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Community self-help and the homeless poor in Latin America.

  • Stewart, J
  • Balchin, P
Published Article
The journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2002
PMID: 12134776


Finding realistic housing solutions that are able to respond to the realities of poverty in the developing, or newly industrializing, world are frequently distinct from those suited to the developed world due to levels of poverty and differing welfare regimes. This requires a different understanding of the concept of housing and shelter for developing and developed countries. Population increase and emerging habitation patterns in parts of Latin America have required that policy-makers review traditional 'top down' approaches to the way the homeless poor are treated and how self-help or 'bottom up' schemes are increasingly seen as a sustainable way forward in providing affordable housing options to both governments and communities. Over the last decades, mass in-migration to cities has put pressure on governments to provide public housing--but two major problems arose: firstly, governments found it difficult to finance the increasing demand for public housing, and secondly, the nature of employment and the informal economy in the developing world meant that this new housing was often too costly for the urban poor, in some cases increasing homelessness still further. Recent policy developments tend to favour supporting what the poor are and have been able to achieve for themselves, with appropriate government support. Upgrading shack settlements is now recognised as a community driven and cost-effective response that can, if appropriately supported, offer an initial and sustainable solution to urban housing need by tapping into additional non-governmental sources of funding. In the absence of a major public sector housing stock to meet demand, governments are also recognising that self-help housing schemes for families able to access funding and resources offer a further innovative approach to meeting housing need. The nature of housing and shelter in the developing world requires a unique response so that it remains attainable and affordable to the poor. Neo-liberal policies, increasingly adopted in Latin America, are not able to provide suitable, sustainable and affordable housing delivery and alternatives need to be explored. This paper traces some developments in Latin American housing policy and explores some of the challenges that are faced in responding to the unique housing needs of the urban poor.

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