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The Urban Way

Publication: "Políticas alternativas de vivienda en América Latina y el Caribe"

One step further in the construction process of the Urban and Community Way towards an alternative Social Urban Pact

Land and housing policies implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean, founded on the role of the state as facilitator and the subsidiary role of private initiative, have failed all the countries of the region in a definitive way; in spite of economic growth, there is a year-by-year increase in the deficit of adequate housing, affecting mainly lower income sectors. Recently, the multilateral organizations that have promoted these policies, conscious of this failure, have tried out diverse formulas in an attempt to correct the situation, ineffective because they fail to attack the root cause of the housing problem. This study by the International Alliance of Inhabitants identifies what the causes are and points out how they should be tackled in order to come up with a potentially successful solution to the problem. Given the importance of analyzing each problem in its concrete context, it is necessary to start from a new focus that will enhance research and bring us closer to viable solutions. The Urban Popular University (UPU) is therefore proposing a process of deliberation on alternative social practices that favour the construction of collective knowledge capable of having an impact on public policies. The first step taken by the IAI and the organizations that are converging in the construction of the Urban and Community Way has been to redefine the notion of “housing”, an exercise that has served to propose a goal for policies, priorities and more suitable strategies.

Synthesis of the proposal (Chapter III):



  1.  A multiple or polysemic understanding of housing  

There is not one way to understand housing—there are several diverse ways. Housing is not only or primarily a commodity that can be traded: it is also an investment in human development, vital for a nation, and an inalienable human right. All human beings need a place to live and develop with their families, a place that offers them shelter and safety, a place that is healthy, that bestows ownership and allows us to develop social ties.

2. Housing as a comprehensive problem

Housing comprises a multitude of elements that are constantly changing within the context of its inter-relationship (emergency). These changes can affect everything else, producing situations that are not totally predictable (uncertainty).14/12

3. Housing as a diverse problem

A number of typologies have been developed and are useful in considering the different ways the problem can be expressed:

  1.  housing located in at-risk areas;
  2.  communities affected by mining;

neighbourhoods threatened with eviction due to large-scale road or equipment projects;

slum dwellings;

run-down rural dwellings;

housing located or relocated outside the city.


4. Social production of habitat

Social production of habitat is a concrete process for building cities based primarily on step-by-step construction using various mechanisms and methods. It comprises productive processes that mobilize major economic resources and involves communities, their families, savings and environment. Social production of habitat takes into account the specific needs of each family.

5. The need for public policies centring on the interests of the people

It is vital to design tools for tackling the poor quality of housing by proposing solutions that seek to improve people’s quality of life and strengthen inhabitants’ communities. Technical tools should be based on the conception of housing as a right and of inhabitants as the constructors of cities.


Within the conception of housing essentially as a human right and instrument for human development, the goal of housing policy aimed at people should be to guarantee the existence of proper habitability conditions for the population as a whole.


Guiding principles

The overall approach allows us to extract a number of fundamental guiding principles:

  1.  policies have to be systemic;
  2.  clear responses do not currently exist;
  3.  the accent needs to be on users’ needs and opinions;
  4.  it is important to avoid leaving all the solutions exclusively to market forces;
  5.  all actors must be involved, taking into account the polysemic, overall and diverse nature of housing;
  6.  the problems of housing need to be considered on the basis of relevant typologies;
  7.  it is important to prioritize the most vulnerable situations and families.

Strategic elements

  1.  Strengthen integrated and progressive solutions for the entire country that remain flexible by taking into account all the different methods, prioritizing low-income sectors and, in general, communities living in poor conditions in working class districts and rural areas.
  2.  Focus on the essentially qualitative nature of the housing problem in order to improve the living conditions for the entire population, planning for and anticipating future housing needs.
  3.  Contextualize the housing problem within a proper context, taking into account its diversity and comprehensive nature. Reality differs from one place to the next, and the housing problem is linked to economic, cultural and environmental variables that must be taken into account.
  4.  Support existing initiatives  and create favourable conditions for the initiatives to meet with the success they are seeking. There are major projects comprising a wide range of skills that have demonstrated their viability, and they need to be taken in to account.
  5.  Prioritize areas of poverty: define these based on appropriate indicators measured by, among other factors, income, health, education and housing indices.
  6.  The complexity of the situation requires involving a diverse range of public, private and community actors.  
  7.  Localize the solutions and implement local action plans:  since the housing problem is comprehensive and diverse, it needs to be tackled in accord with each reality and concrete situation. A location needs to have a housing plan that considers the following aspects, among others:

a) improvement of dwellings located in poor conditions;

b) the quantitative deficit and projected annual demand;

c) the need to relocate at-risk families;

d) urban improvement of the neighbourhood;

e) legalization of ownership where necessary.

This work requires tools :

  •  a land bank capable of providing land for development and preventing speculation;
  •  the active participation of district and provincial municipalities in urban control, particularly in the face of land trafficking;
  •  legislation that facilitates urban and rural planning and development processes;
  •  technical support, urban planning and legal teams to provide on-the-ground advice to communities.
  1.  Ensure that the policy is sustainable  


  •  implement annual housing programmes that prevent the deficit from growing;
  •  move forward with the goal of overcoming poverty and the unequal distribution of income;
  •  provide programmes with adequate institutional support.
  1.  Define appropriate management methods  
  2.  Guarantee the necessary resources :


  •  within the state budget, redefine the distribution of sector-based allocations (for example, the amount of foreign debt service or arms expenditure);
  •  determine the amounts that have to be allocated to tackle the shortage of housing in collaboration with local authorities, inhabitants’ organizations and cooperatives and encourage popular housing with land grants, tax exemptions, accounting of construction for tax and pension purposes, etc.;
  •  consider using other resources, such as foreign remittances;
  •  reallocate funds in order to ensure progressive policies (housing for those who have the least) and take into account the essentially qualitative nature of the housing problem;recover gains originating in administrative decisions and investments by municipal bodies.


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