Today’s Argentina is experiencing some troubles within. The effects of globalisation and the economic reforms pushed on its name, population growth, and the looming global financial crisis, mean that the country is experiencing housing and employment issues that need to be confronted sooner rather than later. Through the recently announced Argentina Credit Programme (ProCreAr), there is hope that these issues affecting Argentina will be addressed, keeping the country on the path to recovery and growth.
Although housing issues and unemployment may not be apparent to someone casually walking the streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the city’s beautiful architecture hides a housing crisis that a decade of strong growth has not eased. Over a year ago, in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Montserrat, a couple of blocks from the famous Avenida 9 de Julio, the street was steel-gate barricaded and within its confines were families with tarps pitched and camp-stoves, cooking. Multiple families had been kicked-out of the abandoned building where they were all living. To say that they had been “evicted” would imply a formalised tenancy they did not have.
This was not the first or the last indication of the housing crisis affecting Argentina. The figures spell it out: almost 1,000 villas miserias (shanty towns) and precarious settlements in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area alone; 40,000 inhabitants in just one villa close to the Jose León Suarez train station; four or five (exact number unknown) families living in that one improvised home next to Avenida 9 de Julio. But, who’s counting?
According to Omar David Varela, a professor at the University of General Sarmiento, there is an approximate 3.5 million nation-wide housing deficit. The City of Buenos Aires and the Greater Buenos Aires area hold an approximate 14 million inhabitants of the nation’s 40 million. Official estimates show that, out of 4 million homes in this area, 1.25 million need some type of repair or extension to be considered up to standard, whilst 46,000 are beyond repair and need to be replaced.
Furthermore, Argentina’s housing deficit is intertwined with its employment issues. There are still many people who are not making adequate pay, falling into an income bracket much lower than “middle class” standards. They are, for example, the urban recyclers (cartoneros) and the domestic and construction workers.
Inside Jobs: Globalisation’s Impact on Buenos Aires
According to academics and their numbers, globalisation has exacerbated a series of issues in Argentina, and specifically in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area.
Although these issues stem from further back, the politic and economic climate since the 1970s up to the financial crisis in 2001 is often referred to as the apex of social struggle. The deterioration of socio-economic indicators during this period and the lack of appropriate urban planning, coupled with an ongoing historic process of increasing urbanisation, put a great strain on the housing situation in large cities as internal migration expanded.
Guillermo Tella, professor of Architecture and Urban Studies at the University of General Sarmiento, refers to these years as the phase of Argentine capitalism when the country moved towards an economic model favouring the free market and causing an inequitable re-distribution of housing. Tella’s colleague, Professor Juan Lombardo, agrees with his observations that the current situation and social make-up is a result of the free market practices implemented since 1976.
“[Those years] signified the destruction of Argentina’s industry… increasing poverty and marginalisation. The tertiary sector as the core of the economy meant that capital financing was directed externally, and it also produced a transformation of class systems and occupational categories,” he says.
The transformation in employment meant lower pay and, ultimately, the inability of accessing home ownership, especially within the downtown core. As affluence moved into neighbourhoods like Palermo, the price of housing increased, making it impossible for low income families to continue living there.
“Where do they go?” asks Professor Varela. “They are pushed out and they move into the villas.”
Growing from Within: ProCreAr-tion
Recently, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner stated that, “just as work is a great social organiser, the home is a great family organiser”.
On the 12th June 2012, President Fernández announced a formalised plan to address this housing deficit. It is called the Argentina Credit Programme (ProCreAr) and its objective is to offer 100,000 credits to build homes or improve existing ones. The initial contribution by the Treasury will be of $3 billion, but the final amount destined to these credits will be determined by demand. It is estimated that the credits will benefit up to 400,000 people.
According to Varela, the programme will benefit applicants through two streams. The first is for those who already own land, and will use these credits to construct homes or to build additions to existing ones. The second stream will use the credits to build new homes on land that is currently owned by the national state, and that will eventually be sold to private owners. This land is not just within the city of Buenos Aires, but also scattered throughout the provinces. Some academics see this as an attempt at equal opportunity of home ownership, as it offers houses to the middle and lower classes.
The credit programme is financed and run by the National Administration of Social Security (ANSES) in collaboration with Banco Hipotecario. Together, they have developed a credit-repayment system that varies according to each applicant’s income and amount needed to construct a new home. Instead of a standard rate, those with lower incomes will pay back the loan at a lower interest rate over a longer period. Those in a higher bracket will have a higher interest rate over a shorter time.
As the programme commences, the question of accessibility remains. According to the ANSES website, the prerequisites are simple, yet extensive. People between 18 and 65 years of age with proof of income and no negative financial records can qualify for a credit, although that does not guarantee they will obtain it. Over 300,000 applications were received within the first week of the announcement, after 1.4 million people accessed the ANSES website looking for information.
A Twofold Aim
Due to the programme’s accessibility, academics point to ProCreAr as a chance to seriously address two major national issues: housing and employment.
Varela points out that at least one-third of the housing deficit is strictly lack of buildings, whereas the other two-thirds are due to lack of adequate living standards. Therefore, he says, ProCreAr “is a way to solve at least one-third of the housing deficit.”
However, Varela is concerned about how these home improvements will also raise the land value of the areas where they are located. For example, if a plot of empty land is worth $100 per hectare, building a complete and modern complex will add architectural value to the land, raising its value to, say, $200 per hectare. This shift would make it more difficult for those with lower incomes and/or who do not have access to the credits to afford to purchase land. It could mean that those locations will not be available to them and they will potentially have to move into areas that are within their means, usually the villas miserias or other precarious settlements.
Still, ProCreAr is considered a step forward. Tella refers to it as the “gradual recuperation process … [to] a dignified and sanitary environment, open and integrated, that contributes to the integration of the urban social and economic fabric”. He also mentions how the credit programme is not the only way to push housing reform, which should also include measures that are “based in the intermediate and ground-level organisations, that have the people as their principal protagonists.”
The second way in which ProCreAr may help Argentina is by stimulating the economy and providing jobs to construction companies and independent contractors. With the potential for 100,000 new homes and additions to be made over the next year, the initiative will, according to the government, “provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of Argentines”.
As part of the application process for the loans, applicants must provide proof that blue-prints have been officialised and that a construction company or independent worker has been contracted. Although it is not yet known how many companies will be used or available, or whether these will overlap, there is hope that the construction projects will be sourced from within Argentina as opposed to using companies from abroad. The plan is “to move the economy inwards and sustain it with an internal market,” as Lombardo states.
ProCreAr is more than just credits, housing and employment. It is also seen as an assertive action against the international free-market policies previously applied in the country. Although the programme is a movement inward and can be seen as part of a re-nationalisation process, the credit programme could also offer a sense of stability to Argentines. For some academics, it provides a chance for the nation to flourish from within.
Do Argentines think that ProCreAr will help solve the housing crisis? Click here to find out.