In Mexico, the mad race for social housing and its resounding failure


To meet the housing needs of its modest population, Mexico decided in the early 1990s to entrust private real estate development with the responsibility of massively producing a social housing offer in home ownership. The national housing organizations, who were previously in charge of the production of social housing in the country, would now only be responsible for granting mortgage loans to low-income households so that they can acquire social housing directly on the market.

Really deployed from the 2000s, this housing policy recommended by the World Bank would have allowed the construction of some ten million housing units. Giant sets of social housing with several thousand, even tens of thousands of very small individual houses (and sometimes collective housing, after 2012), often with an area of ​​less than 40 m2, were built on the outskirts of cities, far from amenities, services and employment areas, on land acquired at low cost by property developers. Their activity has been boosted by this new social housing market.

If the massive production concerned the whole of the national territory, it was particularly intense in the States located along the border with the United States, as well as in the metropolitan area of ​​Mexico City or that of Guadalajara, the great metropolis from the center-west of the country.

Abandoned and vandalized homes

Apparent success on the quantitative level and undeniable support for the national economy, the massive construction quickly showed its limits. Due to the poor quality of housing, the lack of services and equipment, but also the insecurity in the neighborhoods (a problem that is actually widespread in Mexico, well beyond social housing complexes) and economic difficulties encountered by households in repaying their loans and coping in particular with high transport costs, the new giant social housing districts entered into crisis very early on.

The most visible manifestation of these difficulties was the very large number of dwellings quickly abandoned by their inhabitants (who stopped repaying their credit) then vandalized, often to the point of being reduced to a state of ruin.

In the metropolitan area of ​​Tijuana, many homes have been abandoned by their inhabitants. They are then, most of the time, vandalized and left in ruins. Households that cannot leave have to live with this difficult reality. PVC, IRD, Author provided

This issue of abandonment was brought to light implicitly by the 2010 census, which for the first time counted unoccupied dwellings. The vacancy rate appeared high nationally (14%) but even more so for municipalities that received a lot of social housing during the 2000s. accession to Mexico, found itself confronted with a considerable volume of unpaid bills, a real threat to its financial health.

This situation led it to set up a specific mechanism, that of so-called “recovered” housing. This will be the only real intervention from a public institution during the 2010s in an attempt to stem the crisis in giant social housing districts. Once back in the bosom of this institution, abandoned housing was auctioned off in batches at a low cost, then bought and repaired by private promoters or specific operators who appeared thanks to this new “recovered” housing market. They were finally sold again to households benefiting from mortgage loans from the Institute, for a price lower than that of new social housing. Between 2015 and 2020, some 95 units were remarketed in this way.

In the state of Baja California, a social impact company specializes in buying out abandoned homes. It repairs them and then resells them, at a price lower than that of new social housing, to households which generally benefit from a mortgage loan granted by the main national housing body. PVC, IRD, Author provided

In the absence of interventions to renovate the social housing districts in depth, the problem remained unresolved. It even got worse because at the same time, the mass production policy continued its mad dash, giving rise to many other neighborhoods. Due to the very positive impact on the national economy and the existence of still enormous housing needs, there was indeed no question, despite the problems encountered, of "stopping the social housing train", according to the expression frequently used in Mexico.

The introduction of environmental criteria in the production of social housing, in particular the "green mortgage", this accession credit intended to finance the acquisition of a home equipped with eco-technologies, did not change anything. In any case, it has earned Mexico international recognition for the contribution of its social housing model to sustainable development and the fight against climate change...

Since 2012, new social housing units have all been equipped with solar water heaters, allowing their inhabitants to save energy. On the ground, the impact of this measure is however very mixed. PVC, IRD, Provided by the author

The implicit end of the mass production model of social housing

From 2020, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the new left-wing president elected in 2018 has initiated a major reorientation of the national housing policy by giving back a place to the production of housing by households themselves (self-construction or self-production of habitat), solution traditionally implemented in Latin America by the working classes to access housing.

The mortgage loans granted by INFONAVIT (300 to 000 per year over the past two decades), hitherto intended for the acquisition of social housing delivered turnkey by a private promoter, can now be used to finance self-construction/housing production projects.

The model of recovery and resale of abandoned housing has also been reformulated. Abandoned dwellings will no longer be transferred to private parties but will remain the property of INFONAVIT until they are resold, once repaired. Comprehensive urban renewal projects will also be implemented in certain priority districts.

Interventions are also planned, in consultation with the inhabitants, in favor of public spaces, equipment and services, as well as to better integrate the neighborhoods into the city. Finally, if INFONAVIT remains in charge, other players will now be involved: at the national level, the Ministry of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development (SEDATU) and at the local level, local governments (especially at the municipal level), so far forgotten in the housing recovery model. The private sector is obviously not left out: in each area of ​​intervention, INFONAVIT has planned to join forces with a private developer in order to repair and market abandoned housing, as well as to carry out the urban interventions planned in the master plan.

From the abandonment of housing to their irregular occupation

Ten years after the beginning of awareness of the problem, the problem of social housing districts has however evolved. Many dwellings abandoned by their owners are now irregularly inhabited by occupants without rights or title. These are most often families in need whose presence is tolerated, even encouraged by the inhabitants themselves and who then unduly receive rent for the accommodation occupied. One can also find migrants whose plan to enter the United States is thwarted, or even individuals linked to organized crime (which plagues the country) who use unoccupied housing to harbor illicit or criminal activities.

This new reality of social housing neighborhoods is very likely to compromise the interventions planned under the new INFONAVIT strategy, which is still very much focused on the problem of abandoned housing: in order to recover these to repair and resell them, it will indeed have to, initially, solve the thorny question of their irregular occupants (particularly sensitive for the government of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, the president who relied on the vote of the working classes). Many of the poor households and workers in the informal sector who live illegally in the dwellings express the desire to acquire them. However, they have neither the means nor the possibility of accessing the credits offered by the national housing organizations, which are currently reserved mainly for employees.

In reality, the Mexican authorities today find themselves confronted in the giant social housing complexes with a challenge that they know well, and for a long time: that of regularization of property in neighborhoods of informal and irregular urbanization, the origin of most of the current urban spaces in Mexico. The problem is all the more similar in that a good number of giant neighborhoods of social housing theoretically connected to the water and electricity networks and equipped in principle with facilities and public spaces actually suffer from acute and multiple deficiencies in these areas.

Originally presented as the only viable option for housing the greatest number and putting an end to irregular urbanization and its many ills, the social housing policy has therefore brought to Mexico as many problems as solutions.

Catherine Paquette Vassalli, Searcher, Research Institute for Development (IRD)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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