Housing policies in Chile have managed to provide shelter for the poor and reduce the housing deficit, stabilizing construction activity within the national economy. From the mid-1980s until 2000, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MINVU) funded the construction of some 600,000 homes, although of very low quality and standards. The Villa Los Cóndores housing development in Temuco, Chile, is a complex of 900 basic homes, built in the mid-90s at the height of MINVU’s housing subsidy, when it pressed its regional executors in the Department for Housing and Urban Services (SERVIU) to meet their set budgetary targets by any means possible. Ten units per 1,000 inhabitants were being constructed at that time in Chile, the same soaring annual rate as in Germany after the Second World War.
Villa Los Cóndores is part of the Pedro Valdivia Norte sector lying on the edge of Temuco, which holds a population of 240,000 inhabitants and is the capital city of the Araucanía Region. Construction was funded by MINVU’s housing subsidy and the resulting homes were about 40 square meters in size, within three-storey buildings with metal staircases descending into a central courtyard.
Unlike other complexes in the sector, Villa Los Cóndores was a technological pilot project constructed on uneven terrain containing areas where water gushes freely. Seeking to lower costs as much as possible, SERVIU allowed a construction company to build housing blocks with flimsy metal structures and lacking seismic reinforcement. Since the completion of the complex, columns have given way due to insufficient protection from ground moisture, and fragile walls made from thin, cheap drywall have damaged easily.
Life has been difficult and complicated for the 900 households that reside in Villa Los Cóndores since the development of the complex in 1996. Even though not required to do so, SERVIU forgave the credit debts of the complex’sresidents, which amounted to 40 percent of the value of their homes. As such, they became the owners of homes in very poor condition, and SERVIU managed to shed all responsibility for their inadequate living conditions as these residents became private homeowners. Complaints of these living conditions made by the residents of Villa Los Cóndores reached as far as Chile’s parliament in 2004. To preserve the safety of the residents, the Chamber of Deputies of the National Congress ordered the destruction of Los Cóndores, executed through legislative power with which MINVU was forced to comply.
To proceed with the dismantling of the housing complex, SERVIU offered residents a compensation of 280 UF (approximately €7,000 or US$9,700), an insignificant amount compared to the value of their homes at the time of construction. Out of fear and ignorance, residents, who at this point had lived in the housing complex’s substandard conditions for ten years, began to sign deeds with SERVIU for the resale of their homes. With the compensation they received from by SERVIU, residents had to look for housing even farther away from the city centre of Temuco. Due to the increased land value in Temuco, these households ended up in San Ramon, more than 20 kilometres away from the city centre. To supposedly offset the poor conditions of the resale of the homes in Villa Los Cóndores, SERVIU authorized residents to take everything with them, which they did. They took installations, windows, and doors, and before leaving they tore down the walls. Little by little, the Villa Los Cóndores neighbourhood became a no man’s land, seized by gangs and drug addicts.
Not all residents of Villa Los Condóres accepted the resale of their homes. A group of 122 households — comprised of homeowners, tenants, and others — organized themselves into two housing committees. These households demanded the reconstruction of their homes and claimed their right to remain in their neighbourhood where they had over the years developed their lives and social networks as well as connections to schools, health centres, and transportation to their sources of income.
The first big fight for the committees was to ensure the protection of their lives in a violent environment. From 2005 onwards, life in Villa Los Cóndores became impossible. Residents who attempted to remain in semi-abandoned buildings were assaulted day and night, suffering all kinds of physical violence, diseases due to stress, and loss of property. Initially the committees were unsuccessful at gaining protection from SERVIU; however little by little, with support from the municipality, they managed to acquire police protection and they had SERVIU build fences and gates surrounding their homes. In addition, residents established surveillance and alarm systems to be better able to respond to new attacks.
Responding to the safety concerns of these 122 households has required a great deal of work and a strong organizing capacity. Despite the struggles indealing with these turbulent living conditions, the committees never lost sight of the main objective of their fight: the reconstruction of adequate and decent housing in their neighbourhood. It was through their persistent fight that community leaders began to construct a support base; initially through the Bishopric Department for Social Action, and later they discovered the Habitat International Coalition (HIC) through an internet search which then brought them into contact with other Chilean organizations, namely Corporación SUR, the College for Architects and the Universidad Mayor.
The committtees of Villa Los Condores are now negotiating the following principles and implementation details with MINVU (as cited by Luis Álvarez, President of the Villa Los Cóndores Committee, Sector 4):
1. The implementation of our right to continue living at Villa Los Cóndores where we are the legal and formal owners of property and urban land, even though we technically live outside of the urban area.
2. Participation in the creation of a development plan for the Villa Los Cóndores sector to specify where we will rebuild our homes and where the parks that MINVU wishes to implement in the sector should be placed. In other words, a proposed pan for our neighbourhood.
3. The design of housing and of the neighbourhood in a collaborative effort which will facilitate, from now onwards, decent living conditions in “La Nueva Cóndores” (the new Villa Los Cóndores).
4. Transparent mechanisms for the allocation of land where our homes will be built.
5. The basis for the temporary relocation of tenants and property owners for the time during which the execution of new housing in the sector will take place.
6. All necessary subsidies for the development of housing and neighbourhood structures from the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
7. The development of a small business to support our self-management capabilities in the construction of our housing.
8. The creation of a police checkpoint in the neighbourhood; to this end, we have made a lot of progress in our safety plan which has been informed by our living experience as well as our expertise which has developed over the years through our organizing efforts.
This statement of claims is an example of the implementation of the right to the city which crosses the scope of civil rights, of economic, social, cultural and political rights, and a political strategy of equitable and just local development.
Alvarez, Luis.”La experiencia de Villa ‘Los Cóndores’, Temuco”. V Jornada de Vivienda Social. Valparaiso, October 10, 2007.
Carrillo, Miguel Angel “Falta seguridad en Villa Los Condores”. La opiñón, October 20, 2007.