Text By Pim Schachtschabel
Day two of our studytrip starts with an 40 km drive towards a new build apartment complex outside the city of Madrid called the Residencial Francisco Hernando in the area of Seseña. While driving the cityscape slowly transforms into a vast landscape of dry grassland. Surprisingly in this landscape an occasional ufo has landed in the form of apartment complexes. Some of them are occupied and some are desolated. After 40 minutes we can spot the Francisco Hernando’s apartment complex promptly standing in it’s landscape, like the Hollywood sign in Beverly Hills. On the highway no directions are given towards the complex and we find ourselves lost on the highway, industry complexes and another ghost town, to finally find, after 20minutes, the grand route that brings us to the evaporating Spanish dream; Residencial Francisco Hernando.
This residential complex was build during the construction boom of 2000 and proclaimed to be the suburban paradise for young Spanish couples and their children. 13,000 homes were to be built costing over 9 billion euro’s. Up till today only around 5000 of those units are completed and approximately 1000 units have inhabitants. The economic crisis and crash on the Spanish housing market have turned Francisco Hernando’s complex into a failure and feels as a ghost town. It’s almost as being in a theme park with no visitors but only the cleaning workers are there. All the investors are struggling to sell any more houses. Currently some banks even offer apartments with discounts up to 50% of the original price, showing how desperate they are to ‘get rid’ of their investments. But as the head of the economics department Luis Alvarez Arce said; “Who is going to buy these homes?” Many young Spaniards are trying to find work abroad, the real estate market in Spain is in crisis and the Spanish mentality about real estate is changing due to this current crisis. The believe in Spain, and also in many other countries, was that you should always buy instead of renting and that real estate was a good investment that would never go bad. According to Fernando Encinar the age-old saying in Spain that prices never go down is now broken.
The current residents have to cope with their bought houses that are unsellable. Living was supposed to be a suburban dream. Each complex has it’s own facilities inside the building. From tennis fields to swimming pools and personal security guards, Seseña was the image of modern live within financial reach of the many. Now without it’s completion there is no interest for public facilities. Public transport runs only 1 bus service every 2 hours to a nearby town. In the neighbouring town Yemen, 10 minutes walk, A high-speed train connection was supposed to be build to reach downtown Madrid in 20 minutes. The trains never started running. Around the residential complexes there is no pharmacy the Pizza restaurant is only open three night a week, no childcare, no doctors, no typical Spanish tapas bar. Even though all the apartment blocks have commercial space for small businesses on the ground floor they are closed with cheap brick walls and painted with phone numbers offering them for sale. Making the street an unpleasant place to be.
Solutions for the inhabitants won’t be found easily and won’t be found quick. Scandals of the development of this complex though are coming in sight. Apparently the project had been approved unusually quickly. Local authorities have been bribed, the former mayor Luis Marin was arrested. The developer Francisco Hernando was never charged for any criminal activity but has moved for his own security to Central Africa. Everybody flees the country leaving a icon sign of their wrongdoings and crisis behind in the form of a residential complex. Unfortunately many Spaniards have to deal with their wrongdoing