Chapter 8: Conclusion

8.1. Summary of findings

The findings of this research have made clear that informal settlements provide many more options than mere ownership through squatting. The alternatives discussed in this paper constitute extremely fragile sub-markets, providing, in most cases, deficient housing in terms of space and quality, and sometimes involving speculative practices. But in any case, no one could argue they do not diversify the range of housing solutions for the poor. Moreover, contributing to alleviate the demand for ownership housing, they free units in government sponsored projects. Arguments on both demand and supply suggest that if the aim is to improve the living conditions of the poor, rental and shared sub-markets must be carefully considered.

The demand for non-ownership options in informal environments in Resistencia, although in the bottom portion of the income scale, seems fairly varied. Two main types of demand were identified: demand based on need, and demand based on preference. For some households renting or sharing is strictly a matter of need. Households such as single mothers with several kids or elder persons with virtually no income, clearly have no choice. For others, on the contrary, renting or sharing is a voluntary decision. Some households, although having incomes that would allow them to endeavor the chores of ownership, prefer to rent or share as a way to spend less in housing and achieve other priorities in life. Among the factors influencing households' tenure choices, location, affordability, and stage in life cycle seem to play the most important role.

Reasonably varied is also the supply of alternatives. Rentals comprise mostly mid-scale rooming houses with the landlord living in the plot. Although in most cases main houses are of better quality than rentals, living conditions of both renters and landlords are fairly similar. Surprisingly, small rentals seem less frequent than what the research assumed initially. Shared housing presents two main variations: house sharing in which sharing concern a part of the house, and plot-sharing in which sharing refers to a piece of land. The first variation is closer to rental housing, and frequently derive in a small rental business; the later conversely, seems more biased towards ownership in the long run.

Suppliers of non-ownership alternatives do not conform a single pattern. Some owner-landlords are relatively wealthy with incomes doubling those of tenants. Their practice, however, seems far from a large scale commercial business. Other are just as poor as their tenants and rely on rents for subsistence. Elder persons approaching the end of their work cycle, consider renting as a self provided pension. In most cases, rents are just enough for food and some other expenses, but at least rents provide them with a more or less steady income. Not having the benefits of rents, owner sharers are even more disadvantaged than landlords. With incomes closer to that of renters and sharers than to that of landlords, they resign the possibility of having an extra income on grounds friendship and good will.

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8.2. Assessing the role of rental and shared housing

Perhaps the main merit of rental and shared sub-markets is that they diversify the supply of low income housing increasing the range of options available for poor households. Although not constituting per-se ideal housing solutions, they certainly increase the possibility matching households' needs in certain moments of their lives.

Rentals in informal environments seem to perform a variety of roles. One of them is 'social'; for example, when they act as a support for elder landlords out of the social security system. Another role is eminently 'financial.' Rentals provide home owners a surplus that, in some cases, contribute to complete or enlarge their houses. Finally, a third role is merely 'speculative.' For a few better off landlords, rentals in informal settlements constitute a way of securing would-be valuable land, avoiding taxes and obtaining substantial return in their investment. This negative face, however, is more an assumption than a documented fact, since most landlords interviewed were small, or mid-scale operators, residing in the same premises. Despite this unavoidable speculative component inherent to its very nature, the 'social' and 'financial' sides of rental housing make it worth encouraging home owners to produce rental alternatives in informal environments.

The role of shared housing is eminently 'social'. Most shared alternatives cater to households not covered by the official housing policies, for instance newly formed families and elder persons. In some cases its role also turns financial. By diminishing expenditures on housing, shared accommodation can generate savings that eventually will give sharers the chance of becoming homeowners. Often, shared housing is the 'cushion' that prevents poor households from being street-sleepers when the supply of cheap housing is restricted.

Informal non-ownership alternatives are important components of the lower end of the housing market. Enriching the supply of cheap housing with options such as, part of a room, or even a bed, which are not found in formal sub-markets, they contribute to improve the performance of the overall housing market.

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8.3. Scope for action

Rental and shared housing are no substitutes of ownership options. As mentioned earlier, they perform a clearly differentiated role in the housing market. But neither rental nor shared housing, of the kind we have discussed in this paper, constitute models of housing solutions for poor households. Under certain conditions they can result the least desirable of the alternatives. The question, then, is what should be done about them?

Comprehensive interventions such as rent controls, or enforcement of restrictive legislation seem to be the less recommendable of the approaches. As proved by widespread evidence in different countries, by restricting the supply of options they create even more burden for poor households. Instead, localized actions such as, direct subsidies for the most unprivileged tenants: single mothers with several children, seems the most advisable approach.

Actions on the supply side of non-ownership alternatives entail greater risks, as they would only result in constraints in the provision of rental and shared options. Although it may be argued that securing tenure is a cause of speculation, it seems advisable to ease the process for allocating tenure rights. As it came out from household's histories, in cases in which tenure rights have been secured, quality of rental facilities tended to be better, and what is most important, without significant rent increase. The best incentive to encourage the production of rental housing, seems to be keeping direct market intervention to a minimum. The main drawback of this permissive approach is that it can result in an speculative outburst. Yet in this context, rather than restricting the supply of rentals, the best alternative would be to improve the supply of ownership options, targeting the demand for rental and shared housing.

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8.4. Methodology

This study has been an exploratory exercise to approach the lesser known sub-markets in Resistencia. Most of the issues it has dealt with are usually nurtured by heavy statistical information. In this case, however, most of the analysis relied on qualitative, rather than quantitative data. Considering the scarcity of resources and the short time available for the field study, the approach proved to be highly effective. Indeed, the qualitative set of data produced a large amount of information exceeding the limited scope of this thesis. The resulting picture may not be that accurate and comprehensive, but this was far the objective of this research.

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8.5. Final remarks

There is a tendency either in government or academic circles in Argentina to think about rental housing as a 'non sanctum' business, a calamity frequently associated with prostitution or drug dealing. But far beyond this narrow minded view, this research has found that rental housing in informal settlements has quite a respectable role. Constituting an income generating activity, it allows poor owners to ensure a minimal subsistence, and in some cases even consolidate or enlarge their dwellings. Besides, it provides inexpensive housing to a minority of people, not for that reason less important, who is out of the possibilities of ownership, or who for various reasons simply do not need to own a house.

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