Complejo Monteagudo is a community-led and managed housing project involving the mutual-help construction of 326 housing units for formerly homeless members of the MTL Territorial Liberation Movement in Buenos Aires. With over 400 permanent jobs generated to date, the project represents a symbolic victory in the struggle of low-income families for housing, employment and the right to the city.
Aims and Objectives
- To ensure access by unemployed, formerly homeless households to affordable, decent housing that is low in cost and high in quality, avoiding the transfer of public resources to private construction firms seeking maximum profit.
- To generate employment through a bottom-up process, bringing back a culture of work, solidarity and capacity building.
- To demonstrate that an organised workers’ movement can maximise the resources received from the State and administer them in a transparent and efficient way.
Four years of recession that culminated in the late 2001 economic collapse left 54 per cent of Argentina’s 37 million population living below the poverty line and 24 per cent of the economically active population unemployed. Whist poverty has fallen to 38 per cent and unemployment to 12 per cent in 2007, the latest statistics indicate that although economic growth has remained steady, poverty and unemployment rates have begun to decline at a slower pace.
Whilst Argentina currently faces a rapidly increasing housing deficit and growing social exclusion, most of the government’s development and housing programmes do not include the poorest of the poor or the chronically unemployed, and social policies have largely been welfare-based. Moreover, the State spends millions of dollars in subsidies for construction companies to build affordable housing units – which in many cases end up being high in cost but low in quality. There is a need, therefore, to tackle the housing problem through a comprehensive approach that addresses housing, employment and local development.
In response to a growing demand from civil society and pressure from grassroots organisations, urban poor groups and social movements such as the Territorial Liberation Movement (MTL), Law 341 was approved in 2000 by the municipal government of Buenos Aires’ City Housing Institute (IVC), which allows community-based organisations (in the form of cooperatives) to directly receive and manage public funds for housing construction. In 2003 MTL established the ‘Emetele’ housing cooperative and was able to obtain the first loan granted by IVC for the construction of housing for 326 families.
About the project
Complejo Monteagudo is a community-initiated project involving the construction of 326 housing units for formerly homeless families that did not have access to credit. The project was initiated, built and managed by the MTL movement, organised as the Emetele housing cooperative, with technical, legal, social and financial assistance provided by a multidisciplinary team comprising a lawyer, sociologist, accountant and architects from the Pfeiffer-Zurdo architectural firm.
The project is located on a 14,000m2 plot of land that belonged to an old paint factory and comprises a multi-use group of buildings that, in addition to the housing units, includes retail facilities, communal areas, a day nursery and a community radio station. The 326 one-, two- and three-bedroom units are distributed in ten four-storey buildings and part of the old factory has been restored and adapted for residential use.
The multi-storey project was completed in just 30 months and at a fraction of the cost of traditional social housing. The project also included the establishment of a technical training centre for men and women and has generated permanent jobs for over 400 previously unemployed members of the MTL movement.
Officially inaugurated in March 2007, the project has received considerable media coverage and provides a viable alternative to address the critical housing shortage in Buenos Aires.
The residents of Complejo Monetagudo were at the centre of the process, collaborating with the architects in the design and planning process, working in building construction and managing the IVC resources during the implementation phase, as well as being responsible for the ongoing management of the project.
Within the framework of Law 341, the cooperative gained access to public funding for the purchase of a plot of land and the construction of the multi-use Monteagudo complex. A total of US$5.3 million in funding was received from the IVC, with an approximate cost per unit of US$16,000. The funding covers the cost of the land and existing property (US$465,000) as well as building materials and equipment, professional fees for the technical assistance team and wages for the Emetele members carrying out the construction work. An additional US$2.5 million was obtained from IVC for community facilities.
The zero-interest loan is given by IVC to the cooperative and is passed on to the families, who repay the loan over a period of 30 years. Residents are responsible for the ongoing maintenance costs. They receive the title to the property/apartment and tenure is on a condominium basis.
- The project has provided access to affordable housing and employment for low-income families who were previously homeless and/or unemployed, with 326 housing units provided for formerly homeless families and 400 permanent jobs generated for previously unemployed members of the MTL movement.
- Residents have been trained in building construction and self-management of resources and have been able to access employment opportunities and set up their own small businesses.
- The project has had a positive impact on the wider community, leading to improvements in infrastructure and the opening of a number of new commercial establishments in the area.
- The project has paved the way for other cooperatives wishing to carry out similar projects and represents a symbolic victory in the struggle of low-income families for housing, employment and the right to the city.
Why is it innovative?
- This is the first community-led and managed housing project in the country to receive direct funding from the municipal government within the framework of Law 341 and as such, it has set the precedent for subsequent projects by other community groups.
- This is a community-initiated large-scale multi-storey housing project, built and managed by the community.
- Part of the complex involves the adaptive reuse of a historic building, with façade restoration.
- In addition to the housing units, the project comprises a multi-use complex with community facilities, including retail facilities, communal areas, a day nursery and a community radio station.
- The project is characterised by the high quality of its design and living environment, emphasising the point that low-income people do not need to live in poor quality housing.
- Strong emphasis has been placed on job creation, with 400 permanent jobs generated to date.
What is the environmental impact?
The project is built on a former industrial site and uses conventional, locally-sourced building materials including hollow brick, a reinforced concrete structure and corrugated iron roofing. Part of the old factory located on the site has been restored and adapted and an existing water tower has been recycled for use.
The buildings have been designed and orientated to maximise daylighting and natural ventilation and a special production unit was set up within the community to produce all of the metal components for the project.
Whilst the land on which the complex was built had not suffered contamination from the old paint factory, the building had been left abandoned, with associated environmental and health risks. The project has not only cleaned up and revitalised the immediate area but is also contributing towards the regeneration of the neighbourhood as a whole.
Is it financially sustainable?
Following completion of the project, the Emetele cooperative registered itself as a construction company and has since been able to continue carrying out construction projects on a commercial basis. Through a system of collective savings from members, the cooperative has been able to purchase a crane and other machines and construction equipment in order to continue and expand its activities. This construction company is now currently building an additional 700 housing units throughout Buenos Aires.
The generation of permanent employment is one of the key elements of the project and many of those involved had been unemployed or working in the informal sector and had not had access to healthcare or job security for up to ten years. The employment generated through, or as a result of, the Emetele cooperative ensured fair wages, health care, security and decent working conditions for the workers.
The loan obtained by the cooperative enabled families who did not previously have access to land, housing, employment or credit to acquire a home, paying back the loan through affordable monthly instalments. Repayments began one month after construction was complete and the wages received through their work in the construction of the Monteagudo housing project, and subsequent construction work with the Emetele cooperative, have enabled residents to afford to repay the loan (repayment rates are over 99 per cent). Should a family decide to leave and/or sell its apartment in future, the cooperative would then select the next family to move into the apartment based on a number of criteria, including housing need.
What is the social impact?
The project approach and mutual-help construction process promote the values of solidarity and cooperation, prioritising collective action over individual gain. The Emetele cooperative trained the unemployed members in skills that were needed for the construction projects – as plumbers, carpenters, electricians and administrative staff. Workshops were also carried out in financial management and the production of small productive units.
One of the key aims of the movement is to reduce the extreme social and economic inequalities prevalent in Argentinean society and to ensure access to land, housing and employment for all. Women play a key role within the movement and represent 40 per cent of the workforce of the cooperative, working not only in the cafeteria but also as bricklayers and electricians. A large number of MTL members are refugees or economic migrants from other countries, such as Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.
The experience has empowered residents and other members of the Emetele cooperative, who have seen the concrete results of their struggle and have been able to set a new precedent and positive example for other community groups in similar situations of unemployment and housing need.
- Initially there was resistance from some members of the wider community to what some saw as an ‘invasion’ of unemployed piqueteros (‘pickets’) into their neighbourhood. A special open workshop was carried out with the neighbours to promote dialogue; over time a positive relationship has developed and the wider community has seen the benefits that the project has brought to the area and is very supportive of the initiative.
- When the construction work began, the team discovered that the soil on which the buildings were being built could not withstand the heavy loads, requiring a change to deep foundations, which cost both time and resources.
- The issue of ‘structural unemployment’: the transition to formal employment for people who had either been unemployed for years or young people who had never been able to get a job was more difficult than one might expect, with some even unable to cope with the physical demands of the work due to years of poor nutrition. The Monteagudo project served as a vocational training centre, building capacity and instilling a solid work ethic within the group.
- Public resources can be allocated for the construction of high-quality housing for low-income families in an efficient and effective way when the residents participate directly in the management of resources.
- Despite the challenges faced along the way, the experience has worked to organise and mobilise residents, developing a spirit of solidarity and strengthening social networks.
Continuous monitoring was carried out by both MTL and the IVC throughout the planning and implementation stages and a post-occupancy evaluation is currently being carried out by a group of sociologists at the University of Buenos Aires.
As a result of the project, the Emetele cooperative established its own construction company, and an additional 700 housing units are currently being built by the cooperative throughout Buenos Aires. Plans are currently underway for the construction of a ‘Monteagudo II’ in the neighbourhood of Barracas, which will provide accommodation for 184 families.
A number of other community groups in the greater Buenos Aires area have begun similar projects – albeit at a smaller scale – with IVC funding.
The project has received a large number of visiting delegations from other countries – primarily social movements – who have come to learn from the project with a view to transferring it to their own particular context.