Although many people in Chile own apartments, far from everyone is able to maintain them. The result is serious deterioration and decay. According to PhD candidate Luz María Vergara D'Alencon, the housing sector requires service providers that are not only able to provide technical assistance, but can also resolve disputes.

The apartment blocks, usually located on the edges of Chilean cities, are a legacy of the neo-liberal era of dictator Pinochet. In the 1980s and 1990s, cheap apartment blocks were built on a massive scale for people unable to afford a home. Slum residents and people forced to live with family were able to buy apartments thanks to the generous subsidy system. These were not small rented flats in the social housing sector, but their own ‘dream home’. “That’s how it seemed at the time, but the reality was that they would fall into serious disrepair just a few years down the road,” explains Vergara D’Alencon. “The government turned a public problem into a private issue. This is now creating a cycle of poverty.” 

The residential barracks had been built by private businesses as cheaply as possible, far outside the city centres. Amenities and infrastructure are below standard, construction materials used are of inferior quality. Since hardly any maintenance is done, the rapidly declining neighbourhoods are a potential time bomb. The scale of the problem is illustrated by the fact that the capital city of Santiago alone has 3,186 ‘social apartment blocks’, together accounting for almost 200.000 households.
The key question is: how to persuade these people to join forces in tackling the problems of their shared property? Although Chile has service organisations committed to working on this, they are incapable of taking on this huge challenge. 

For her PhD thesis, ‘Managing Social Condominiums. Strategies for third sector intermediaries to support low-income homeowners in Chile’, Vergara D’Alencon analysed how different countries tackle this issue. She compared the Proyecto Proprio (PP) in Santiago with VVE010 in Rotterdam and the Servicios Dinamización de Vecinal (SDV) in Madrid. All three are independent intermediaries, but operate in very different ways. In the case of the PP in Chile, Vergara D’Alencon primarily focused on identifying what is and is not possible as far as tackling deteriorating housing stocks is concerned. The organisation is exploring how to spend the limited subsidy funding available in a way that can meet the approval of all residents, often numbering hundreds. 
Its counterpart in Rotterdam has a very practical focus. VVE010 was set up by the city executive to force owner-occupiers in apartment blocks to carry out joint maintenance. VVE010 compiles a multi-year maintenance plan, ensuring residents know what expenditure to expect in the future. The organisation, which remains compact by hiring in expertise, focuses on the technical execution of maintenance work. 
The Spanish SDV takes the opposite approach from the top-down, government-driven strategy in Rotterdam. Residents set the organisation up themselves and, under the SDV umbrella, jointly tackle problems concerning the apartments' maintenance and outdoor spaces. An ‘activator’ serves as a point of contact in the event of disputes. If they have a joint plan on the table, they can turn to the government for support.

Is one strategy better than the rest? No, concludes Vergara D’Alencon. “The approach in Rotterdam is efficient from technical perspective, but the strong involvement of residents in Spain also has great advantages. Chile needs to aim for a mixture of the two.” 

Published: November 2018