Factors that help or hinder housing production in urban contexts -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Factors that help or hinder housing production in urban contexts

By Manuel Mancuello

Habitat for Humanity Latin America and the Caribbean recently finished a study on the supply and demand of housing production in three different contexts: Recife, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; and Mexico City, Mexico.

In Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco, about 700,000 people live in precarious conditions, according to the report published by the State Forum for Urban Reform.

In Bogota, Colombia’s capital, according to official data, over the last few years the increase in displaced persons has led to a steady increase in the population density, which has risen from 183 persons per hectare in 1994 to 228 persons per hectare in 2003.

In Mexico City, according to José Luis Cortés Delgado, professor and researcher at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco, there were just over 4 million inhabitants in 1960. The population rose to 8 million in 1970 and reached almost 20 million in the year 2000.

The study seeks to identify the factors that determine the success or failure of housing production in urban contexts.

The study

According to Rodolfo Ramírez, Housing and Human Settlements director for Habitat for Humanity LA/C, all the stakeholders involved in housing supply and demand were identified: the community or person with housing needs (the demand), private initiatives, the government with its housing programs and public policies about housing rights, the suppliers, and the population that gets housing through Habitat (the supply). Also identified were existing financial and legal barriers which impede housing access for the majority of the population.

Main findings

The study shows that there are common and specific factors that help or hinder access to housing in each of the three contexts.

In Colombia, more than half of the population lives with some aspect of the right to housing unfulfilled. The existing confusion in the country on the reach and content of the right to adequate housing opens the possibility for governments to bring into effect the right to adequate housing emphasizing quality of the solution and not just property.

However, society’s massive effort is only to produce property owners. Thus, the quality of life that housing generates is not appropriated and instead is devalued.

The government, then, needs to define the essential minimum levels of the right to adequate housing and to adopt a long-term national housing strategy that produces public policy.

The scarce resources that the government assigns to low-income housing policy must be assigned exclusively to improve the housing conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable homes. It should not be designated to promote construction and to generate employment.

Likewise, a definition of the housing policy for the displaced population is urgent. The currently regulated family subsidy is not the best option. What must be anticipated are the mechanisms and incentives for community members to return to their place of origin or to relocate to an area similar to their place of origin. In addition, temporary assistance offered upon their arrival needs to be in place.

In Brazil, the pilot project of the Social Production of Habitat that focused on eight housing settlements in four different communities was supported by HFH Brazil in alliance with other governmental and nongovernmental organizations. These are housing settlements in special zones of social interest (ZEIS is the acronym in Portuguese) that have the possibility of urbanization, fiduciary regulation and municipal support.

A key finding is that all these communities are organized with common goals, have more than one spokesperson and the presence of several NGOs (among these is Habitat Brazil) and governmental organizations.

The researchers

The study was carried out by consultants, teachers and NGOs focused on the problem of the lack of adequate housing and accelerated urban development in Latin America.

In Recife, the study was conducted by the Federal University of Pernambuco through its doctorate program in urban development. They implemented methodologies and analyses from the academic point of view.

In Bogota, the NGO Fedevivienda was responsible for the investigation. This is a recognized, region-wide organization with more than 20 years’ experience in housing solutions in urban contexts. It contributed a methodology and analysis from a nonprofit perspective.

In Mexico, the researchers were private consultants that developed the task under private supervision.


The study is currently in the analysis and conclusion period. Rodolfo Ramírez and Minor Rodríguez, housing solution specialist, are currently working with urban development and housing production players in the three cities included in the study to share key findings and seek feedback to enrich the study’s conclusions.

The results will be incorporated into design and planning interventions, and will be shared with other organizations involved in housing.

In addition, HFH LA/C has invited key external stakeholders such as Rubén Sepúlveda, director of the Housing Institute of the University of Chile; Lorena Zárate from Habitat International Coalition; and the deputy director of the Costa Rica-Canada Foundation to participate in the analysis of the findings.

Next steps

  • Designing a program
    Once the factors and stakeholders have been identified, we will promote the design of an intervention program to be implemented in each of the contexts studied. This means that in Bogota, Recife and Mexico City, we will be able to implement programs with different characteristics. Local and international players will participate in this process.
  • Program implementation
    A third and final period will be the implementation of the designed programs. The cycle from study and analysis of a reality through implementation and intervention to transform that reality will be completed.

Manuel Mancuello is a writer and editor for HFH LA/C. He may be contacted at mmancuello@habitat.org.