Chapter 1: Introduction

For years, the debate on housing in developing countries focused on the idea of informal settlements as a vehicle of ownership for the poor. Growing little by little, they provided housing that, although certainly substandard, constituted the possibility of having a fairly decent home over time. The idea developed by Turner and other researchers in the '60, was that self-help processes, such as those going on in informal settlements, could result in ownership for the poor if infrastructure and security of tenure were provided. In a rather optimistic vision that ignited the debate on self-help housing, they argued that what was frequently regarded as the problem was in fact the universal solution to house the poor (Turner 1968, 1972, 1976, Abrams 1964).

Nevertheless, the assumption of many self-help theorists that everybody in a squatter settlement is an owner (or potential owner) was never true. Evidence from different countries proves that a large segment of the urban poor lives in rental accommodation in squatter settlements and informal sub-divisions (Gilbert 1993, 4). Ownership through squatting has now become an impossible dream for many poor households. As Van der Linden (1986, 1) puts it: "squatting is no longer what it used to be." In a context of deteriorating economic conditions, and with the land scarcity pushing the poor to the far outskirts, invasions are less frequent. For some families, ownership even in its cheapest form has become increasingly inaccessible. As ownership becomes less feasible, rental and shared housing become more frequent options among poor households.


1.1. Rationale

Almost all low-income housing policies in developing countries aim at home-ownership as the only solution to the housing problem (De Wandeler et al. 1992, 115). Argentina is not an exception. With a long tradition of state intervention in the housing market, governments of all sorts, from left to right wing, have always encouraged home-ownership. Only Buenos Aires and few other cities have developed significant formal rental housing markets (Borthagaray 1986, 15).

In Resistencia, capital of the province of Chaco in Northeast Argentina, the rental housing market is much smaller in relative terms. The majority of the population lives in owner occupied accommodation. According to a municipal estimate, "66 % of the total population lives in self-owned land; 11 % are renters; and the remaining 23 % lives in other situations" (MR 1994, 66).

This rough 23% of "other situations" shows how little is known about the range of accommodation catering to the poor in the city. But, what are the options in this 'other situation' segment mentioned in the so called Draft of the Strategic Plan for Resistencia? Are all the alternatives ownership-oriented? The study also confuses demand with tenure preference. Implying that everybody in informal settlements is a home owner, it fails to distinguish the attainable desire of ownership from the actual need of being tenants that some poor households may have.

On the demand side, although preferred, home-ownership is not always possible. First, home-ownership has its price. For some low-income households it is simply unaffordable, while "for others it is a serious diversion of their limited resources from other perhaps more productive investments"(De Wandeler et al. 1992 op. cit., 115). Second, home-ownership reduces mobility. Poor households in search of a job need to follow the increasingly scarce income sources. In this regard, not-owned accommodation may also favor residential mobility allowing tenants to move more freely in their job hunt. Finally, home-ownership is not a priority for many. Having other expectations in life, for some people ownership is simply part of a distant dream.

On the supply side, arguments for the occurrence of rental housing are simple, but strong. Letting out unused space is the easiest way to ensure extra income for needy households. It is also a way of financing for those already in the process of building their homes. Of course, rentals in informal environments may also constitute an open door to speculators. Investing in marginal land that in five or ten years may get fully serviced, can make an attractive business for opportunists.

The evidence that housing sub-markets in the barrios of Resistencia are not well studied, and the conviction that ownership is not always possible, at least in some stages of household's life cycle, support the undertaking of this research.


1.2. Research questions

Rental sub-markets in Argentina are not considered to have an important share of the housing stock. There is enough indication, however, that squatter settlements provide many more alternatives than mere ownership through self-help. Based on the assumption that informal settlements foster a range of non-ownership sub-markets that caters to some segments of urban poor, this study explores the following:

What are the alternatives to home-ownership available in informal settlements in Resistencia; what kind of accommodation they provide? Who are the tenants, who the landlords, and what is nature of their relation? What are the mobility patterns of households among different tenure options? What is the role of non-ownership alternatives: are they mere forms of speculation or rather ways to support households in need?


1.3. Glossary of terms

Informal settlements: "Spontaneous, unplanned or unregulated sub-markets, which commonly attract the general label of self-help housing, slums, or squatters" (Payne 1988,1).

Rental housing: Not owned accommodation paid on a regular basis in cash or in kind. The term applies to a wide variety of options such as: a bed in a room, a room, a house, a plot, and so on.

Shared housing: Not owned but rent-free accommodation.

Housing sub-markets: Housing supply options that contribute to the urban housing market.

Owners: Households possessing any kind of tenure rights.

Owner-landlords: Owners letting out accommodation and receiving in turn a retribution in cash or in kind.

Owner-sharer: Owners sharing part of their houses with relatives or kin.

Tenant: Household living in non-owned accommodation.

Renter: Person paying a rent for accommodation.

Sharer: Person sharing accommodation.


1.4. Goals and objectives


  • To document alternatives to home-ownership in informal settlements.
  • To highlight the importance of a diversified housing market.
  • To evaluate the contribution of rental and shared housing as sub-markets.


  • To analyze the various forms of rental and shared housing.
  • To identify spatial typologies.
  • To analyze factors influencing the demand and supply of rental and shared housing.
  • To identify household mobility patterns.


1.5. Methodology

Two different but complementary approaches were the methodological basis of this research: a) Review of primary and secondary sources; b) Detailed field study of selected settlements.

1.5.1. Review of primary and secondary sources:

Covering cases in Latin America, Africa and Asia, the first part of this research reviewed literature on housing sub-markets with special attention to rental and shared options. The second part examined a survey of 62 low-income settlements (1) in Greater Resistencia (CIET 1989, 1991), and analyzed the draft report for the so called "Municipal Strategic Plan" (MR 1994). Both studies provided relatively up-to-date information about the housing situation in low-income neighborhoods at city-wide scale.

1.5.2. Field study

Based on the previous review three settlements (2) were selected according to the following criteria:

  • Settlements in different locations: one in the periphery, one in central, and one in intermediate location.
  • Settlements with the highest rates of rental and 'other situations' housing according to municipal estimations.
  • Settlements with a size adequate to conduct surveys and interviews in one month for a team of three persons.

The second part of the literature review provided general indicators at neighborhood level such as, stage of consolidation, services and infrastructure, health and education, employment situation, and degree of social organization. Using existing maps and aerial photographs, new maps were prepared identifying changes in the neighborhoods, and marking the location of doors that give on to the streets and lanes to organize the sampling of questionnaires. A first walk-around in each neighborhood for closer and detailed observation included:

  • Land use identification within the neighborhood (e.g., fully residential, mixed with non residential, etc.).
  • Quality of dwellings and building materials. Residential density. Location of public facilities and residential cleanness.
  • Location with reference to main roads and other landmarks.
  • Rental evidence (i.e., more than one door per house, rental ads, etc.)

After this general assessment, a door to door interview was held covering issues such as:

  • form of housing tenure (owner, renter, sharer, squatter, etc.)
  • previous form of tenure profile of tenants and owners number of members of the household
  • employment situation
  • distance to work
  • years in the neighborhood
  • opinion about the neighborhood and current housing situation
  • estimation of income.

1.5.3. Scope and limitations

This paper concerns all those housing options that constitute alternatives to the traditional owner-occupied housing. The selection criteria of samples and case studies aimed mainly to detect cases of rental and shared housing. Yet, as none of these options can be explained in isolation, the study included also some ownership alternatives. As a result, the survey remained comprehensive enough to provide a reasonable cross section of the housing conditions in each neighborhood. Due to the limited sample size, however, most of the data presented in this paper should be considered with caution. Tables and charts have the aim of easing the interpretation of the cumulus of qualitative data, rather than pursuing statistical accuracy. Similar purpose has any average or percentage used throughout the analysis.


1.6. Organization

This thesis comprises eight sections organized as follows: Chapter 2 reviews literature on informal sub-markets. Covering rental, shared and land sub-markets, it discusses some of the processes by which the poor access shelter in the developing world. Chapter 3 provides a background on Resistencia and introduces the outcome of the field study. Chapter 4 analyzes the demand for rental and shared housing. Chapter 5 depicts the alternatives to ownership. Chapter 6 centers on the question of who supply rental and shared options in informal environments. Chapter 7 analyzes the wider implications of rental and shared housing. Comparing options in both ownership and non-ownership sub-markets, it traces patterns of household mobility among different tenure forms. Finally, Chapter 8 assessing the role of rental and shared alternatives, summarizes the main findings of the study.


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