Social Housing in Latin America: finding the balance between quantity and quality


Innovative strategies are being developed in Latin American countries as an attempt to provide access to adequate housing. With new programs and additional funding, governments and the private sector are refining targets to close the housing gap.

  • Brazil, under the Rousseff administration, recently announced the second phase of the housing program “My House, My Life”. During this stage of the program, 60% of the units developed will be exclusively targeted to families whose monthly income does not exceed US$900.
  • In June, Colombia passed the “Ley de Suelo Urbanizable”, a legal mechanism that facilitates access to land and government subsidies and establishes new financing schemes for social housing.
  • Mexico, is adopting a new program that will provide housing loans to non-salaried workers, a market segment that represents 60% of the economically active population.

All these policies have a common goal: to satisfy the growing and unmet demand for housing, especially for affordable housing, with cooperation from the private sector.

The housing deficit impacts most on families at the base of the pyramid, the low-income families who seek better economic opportunities in cities. Given the high cost of housing in urban areas, they are often forced to live in low-quality and high risk units, generally located at the fringes of the cities. This is precisely why governments in the region have been developing housing plans  from institutional reforms to financing mechanisms, in most cases, highlighting the importance of the private sector in supply and delivery.

Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are among the most successful countries in developing mass affordable and low-cost housing.

  • Brazil, with a deficit of more than 6 million homes[1], is projected to build 2 million units by 2014. Until 2010, the housing program, “My House, My Life” achieved to contract just over 1 million units[2], surpassing the goal established in 2009.
  • Mexico, with a housing deficit estimated at 8.9 million homes[3], planned to finance 6 million units between 2007 and 2012; they are less than a million loans away from accomplishing their goal.[4]
  • Colombia, with a housing deficit that reaches around 3.8 million homes[5], aims to build 1 million units by 2014. In 2010, the construction of 151,191 units had begun[6]

But the mass production of housing is only one dimension of the problem. There are other elements about the units that are essential to have an impact on the quality of life of people.

  • Location: located close to job opportunities and preserve the social networks of families
  • Size: avoid overcrowding, understood as units with 3 or more people per bedroom
  • Design: economize space and ensure its usability and acceptance by the families
  • Access to basic services: have access to electricity, water within the unit, sewerage and public transportation. Also, have toilets connected to the sewage system.
  • Public Space: include public space and community center
  • Building Materials: energy efficiency, lower maintenance costs and suitable thermal comfort, especially in climate extremes

Even so, these categories of quality fall short of the intangible elements of community, like participation, safety, health, education and conflict resolution, among others, which should be incorporated into any mechanism for evaluating the quality of housing.

In short, the challenge is how to improve access to quality social housing. The challenge is how the private sector can integrate ​​quality into their business model while generating appropriate profits. On the other hand, government and civil society must define what is meant by “quality” and then ensure that developers meet the established norms. Although a difficult task, many governments and international organizations, including Mexico, Colombia, Inter-American Development Bank and United Nations are making ​​a major effort on this matter. This will be the starting point of a series of articles that seek to generate discussion on the quality of affordable housing in Latin America.

Haz clic aquí para ver el articulo en español.




[3] 2010.pdf




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