Chapter 5: The alternatives to ownership

Rental and shared housing in Resistencia provide a fairly wide spectrum of choices catering to the demand outlined in the previous section. Considering evidence gathered on 22 cases documented in interviews with landlords and owner-sharers, this chapter focusses on the nature of the supply of non-ownership alternatives. What are the most common dwelling and plot types? What kind of accommodation they provide? How owners and tenants share facilities?


5.1. Rental housing

There is a wide variety of rental housing in informal environments. In terms of the type of accommodation it provides, rental housing can refer to an individual house (i.e., a rancho or a mejora), to an apartment (i.e., one or two rooms and bathroom), to a room (with or without shared bathroom), or even to part of a room (i.e., a bed).

5.1.1. Types

According to size and origin, one can categorize rentals in two basic types: small rentals, and rooming houses. The first group includes occasional rentals of beds, rooms and small apartments in a house. The second comprises rentals of more than three rooms or apartments. While in the former type parts of a house are rented out circumstantially, almost unintentionally, in the latter, rentals are built on purpose and, in some cases, have a reasonable organization as rental business.

Small Rentals

Needing relatively low investment, small rentals are frequent forms of housing commercialization in informal settlements. They allow poor households to increase their incomes with the simple argument of letting a part of their houses: a small apartment, a room, or even a bed. Small rentals accounted for four out of twelve cases. Of them, two were rent free arrangements, one was under construction, and one was offered for rent but remained unoccupied.

Small rentals are generally circumstantial. They happen either because of extreme need, or because of the availability of extra space. Frequently, rentals derive from shared accommodation. For example, when a household builds an extra room or small apartment (usually in the back of the plot), to share with relatives, and then after they leave, he or she decides to rent the empty space to secure an extra income. Sometimes, small rentals are paid not in cash, but in kind. The most usual deal involves the exchange of lodging for domestic help. Another type of small rental, is that built to take advantage of cheap land prices, by non resident owners (see Endnotes 18). Two out of the four cases were with payments in kind, one had been transformed from shared into rental, and one was of the 'speculative' type.

Contradicting initial expectations, the number of small rentals detected in the study was sensibly less than the number of rooming houses. This can be explained in part because of the limited sample size. But perhaps the main reason is that small rentals are less visible, and thus they are more difficult to detect than rooming houses.

Rooming houses

Rooming houses were the most frequent type of rental detected in the three neighborhoods. Eight out of twelve cases were rooming houses consisting of more than three rental rooms. Ranging from large complexes of free standing pavilions with plenty open areas, to compact two story buildings with tiny yards, most of them were single story compounds of detached buildings (four cases). There were three two-story, and one single-story that occupied most of the plot.

Rooming houses provide two main types of accommodation: rooms with shared bathrooms, and small apartment units including a bathroom and a cooking place. Seven out of eight cases consisted of rooms with shared bathrooms. In only one case, some rooms had private bathrooms. According to the place of residence of the owner, rooming houses presented two variations: with or without landlord owner living in the same location along with their tenants. Six out of eight were with the owner-landlord living in the same place, and two with absent owner.

Contrary to the occasional character of small rentals, rooming houses are generally more or less planned enterprises. They demand steady investment, and re-investment of landlords limited resources in the span of two or three decades. However, most rooming houses started as small rentals and developed into rooming houses over time. Four out of eight landlords of rooming houses started their rental business letting one or two small bedrooms.

5.1.2. Main dwellings and Rentals

When landlords and tenants live in the same place, main dwellings are generally of better quality, have better services, and are bigger than rentals. Mostly built of permanent materials, main houses have an average area of 70 m2, with a minimum of 42 m2 and a maximum of 120 m2. Main houses have an occupancy rate of 1.28 persons per room, quite low compared to that of rentals, 2.10 persons per room.

In general, quality of housing was better in main houses than in rentals. For example, 62,5 percent of rentals had iron sheet roof without ceiling, compared to only 12 percent of main houses; 87 percent of main houses had at least one individual water tap, while only 37 percent of rentals had individual water supply. For owner-landlords living in the same place, the sample showed just one case in which the house of the owner was of worse quality and more cramped than the rentals (see 03-06). While some rentals have a standard fairly similar to main houses, others are considerably lower. In some cases, both main house and rentals have similar finishing (e.g., cement floors). In others, especially when main house and rentals are not directly connected, quality is notably lower in rentals. In rooming houses, the average rental area was 142.55 m2, ranging from 68.92 m2 to 204.00 m2.


Rooms were the most common rental accommodation. Out of 12 rentals, nine provided rooms in different variations: rooms connected to patios, rooms connected to galerías, rooms with shared entrance, rooms with direct entrance, rooms with private bathrooms, rooms with shared bathrooms, and even rooms with shared latrines such as the homestead of Sr. Smith.

Rooms with shared bathrooms are the rental type most owner-landlords prefer. Having very basic amenities, they present a number of advantages. On one hand, rooms are cheaper to build than apartments. Consequently, having lower rents they can be let out faster than more expensive apartments. They also allow for more flexibility, which gives owners the possibility of adapting the set up for other uses. Perhaps their main advantage is that they can be built incrementally with a relatively small investment that starts generating extra income as soon as the first room is completed. Rooms are affordable and cater to a variety of households, from young families to elders, and from people doing changas to students.

5.1.3. Plot arrangements

Plot occupation in rentals ranges between two extremes: full occupation of the parcel with occasional small yards or air wells and moderate occupation with detached or semi-detached buildings. The form of occupation depends greatly on the original dimensions of the plot. Plots that at the time of acquisition were small, resulted invariably in compact shapes. On the contrary, plots with generous sizes resulted in more balanced forms of occupation. Sometimes, at a later stage the owner-landlord acquires neighboring lots, as Sr. Sánchez that added a side yard. But this increased area hardly affects the layout of what is already built. Instead, it usually tempts the landlord to continue adding rooms.

Compounds of detached or semidetached buildings provide ground related dwellings with easy access to one or more patios. As it came out from the interviews, access to outdoor spaces is a quality most tenants appreciate, especially those with tiny rooms. Full plot occupation generally demands a second floor, usually for tenants' rooms. For example, both Sr. Villalba and Sr. Sánchez have occupied most of their original plots. In both cases tenants' facilities are above the main house, in a configuration that generates lack of natural light and proper ventilation in rooms.

5.1.4. Use of space

Landlords and renters share different kind of facilities. They share spaces such as patios, galerías, and bathrooms, and services such as water and electricity. In the sample, laundry areas were the spaces landlord and renters shared most frequently, 66.7 percent. Spaces such as bathrooms and kitchens that cause more conflicts, were not so frequently shared, 16.7 percent of cases. In half of the cases landlord and renters shared patios, and in 25 percent they shared galerías. Among services, water was less shared than electricity. In 25 percent of rentals landlords shared water taps with tenants; in 50 percent they shared electricity meters.


Perhaps the factor affecting most the relation landlord-tenant is the layout of entrances to the dwellings. The sample detected a variety of entrances that can be broadly grouped in two, independent with or without owner-landlord living in the place, and shared entrance used by owner-landlords and tenants. The first group applies mainly to small rentals, or units in rooming houses with direct access from the street. The second includes different sorts of shared entrances, mostly in rooming houses. Almost 60 percent of landlords share entrances with tenants. In some cases, there is no alternative due to restricted dimensions, or weird configuration plan. In others, it is a matter of owner-landlord's own choice. Sometimes, privacy is difficult, if not impossible to achieve. The case of Sr. Sánchez represents an extreme, in which tenants renting the back apartment have no other alternative than to pass through the living-room-kitchen of the main house. Similar pass-through entrance is that of Sr. Villalba and Sr. Rafael Sánchez. In these cases the entrance is an element of control, a filter that allows them to keep track of tenants, and monitor who gets in and out of the house. When landlords and renters live in the same place, they usually share entrances to their dwellings.


In the best cases bathrooms consist of one or two sinks, and a shower or water tap. In most cases, bathrooms are exclusively for tenants, as in the houses of Sra. Agusto and Sr. Villalba. In others, as in Sr. Smith's house, landlord and tenants share sanitation and laundry areas. In this example, bathrooms are just a pit latrine and a 200 liter steel barrel full of water filled once a day from a tap located in the front of the main house. Landlord and tenants share this water tap also for cooking and washing. As the bathroom of the main house is still unfinished, Sr. Smith uses tenants' latrines.

Patios and galerías

Tenants and owner-landlords consider patio sharing as something natural. Invariably when there is a patio, they share it, in the same way they share entrances and bathrooms. The patio is usually the center of the house. Frequently it is accompanied by one or more verandahs. In Sr. Smith's house both tenants and landlord spend most of the time outdoors sharing the patio. The galería, however, supporting activities such as cooking, washing, and children's play, is exclusively for tenants. Landlord and tenants share the patio with no need of explicit rules. Split patios for exclusive use of tenants and landlord are rare. In only one case, Sra Gomez's, the patio was divided into tenants' and owner's domains. This division, however, was only functional; the two patios remained perceptually one single space.

Sharing facilities among tenants and landlords causes several problems derived from close proximity: lack of privacy, noise disturbances, invasion of personal domains, gossiping, etc. However very few owner-landlords complained, or saw this as a problem. Most considered this a minor adversity, something they can not avoid if they want to get income from their rentals. Surprisingly, tenants also tended to minimize inconveniences derived from lack of privacy, stressing that their rooms were affordable.


5.2. Shared Housing

Present in both formal and informal settings without distinction, shared housing is a frequent solution in Resistencia. In times of crisis, sharing a bed or a room is indeed the last choice for many poor households. It is true, it implies inconveniences such as lack of privacy and lack of space, but one advantage conceals all its disadvantages: it is free, a quality that households with extremely low income especially appreciate. Shared housing is part of an informal security network helping newly formed families and aging persons. For young couples, it usually constitutes the first housing option that allows them to benefit from an increased saving capacity. For the elders, it implies the possibility of being in close contact with their families, and thus enjoying assistance and loving care.

5.2.1. Types

The survey showed that shared housing was an important component of the housing alternatives in all three neighborhoods. In La Isla and Villa Itatí, it accounted for four of the households interviewed (28 %) in each. In Villa Ercilia, there were three cases (21 %) of shared housing. Considering its orientation toward ownership, there are two types of shared housing: ownership-oriented and non-ownership-oriented. The first, plot sharing, involves the subdivision of relatively large plots among relatives or kin. The second, non-ownership oriented, entails sharing part of the house with relatives or kin. While the former is common in low density barrios, such as La Isla, the latter is frequent in dense neighborhoods such as Villa Itatí.

Plot sharing

Plot sharing entails the sharing of a plot with relatives or kin. Occasionally, it takes the form of a subdivision, in which each sharer builds his or her own house with the help of the rest of the members of the compound. The boundaries of the plot remain common until one member decides to sell the mejora, or the relationship with the rest deteriorates. The system combines the advantages of both, sharing and ownership. It provides the benefits of sharing: easy surveillance of children, increased security against robbery, meals sharing; combined with the main advantage of ownership: the possibility of selling or renting the house if money is needed.

The process of sharing and later subdivision has no written rules. It develops slowly through the years, based on negotiations and arrangements among family members and kin. Most sharing pacts are sealed just by word of mouth. Very seldom dealings involve a monetary transaction; most times, people share part of their land in exchange of favors, and rarely produce a contract or whatsoever. Plot sharing demands large plots as those found in La Isla, still a semi rural fringe barrio. In dense neighborhoods like Villa Itatí, where average plots are about 150 m2, plot sharing becomes less feasible. In these cases sharing refers more to the house of the owner than to the plot.

House Sharing

In consolidated neighborhoods, sharing a room or part of a house is the most common form of shared housing. For example, in Villa Itatí where dimensions of plots are tiny and the process of consolidation was influenced by upgrading interventions, three out of four cases of shared housing were of this type. In these cases, the main houses are generally in advanced state of consolidation and plot boundaries well defined. The shared facilities are usually built by the owner, frequently with help from the sharer.

Unlike plot sharing, house sharing is not so prone to subdivision and ownership. In this case, there is a recognizable owner who usually invests money and effort building the shared facility. He or she, generally remains in control of the whole house; therefore, subdivisions into two or more houses are rare. In some cases sharing involves a spare room within the main house. In others, owners cede a small apartment, usually at the back of the plot, consisting of one or two rooms, kitchen and bathroom.

5.2.2. Plot arrangements

Most plots in shared housing were rectangular. Out of ten plots, five were rectangular, four irregular, and one was square. The average size was 289.88 m2 with a FAR of 0.29. As in rentals, plot occupation depended on the dimensions of the plot. While in house sharing occupation tended to be high, with a maximum coverage of 65 percent of the plot, in plot sharing occupation was relatively low. However, there were some exceptions, for instance, a case of plot sharing of just 153.00 m2, and a case of house sharing of 440.00 m2.


5.3. Summary

The supply of rental and shared housing provide several options in informal environments. Rentals comprise two main groups: small rentals, and rooming houses. Casual and most times unplanned, small rentals include rooms and small apartments. More noticeable than small rentals, rooming houses predominate in barrios of informal origin in Resistencia. The most frequent types are rooms with shared bathrooms, with the landlord-owner living in the place sharing spaces and services. In these cases, main houses are of better quality than rentals, however, living conditions of both landlord and renters are fairly similar. Shared options on the other hand, include two main types: plot sharing, and house sharing. Prone to subdivision and ownership plot sharing demands large plots. House sharing demands smaller plots than plot sharing, and is more frequent in central neighborhoods.

This section has provided a profile of the supply of rental and shared housing in terms of dwellings. To deepen this profile, the coming chapter will address the issue of who and why produces these options.

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