2015).

In Brazil, different legislation, such as the “City Statute” (Estatuto da Cidade) and the “usucapião” law, allow for the regularization of individual and collective occupations after some years of pacific, goodwill use of abandoned buildings and lands. In the last years, programs such as “MCMV Entidades” have provided public funds to housing movements, allowing the renovation of occupied buildings in collaboration with architects. Despite these legal advancements in relation to the right to housing, there is still much to be improved, as shown by the frequent evictions of organized occupations.

Conclusion: Towards an Internationalization of Urban Social Movements

Considering this comparative analysis, we believe that the popular answers to speculative processes in both countries are convergent. In spite of cultural differences—and the different positions at the core and periphery of the global economic system—global capitalist mechanics have strongly reinvigorated the “housing problem” in different contexts. The accumulation by dispossession process (Harvey, 2005) has, in both Brazil and Spain, induced massive forced evictions, strengthening the feeling of plunder and a generalized financial “revanchism” (Smith, 2012). As a consequence, the rise of urban social movements has been observed, constituting or supporting autonomous housing alternatives. The motto “people without houses, houses without people” is equally valid and used as a claim on both sides of the Atlantic.

The consolidation of communities generated by social movements is not without difficulties. Although the historical trajectories and the social reality of both countries are very different, the comparison of the respective processes of financialization, and the social reactions that have emerged from it, invite us to propose the existence of a convergence process, both in the commodification of popular urban areas and in the responses of social movements.

On the one hand, financial capital uses the urban space as an object of change, through speculative investment, attacking local populations that would not benefit in any way from these global investment transfers. This makes the “housing problem” (Engels, 1872 [1997]) reappear with force, in contexts characterized by enormous urban and real estate growth. The processes of uncontrolled real estate valuation carried out in both countries, such as the beginning of a crisis of extreme consequences, currently suffered in Brazil seven years after the start of the crisis in Spain, in 2008, could be part of the same process of violent global investment–divestment carried out a few years apart.

On the other hand, the social struggle against the process of financialization of housing and urban management, concretized by the occupy and squatting initiatives, share common elements in northern and southern global contexts, exemplified in the cases of Brazil and Spain. The fact that the struggle for the right to the city and to housing has emerged with force in both countries validates the hypothesis of the emergence of autonomous, self-regulated spaces that overflow the regulation frames and real estate logic of capital gains. Thus, these movements are attacking the core of the global, financial accumulation process with the eruption of popular solidarities by appropriating empty buildings.

Occupying and squatting insert alternative ways of urban life (Castells, Caraça et Cardoso, 2012), which allow populations excluded from the right to the city to become strong and reconquer it. In that sense, occupying and squatting practices are directly rooted in the original sense of Lefebvre’s Right to the City. As Souza (2010) points out, the original sense of the right to the city goes far beyond the fight against the main manifestations of the neoliberal urban economy, reducing the amount of “horror” of its logics to a “tolerable level”. The Lefebvrian purpose was not a fight against the superficial consequences of a capitalist market, but to support a deep transgression of the urban and systemic logic,founded in a subaltern reappropriation of the city. The common appropriation of public spaces and buildings is materialized by a large range of practices, not only in our cases of study, but in very different countries. This constitutes a historical popular and middle class reaction against the dramatic capitalist exploitation of the city.

The current increase of successful squatting and occupy experiences, and the awareness of the population of the need to build a democratic appropriation of empty buildings, is currently under threat by the rise of conservative forces, both in Brazil and in Spain. However, the current reinforcement of repressive legal frames against self-organized housing initiatives, without providing public housing alternatives, is not sustainable for the hegemonic powers because, as history showed us (Leontidou, 1990; Aguilera, 2017) people need houses, and they will organize to obtain them.

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1. In Spanish, Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform of Mortgage-Affected).
2. Another kind of urban squat, land used to build popular housing, although related to housing movements in Brazil, has virtually disappeared in Spain, and will not be examined in this text.
3. As described in the UN report prepared by the Special Rapporteur in charge, Raquel Rolnik (2009), who addresses the right to adequate housing. This report analyses the procedures of those responsible for the mega-events in Brazil, the IOC and FIFA.
4. In Portuguese: “remoções”.
5. In this area, on the eve of the mega-sport events (2014–2017) many squats were evicted, although they were located in an “Area of Special Social Interest”, an urban area earmarked for popular dwellings (Bogado, 2017).
6. Municipal Enterprise of Housing and Land.
7. Institute of Housing of Madrid.
8. Further information: http://afectadosporlahipoteca.com/wpcontent/uploads/2016/06/GreenBook-PAH-21juny.pdf
9. Management Society of Funds from bank restructuring processes.
10. In Portuguese: Movimento Nacional de Luta pela Moradía.
11. In Portuguese: Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST).

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