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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


The right to stay put: contesting housing policy for the poor in Chile

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren, on 11 July 2013

This video is part of conversations with slum dwellers in the region of Valparaíso – located in the central coast of Chile- from January to April 2013.

Almost one third of the slum dwellers in the country are located in this region.  This is the second most densely populated region and more than 90% live in urban areas. The squatter settlements have been part of the landscape of the city for years; they are located on the top of the hills without formal access to water, sewage and land tenure.

Contesting the trend of the last 30 years in housing policy for the poor in Chile, the slum dwellers are fighting to stay put. The relocation as main strategy does not fit their aspirations as inhabitants of the city. In they express it, relocation would be far away from the centre of the city, in high-rise buildings and would mean to leave the place they have been living for years.

Manuel Bustos, the biggest squatter settlement in Chile, is a key example. Although the need for better housing and access to services is evident, their claim is not only based on this need, but on their aspiration: to live the life they value. This means, to re-define the way in which the city is produced based on aspirations, expressed in this case, in people’s preference for slum upgrading rather than relocation, which also implies the cost of not receiving a permanent house from the state.

Turner´s idea of housing as verb and the old debate of self-help vs. whole housing system play out in a new debate for housing policy in Chile. This case contests prominent ideas of housing such as housing as the main need for the urban poor, housing as an end and housing only as a house.  Manuel Bustos´s narratives tell a story of struggle and the need for recognition that is linked to a strong sense of place. Slum dwellers are pointing out that the house in itself might not be the final goal, yet the possibility to create and influence the development of their neighbourhood and the city are.

Although slum upgrading is not part of the current housing policy, some pilot projects have been considered and Manuel Bustos is being evaluated. This video will be part of a series exploring housing aspirations in this context.

Maria Ignacia is an Mphil/PhD candidate at the Development Planning Unit