Project Description

Aims and Objectives

  • To support and improve the living conditions of indigenous groups and low-income households in rural areas across the country.
  • To foster increased economic activity through the provision and improvement of rural housing and infrastructure and to help people improve their economic position.


Argentina is highly urbanised, with the ten largest metropolitan areas accounting for half of the population, and fewer than one in ten living in rural areas. It is a country of multiple cultures where historically the landed elite have always benefited and poor rural residents and indigenous peoples have been excluded both socially and economically. Rural areas have never benefited fairly from national investment, and rural dwellers, unable to buy their own land, have been forced to migrate to cities. This trend was further exacerbated by widespread privatisation policies during the 1990s. Argentina suffered economic decline from 1981 to 2001 resulting in the collapse of its economy in 2002. From 2003 to 2008, the economy grew, and continued to grow during the global recession in 2009. The distortions created in the market by large-scale farming have discouraged small producers, unable to compete with large landowners. Many of these are indigenous families who are being helped through this programme to uphold their rights, preserve their culture and regain land. Since 2006 the national government has provided a solution to the historical and unmet housing demands of rural inhabitants and indigenous peoples.

Key features

Having implemented a series of projects from 2006 onwards to address the needs of rural areas, the National government introduced a major programme of public works at the end of 2008, with a planned investment of US$32 billion of which the Housing and Habitat Improvement Programme for Indigenous and Rural People was a small part. Due to high demand for its work, it was approved and regulated as a separate programme in October 2010 and now has an independent budget and goals. It is a decentralised programme, working with local partners, typically provincial and municipal governments, NGOs and bodies representing communities of rural and indigenous people, who develop local proposals and submit them for approval to the national Working Group. Some of these partners also provide land for new construction where needed and fund their own staff costs. House designs and improvements reflect local traditions and cultural needs.

The programme sees the house as the centre for social and economic activity and the basis for rural development, putting emphasis on investment that fosters the construction of rural infrastructure. It comprises four key areas of activity:

  • Construction of new homes: for families with incomes below the poverty-line and vulnerable groups.
  • Improvement of existing homes: enlarging and renovating houses, especially where the family has been self-building.
  • Rural infrastructure works: building and surfacing roads, providing water supply and waste disposal systems.
  • Creation of stable livelihoods: encouraging the productive potential of indigenous families or rural communities.

The programme is implemented on land either owned by the indigenous groups or donated by provincial or municipal governments. Any small producer or indigenous person with unsatisfied basic needs (NBI), who resides in a rural or sub-rural area without necessarily being a land-owner, is eligible for the programme. The housing types and characteristics vary depending on the zone, but houses must have a minimum size of 55 m2 and at least two bedrooms. The total number of dwellings in the programme (at Jan 2011) is 2,625, of which 201 have been completed, 526 are under construction and 1,928 are households that have signed contracts in respect of the programme. The number of people benefiting directly from the project is 13,125, plus a further 10,500 from job creation.

The executive bodies’ technical and social workers provide training for the people of the community who are going to carry out the construction works, lead meetings and assemblies encouraging participation of the community in decision making processes. They also work promoting income generation activities (e.g. animal rearing, sowing, etc.) with the local community. In addition, other National government departments, such as the National Institute of Farming Technology, provide training opportunities.

Covering costs

The programme is state-run, funded within the annual budget of the National Secretariat of Public Works. The total investment to date for 2,625 homes is US$70 million or an average of US$29,000 per unit.

Estimated new construction costs are US$29,000 per unit of 55 m2, while improvement to existing houses is capped at US$17,000. Rural infrastructure costs vary according to local conditions and requirements, but must meet the required standards.

The executive bodies (NGOs, local government and others) receive a grant from the national government to execute each of the signed agreements. Beneficiaries repay the cost of their houses to the executive bodies (which provide the loans) over 30 or 40 years with zero or low interest rates. Families unable to pay the instalments can ask for an additional grant that covers the total amount needed. Repayment funds must be reinvested by the executive bodies in new houses or community facilities. NGOs as executive bodies can receive funds from the national government for up to 15 per cent more than the total received for the implementation of the programme, so as to cover their costs (e.g. logistical problems of working in remote areas, training services, technical assistance, etc).


  • Job opportunities are created and the housing and quality of life for rural populations is improved.
  • Regional economies have developed and development in more isolated areas has been accelerated.
  • Civil society is more capable of organising and consolidating social networks, reducing rural isolation.
  • Closer inter-institutional relationships have developed through implementation of the programme.
  • The programme has been approved by the National Secretariat of Public Works and included within the Government’s national housing programme, representing a significant change of approach to previous administrations.
  • Centralised funding with decentralised execution has involved greater responsibility at the local level and the redesigning of local policies. Some obsolete internal structures and management systems have had to be modified by the executive bodies so as to create a general set of guidelines that can operate nationally.
  • The programme has encouraged a greater awareness of the local executive bodies and amongst local political leaders and parties of issues affecting indigenous groups, which should influence national congress and generate further debate with national and provincial bodies and other organisations about ways of developing joint efforts to improve housing for rural and indigenous peoples. In Misiones for example, a Land Regulation was passed in 2009 to allow tenants of farms to qualify for access to benefits.

Why is it innovative?

  • The programme was introduced as part of a national strategy to both decrease the housing deficit, and at the same time to reactivate the construction sector, targeting those left out of the economic productive sector.
  • It openly assumes a political stance in respect of social and cultural inclusion, recognising active participation of communities in decision-making as vital for groups historically discriminated against and aims to generate a real process of social inclusion. By seeing the evolution of habitat as a way of promoting development of communities with sensitivity towards indigenous groups and land property issues, and creating a sense of belonging and pride, it has made large steps in improving rural habitats and returning land to indigenous communities.
  • It includes production capabilities as a component of habitat and acknowledges the importance of stable livelihoods to enhance quality of life.
  • It offers training and financing to NGOs for replication.

What is the environmental impact?

  • The use of locally available materials reduces energy demand.
  • Twenty-seven houses in Chubut use renewable energy in the form of solar panels and windmills.
  • Solar panels are used in 50 houses at Rio Negro and in community facilities in Misiones province.
  • Solar ovens and ‘heat walls’, are used to reduce the use of electric power, especially in the cold region of Patagonia.
  • With the awareness generated through the programme, indigenous peoples have been able to recover their land and maintain it with all its rich diversity and cultural traditions.
  • The programme encourages self-sustainable food production, such as organic orchards and greenhouses, reducing dependence on large-scale agricultural production, and increasing local biodiversity.

Is it financially sustainable?

  • Under the current administration, investment in this programme is secure since it is part of the strategic economic recovery plan in public works and infrastructure approved by the national government at the end of 2008. The programme is the responsibility of SSDUV and is considered to be a permanent government programme, as its budget and goals extend beyond the life of the current administration. In addition, the local executive bodies must re-invest the repayments received, guaranteeing the continuity of the programme.
  • By purchasing materials locally, encouraging investment, and creating job opportunities, the programme acts as a driver in the reactivation of the local economy.
  • The training provided by the programme for carrying out the construction work opens up new jobs opportunities for the future.
  • Local people and communities are helped to establish new enterprises, including organic fruit growing, tool storage warehouses, animal breeding etc.
  • Most of those benefitting from the programme lived previously in poor quality housing, often made of wood and were unable to access loans to either renovate or build a better home. By organising self-build groups, thus eliminating private companies, and giving state subsidies towards all other administrative costs and inspection work, the cost of a new home is reduced by up to 65 per cent. Repayments are fixed according to need and made by automatic debits, without mortgaging the house or property.

What is the social impact?

  • With the awareness generated through the programme, indigenous peoples have been able to recover their land and maintain it with all its rich diversity and cultural traditions.
  • The programme encourages self-sustainable food production, such as organic orchards and greenhouses, reducing dependence on large-scale agricultural production, and increasing local biodiversity.
  • Participants are trained to provide non-specialised labour, so building and organising skills are improved. Households learn better financial management; and through complementary projects such as organic fruit growing or greenhouses, families develop their skills in self-sufficiency.
  • The people are healthier and safer as a result of the programme. The improvements to water supply and sanitation systems have reduced the incidence of disease, particularly amongst children. Homes are better ventilated and warm, improving both health and quality of life. In addition, new practices are encouraged regarding housing of domestic animals, with hygiene and sanitary conditions improved. Moreover, to reduce disaster risk, land for new homes is carefully selected to ensure that it is stable and free from flood risk.
  • Greater attention has been paid to the views of indigenous peoples thus helping to reduce social inequalities. The programme has made substantial progress in highlighting the barriers to social inclusion experienced by indigenous people, often as a result of discrimination, and to inhabitants of isolated rural areas in general due to unmet basic needs.
  • There is active participation of the community in the decision making processes and building activities, with recognition that rural communities and indigenous peoples have an important role to contribute to society. Through learning to work together, positive changes in behaviour and attitudes occur and people are empowered to become active in other ways within their local community.


A lack of active engagement of indigenous peoples in some areas was overcome by ensuring consensus was sought and the observation of cultural traditions and guidelines stressed. Working jointly with the National Institute of indigenous Affairs also helped secure recognition of the varied ways of life of each community.

Problems of heavy snow falls, difficult access and varied geographical conditions (e.g. rivers, mountains, yunga or valleys) were highlighted by executive bodies who then made the necessary arrangements in terms of logistics and personnel etc. to cope with them; flexibility and better planning is necessary in affected areas.

The difficult task of convincing national government to include the programme in its policy-making as a separate programme with its own budget and goals was achieved in October 2010, when the Rules and Provisions were approved by the National Secretariat of Public Works.

There were difficulties in defining the intentions of the programme, over the lack of rules at a provincial level particularly regarding awareness of the issues confronting indigenous people, over the attitudes of executive bodies which were required to make political decisions to facilitate the programme, and how to incorporate different local policies under a common general set of guidelines and policies over territory etc.

Lessons Learned

  • The importance of active community participation, as well as local support.
  • The benefits of decentralising actions, enabling provinces, municipalities and NGOs to participate in the implementation rather than keeping it as a centralised housing programme.
  • The need for interaction and communication with indigenous and rural people, recognising their different cultures in order to understand their way of life and to adapt housing types to suit cultural habits over use of space etc.
  • The need to reach isolated areas, even though these are where access is difficult and infrastructure may be non-existent.


  • The Working Group carries out monitoring and follow-up in the office and in the field and makes recommendations for change based on the findings. Construction payment records are supervised through an intranet digital system.
  • The executive bodies carry out site inspections and submit reports to the Working Group.


The programme began as a sub-programme of another national housing programme in 2006, but due to its high demand it was approved and regulated in October 2010, and now has an independent budget and goals. It has scaled up to reach nine of the 23 provinces (selected due to high demand) in the Coastal, Patagonian and Northern areas in 100 municipalities, with several others due to be covered this year.

Initially only local government bodies (provinces and municipalities) were partners; the programme now includes NGOs and civil associations of indigenous people as partners.


Local community, CBO