The housing emergency goes way beyond abandoned houses
Interview with Jaime Sorin, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Town Planning of Buenos Aires and Director of the Program of Investigation concerning Housing Emergency.
By Matilde Sosa
Published January 29, 2009 at the Instituto Argentino para el Desarrollo Economico (Argentinean Institute for Economic Development).
The fatal fire in the Barrio de la Boca broke out early in the morning on Saturday, January 10 at the intersection of Avenida Suarez and Avenida Almirante Brown. The 25 families who used to live where the former Banco Italia operated, were moved to different hotels in Buenos Aires. The fire spread throughout the place particularly quickly due to the small huts of wood and cardboard that divided the space, resulting in the untimely death of six siblings under the age of 13. This event proves to be the result of the spending cuts and undoing of the housing policies on the part of the city government of Buenos Aires.
A few months ago we delivered to the city government the results of an investigation that focused on the “housing emergency”. In this item we included all those symptoms that are found outside of the “emergency villas” in the middle of the urban scene, and that due to their lack of visibility are not given attention by the official programs. It’s a combination of situations that includes overcrowding, the lack of infrastructures, the growing deterioration of buildings, an excessive number of hotels and hostels, home loss due to rental increase, etc., where thousands of families end up being put on the brink of or actually in work for the black market and illegal situations and find themselves without resources to defend the legitimacy of their claims. In other words, the housing emergency goes way beyond the “abandoned houses” and, exceeding the real physical phenomenon, affects the foundation of the human condition, adding the housing deficit or problem to the issues of social rights affected by social exclusion and disintegration. And as such it must be considered. As for the actual number of people affected, any figure is possible given the absence of official data. This is not an accident, since it avoids documenting reality and shows the lack of interest of successive administrations in confronting the issue in-depth and abandoning policies that are clientelistic or there to merely offer financial assistance from the government. According to our estimates, the number of people in this category totals 400,000 and reaches 600,000 when the population of the “emergency villas” is taken into account.
On the other hand, in the same vein, they show a tendency of ensuring that the problem seems to have no solution. The only probable solution that turns up is “eviction”, and to such an extent that according to statements made to the media, the assistant secretary of the Department of Emergencies of the city government, Nestor Nicolas, asked for collaboration from the judicial sphere in order to evacuate the misappropriated properties. Taking to court the issues of social rights and situations of legitimacy, beyond conditions of legality, as the only response, are typical of the administrations driven by political expressions of a new right wing that on behalf of management abandons social values, thereby making an appeal for the final defense of the existing hierarchies and the most common sense of the urban middle classes; among them the disregard of the social function of propriety and the obligation to exercise it from those who work in the government. Before speaking of evictions, the Macri administration should worry about why thousands of inhabitants of the city have been led to look for solutions outside of so-called legality in order to acquire a place of shelter and tolerate daily uncertainty about their future.
The director of Civil Defense of the city of Buenos Aires, Daniel Russo, pointed out to the media that, “The conditions of the place were very precarious, given that this was already a tragedy before any flame.” Well then, how do the people who live in these conditions obtain housing? We must consider that when someone reaches this situation his issue is not that of housing, and the solutions have to be investigated using policies of integration that include work, education, health, and habitat. The city government doesn’t have any alternatives for this, and doesn’t see the issue in this way, so every investigation is found necessarily outside of the system.
We have talked with people and they relate that only at the “end” meaning when they just received the order of eviction, could they be allowed to apply for a commonly called “housing subsidy” for the government to respond to their critical situation. Those directly affected say that “they give them 400 pesos monthly for them to supposedly rent housing for a term of ten months” or refer them to the purported “transitional hotels” to sleep at night, without staying during the day. Likewise, they say that the subsidy is for one time only, and that they go through so much humiliation through the verification process just to later on be evicted…
The city government, with the budget that it sent to the legislature, abandoned every possibility of making progress in participating programs such as housing cooperatives, reducing in real terms the total amount of credit, and programs don’t exist that cover the profound needs of low-income earners. The subsidy is absolutely ineffective and a humiliating prospect; it only serves to leave the situation. The state must formulate comprehensive public policies of greater scope, and that can be done if the political will exists to take a look at the most vulnerable sectors and those with the least individual possibilities. The problem is neither the abandoned houses, nor the villas, nor the slums. The problem isn’t the poor but rather poverty. It’s not about building houses, but about citizens with the same social rights. It’s a problem of justice without judiciousness.
Jaime Sorin, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Town Planning of Buenos Aires and Director of the Program of Investigation concerning the Housing Emergency. Matilde Sosa, Argentinian journalist. Collaborator with Radio Nacional Venezuela
. La propiedad de la tierra como un proceso. Estudio comparativo de casos en ocupaciones de tierras en el Area Metropolitana de Buenos Aires / María Cristina Cravino
. Una ciudad fragmentada y desigual / Tomás Lukin
. Globalización, negocios inmobiliarios y transformación urbana / Carlos A. Mattos
. Conceptos para pensar lo urbano / Marta Rizo