Chapter 6: The suppliers

After studying the options catering to the demand of non-ownership alternatives in the previous section, this chapter focuses on the producers of these alternatives. Who are the landlords, and who the owners that share? How and why they produce non-ownership housing? Is their practice a degeneration of self help housing in which housing built as use value becomes an exchange value; or on the contrary, is it a sign of the capacity of the lower end of the market to deliver diversified housing options?

Owner-landlords and owner-sharers are the producers of rented and shared accommodation. The most obvious difference between them is that the former gets a benefit for ceding part of his property, while the latter does it for free on grounds of kinship. But the distinction is not clear cut. Frequently, landlords are also sharers; and sometimes, sharers turn into landlords or vice versa. In the following discussion, however, each household is considered under just one category to simplify the analysis.

6.1. Owner-landlords

The sample detected a total of ten owner-landlords: five in Villa Ercilia, three in La Isla, and two in Villa Itatí. Most of them live in the same plot with their renters, and some even share space or services with them. On average they have been in their present house for 26.6 years. Despite having the biggest average household size among all tenure groups, 4.8 persons, they have the lowest rate of persons per room, 1.36.

6.1.1. Type of household

Sixty percent of landlords constitute families with children and 30 percent are single elder persons. Most of them have other occupations apart from taking care of their rentals. Twenty percent are sub-contractors; 20 percent entrepreneurs; and 10 percent have small businesses. Forty percent of landlords have no other occupation than running their rentals.

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6.1.2. Income

Owner-landlords generally have better incomes (see Endnotes 20) than renters. From a sample of ten, the average monthly income was $611, ranging from $180 to a maximum of about $1000. Comparing incomes of landlords and renters, and defining an arbitrary line at $ 600, one can distinguish two groups. Clearly homogeneous, the group above this limit are better off landlords with incomes such as Sr. Vallejos' or Sr. Miño's that double or triple those of some tenants. Landlords in this bracket, have better living standard, and quite often have better housing than tenants. Below $ 600, landlords and tenants intermingle in the lower strata. Still, being owners, landlords enjoy a slightly better housing standard than tenants, at least in what refers to finishing and area per person. However, considering that most landlords share facilities with tenants and have higher expenses, living conditions of landlord and tenants are fairly similar. Moreover, some landlords have even less income than tenants. For example Sr. Sánchez has an income at least similar to that of a potential tenant for his back apartment. In this income segment, there is certainly no wide gap between landlord and tenant.

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6.1.3. Land acquisition

Owner-landlords acquire land in three forms: mejoras (see Endnotes 21) , invasion of vacant land, and informal subdivisions. Although majority of them got their plots through a mejora, all three forms of acquisition were balanced. Out of ten cases, four were through a mejora, three through informal subdivisions, and three through occupation of vacant land. In only four cases owner-landlords have obtained, or are in the way of obtaining the title of their property.

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6.1.4. The tools of the trade

Landlords rarely sign contracts with tenants. However they have different methods to scan the suitability of their tenants. Some ask for the DNI (identification card); others observe the behavior during the first month of tenancy. Most prefer to seal deals by just shaking hands. Afraid of being detected by municipal officials, most landlords find tenants just by word of mouth. It is natural, considering that all except two of the landlords interviewed do not pay taxes regularly. Others, less timorous, prefer to advertise their rentals by means of hand drawn signs located strategically on the facade. Only a few, when occupancy is low, advertise in newspapers, or employ bus station agents.

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6.1.5. Main perceived problem

Asked about their main problems, owner-landlords had three main concerns. Lack of jobs, burglars, and the difficulty to find renters, were the most frequent responses with 30 percent. The nature of their responses denoted the condition of owners, and a better situation than other tenancy groups. Other responses included: lack of space 20 %, and referred to the neighborhood, drainage 20 percent, and lack of street lighting 10 percent.

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6.1.6. Reasons for letting out

Owner-landlords perceive their rentals in very different ways. From the sample in three neighborhoods, it came out that 46.15 percent of landlords consider renting as a "way to make a living," 38.46 percent consider it a business and for 30.77 percent it represents an investment. Asked about the reasons for renting 61.54 percent mentioned a good location as the most decisive factor for renting. A significant 30.77 percent said rentals help them in finishing the main house; and 15.38 percent said it helps them in paying taxes.

6.1.7. Case histories

Two types of owner-landlords predominate in informal settlements in Resistencia. Those building rental rooms as a way to secure a basic subsistence, and those building rental rooms or apartments as an investment to make profits. The former consider renting as a form of supplementing and stabilizing very low incomes; the latter have a clear objective in mind and concentrate all their efforts and savings in achieving their goal.

Box 7: C03-11 (Sr. Villalba)

Unlike the large 'professional' type that plan their business in advance, small scale landlords tend to let out unused space forced by extreme need. For example, Sr. Sánchez, a household in Villa Araza, was trying to overcome an almost desperate economic situation by whatever means he had at hand.

Box 8: C03-01 (Sr. Sanchez)

In most cases Small rentals are a way of getting extra income to supplement tight budgets. For some households, such as family Sánchez, they represent the one and only hope of getting a more or less steady income. For others, such as family Maldonado, a rental is a way of getting needed services without having to pay in cash for them.

Box 9: C01-13 (Sra. Maldonado)

Landlords perceive their rentals in very different ways. Sr. Rafael Sánchez, a landlord in Villa Ercilia, sees his rental rooms as "a charitable way to provide poor people a place to live, and help diminish the rate of delinquency in the neighborhood." Instead, Sr. Smith considers his rental rooms the 'pension' he does not get from the government.

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Box 10: C03-06 (Sr. Smith)

Some landlords, have succeeded in raising their living standard through their rentals. Yet, their business is far from being a large scale speculative operation.

Box 11: C02-11 (Sr. Ruiz Diaz)

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6.2. Owner-sharers

Another type of providers of non-ownership alternatives are owner-sharers. There were ten cases of owners providing shared accommodation to relatives or kin. Three of them were in La Isla, four in Villa Itatí, and three in Villa Ercilia. On average, they have been for lesser time in their present house (20 years), and have a smaller household size than landlords (3.5 persons). Despite having a similar occupancy rate, 1.88 persons per room, they have less space per person than landlords, 7.56 m2.

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6.2.1. Type of household

Most owner-sharers are at middle or late stage in their life cycle. Fifty percent are middle aged couples with children; 30 percent are elder couples; and 20 percent elder single persons. Unlike owner-landlords, they have irregular low-paid jobs, similar to those of sharers and renters. Forty percent do changas from time to time, and 40 percent are retired persons. Other occupations include, factory employees (10%), and maids (10%).

6.2.2. Icome

Not having the benefits of a regular rental revenue, owner-sharers have considerably lower incomes than owner-landlords. They earn on average $ 264.00, ranging from a minimum of $ 50.00 to a maximum of $ 650.00. Their incomes seem closer to sharers and renters', than to owner landlords.'

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6.2.3. Land acquisition

Likewise owner-landlords, most owner-sharers acquired their plots through mejoras. Out of ten cases, five owner-sharers bought a mejora, four invaded vacant land, and one purchased a lot in an informal subdivision. In most cases they have lived in their plots for over 20 years,but only three out of ten had gotten the legal title by the time of the interview.

6.2.4. Main perceived problem

For most owner sharers, the main problem in daily life is to make ends meet. Almost two thirds of them pointed out their income was very low. Some mentioned problems related to their dwellings; twenty percent complained about lack of space, and 10 percent stated fear of eviction. Others indicated neighborhood deficiencies: lack of adequate drainage, (20%), and lack of water supply, (10%).

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6.2.5. Case histories

For most households, sharing is a way of helping their relatives. In some cases, such as in plot sharing, sharing may result even in ownership for the families involved. In the majority of cases in the sample, however, it was just a way of alleviating the suffering of extreme poverty. The following case histories illustrate the nature of owner-sharers in the barrios of Resistencia.

Box 12: C03-02 (Sr. Gonzalez)

Box 13 C03-03 (Sra. Ramirez)

6.3. The relation owner-tenant

Several factors influence the relation owner-tenant. The first and most obvious, is the type of arrangement between them. While owner-sharers share with previously known persons, relatives, or friends, owner-landlords not necessarily let out just to people they know. Most landlords seem to make a tradeoff at the time of selecting renters. On one hand they prefer people they know because it gives them a sense of security; but at the same time they like unknown tenants because it allows them to have a more impersonal relation.

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Another determinant element in the relationship is if the owner lives in the same place or not. Eight out of ten landlords live in the premises and share spaces or services with renters. Consequently, in most cases they have a daily contact. But his does not necessarily mean that they have a good relationship. On the contrary, conflicts seem more likely to arise if landlords live in the premises than if they live somewhere else. In the interviews, both landlords and renters expressed their relation was good, however, some evidence suggests this was not always the case. For example, some renters mentioned problems with previous landlords that obliged them to move. The average length of tenancy, only six months, also suggests that a bad relation with the landlord may be one the reason for moving in some cases.

A third element affecting the relation owner-tenant, is the socio-cultural background of both parties. If landlords and tenants have a similar background, the relation between them seems more benign. When landlords have previously been tenants they seem to be more contemplative. As a woman landlord put it, "I 've been in their situation. If the they can't pay, I still let them stay. I have one owing me five months."

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6.4. Housing production

As it is almost the rule in informal environments, owners directly participate in the building of their housing. Some with building skills build their houses by themselves. Others hire bricklayers or small contractors for the most demanding tasks, and reserve for themselves supervision and minor chores. Landlord-owners build main houses and rentals in different ways. To build main houses, 37.5 percent of landlords did the work themselves hiring occasional hand labor, whereas for rentals 60 percent of them hired bricklayers or small contractors for most of the construction. This phenomenon may have two explanations. Many owners building rentals are aging persons, thus they can not participate in construction as they did when building the main house; or perhaps being rentals at a later stage in their life cycle, they are in a better situation to hire workers.

The process of building rather than unidirectional and well phased, is erratic and random. For example, there is no clear cut definition between building activities and room letting. For tenants this situation causes many inconveniences, but for landlords it is the only way to continue building. As soon as the first room is available, the new landlord rents it out to recover the heavy investment that any form of construction signifies for them.

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Owner-landlords who got their plot by occupating vacant land, built initially a precarious shack as the starting point of their housing development. At this early stage, they usually do not employ other hand labor than that of their partners or kids, and have to overcome numerous difficulties in getting building materials.

Sra. Agusto recalls "at the beginning we made a precarious rancho. My husband was the builder, and I helped him carrying building materials. We were so poor that we didn't have money even to buy wooden poles. I collected timber waste from municipal building sites. For the roof we used cortaderas. But as there was not enough here, I had to bring them all the way long from Vilelas." After the initial rancho stage, they started building the permanent structure. One of the most mentioned problems was the difficulty to get building materials in the area. In Villa Ercilia/Araza, Sr. Sánchez recounts, "there was nothing here, I had to bring the cement and everything from the center, now there are many stores around here, but then there was none."

Most owner-landlords are essentially self-builders. Almost all of them have at least some knowledge of building techniques: Sr. Ruiz Díaz, Sr. Sánchez, and Sr. Smith claim to be contractors, on top of other occupations. Sr. Smith is a bricklayer; Sr. Sánchez is a painter; Sr. Ruiz Díaz is a bricklayer and has knowledge of plumbing and electricity. Most landlords acquired their craft in the process of self-building. Invariably, they are proud of what they have achieved: "my house doesn't have a single crack," says Sr. Ruiz Díaz; "Do you know how to make a right angle?... Most engineers don't know how to make a right angle; the most important thing in the house," concludes Sr. Smith.

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6.5. Summary

The findings of the study suggest a wide range of suppliers of non-ownership alternatives. Some owner-landlords are relatively wealthy; though, comprising mainly mid scale rentals, their practice is far from a large scale commercial operation. Others are just as poor as their tenants and rely on their rentals for a minimum subsistence. The case histories suggest two types of landlords: entrepreneurs who consider rentals an investment, and small landlords who consider rentals a way of securing a basic subsistence. While the former have higher incomes than tenants and enjoy a better living standard, the latter have a socioeconomic background similar to their renters'. Sometimes, room letting provides more than a basic subsistence. For some landlords, rentals represent a way of financing the completion of the main house, for others they provide a mean to pay taxes and fees to get property rights. Not having the benefits of rents, owner-sharers tend to have lower incomes than landlords. Although recognizing letting out would provide them an extra income, they prefer to share on grounds of kinship. Most owners acquire their plots buying a mejora or simply invading public land. Both owner-landlords and owner-sharers are usually involved in the building of their homes. To build the main houses they have the aid of relatives and friends. To build the rentals they tend to employ hired bricklayers and small contractors.

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