45-year old office manager Irene Gonzalez of Spain, left waits with a friend, to be evicted from her home, in Madrid, Monday Nov. 19, 2012. The police and court officials did not show up at the planned time and she still does not know if they will come later or on another day to evict her. Spain recently approved a two-year suspension of evictions for some needy homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, but activists said the government failed to address the larger issue of how those who give up their homes may still remain indebted, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Public attention on the issue intensified greatly in recent weeks after two homeowners facing eviction committed suicide. (AP Photo/Paul White)
MADRID (AP) — Spain is to offer foreigners residency permits if they buy houses worth more than €160,000 ($200,000) as part of an attempt to reduce the country's bloated stock of unsold homes.
Trade Ministry secretary Jaime Garcia-Legaz said the plan, expected to be approved in the coming weeks, would be aimed principally at the Chinese and Russian markets as the domestic demand was stagnant and showed no sign of improving. Spain has more than 700,000 unsold houses following the collapse of its real estate market in 2008.
The country's economy is struggling and is currently in recession with 25 percent unemployment. Thousands of houses have been repossessed by banks and their owners evicted because they cannot pay their mortgages. The government last week approved a decree under which evictions would be suspended for two years in specific cases of extreme need.
The country's offer beats others in bailed-out countries such as Ireland and Portugal, where residency papers are offered to foreigners buying houses worth more the €400,000 and €500,000, respectively. It was not immediately clear if the residency would only refer to Spain, and not the European Union.
The stricken state of the country's real estate market was highlighted Monday by figures from the Bank of Spain which showed that the level of bad debt in the country's banks had risen to a record 10.7 percent of their loan total in September.
The bank said the amount totaled €182 billion, up from €179 billion in August — the 15th monthly increase in a row.
The 16 other countries that use the euro have agreed to lend Spain up to €100 billion to help support the country's banks weighed down by these bad loans and investments. On top of the bank loan, Spain has been under pressure to apply for more outside financial aid to help it manage its debt and deficit. The European Central Bank has insisted on the move before it will make good on its pledge to buy the bonds of certain troubled countries to help lower their borrowing costs.
Spain says it is waiting to know all the conditions that might come attached to the rescue package before making a decision.
Shawn Pogatchnick in Dublin, Ireland and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal contributed to this report.