Affordable Housing’s Distant Dream in Buenos Aires

“Affordable Housing – A Distant Dream” highlights Buenos Aires as another unfortunate example of one of the world’s great cities – in a middle income country, not one of the poorest – being unable to house its working and informal sector citizens in decent quality housing.

Quantitative deficits in developing countries (a shortage affecting 500,000 people in Buenos Aires alone) are unfortunately the core issue that major institutions have chosen to focus on. In this case, as many others, the wall of private capital flooding into major developing country markets has mostly been directed towards the high end market because of the large margins, a substantial proportion of which often stand empty – speculative investments with low carry costs that owners can manage to sit on them until they’re purchased or rented. Same thing has happened in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere. Miami, anyone?

Even within the issue of quantitative deficit, the issue is not just too few homes or apartments for purchase. The bigger problem is that people who can’t afford to buy are forced into informal rental housing by lack of formal rental housing where business models and incentives don’t make this activity profitable.

This article also highlights the problems of low quality, structural weakness, poor location, environmental hazards, unaffordable, informal, overcrowded housing in the city.

The role of civil society in supporting and organizing citydwellers laid out clearly in this case – the capacity of NGOs to “develop” their own projects with appropriate financial, policy and institutional support.

Solving these thorny problems in the developing world’s increasingly chaotic cities desperately requires private, public and civil society to come together. Private investors – whether in financial institutions or real estate – have to engage with other segments of society to identify means of uniting profit with social and environmental responsibility for a more sustainable urban built environment for all.

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