Nuevo Amanecer: in the epicenter of Chile that does not have its own home | International
In the winter of 2020, on July 13, Inés Fuentes ran barefoot from her rented house, never to return. Her precariousness put him in a hurry. A group of neighbors had organized to illegally occupy private land across the street from her in a popular neighborhood of Cerrillos (southwest of Santiago). Fuentes, a 54-year-old single mother of five, spent half her salary on rent ($250). That’s why she didn’t let the “opportunity” escape. She grabbed four sticks and marked out a square over the dump of inert waste. At night she put up a tent and lit a fire with her new community. That morning 80 families gathered. Three days later, there were already 300. After a month, 1,500. “The Haitians arrived like ants,” recalls the woman in the living room of her 49-square-meter house built with pallets.
Fuentes is one of the leaders of the occupation (category that a settlement receives before the Government publishes a formal cadastre), in which between 8,000 and 10,000 people live today, some 3,000 families, according to the 2020-2021 cadastre of the Fundación Techo Chile, forming the largest illegal occupation in Chile.
In the South American country of 19 million inhabitants, some 600,000 families do not have access to decent housing, which affects more than two million people. Of those families, 80,000 live in camps, the highest number since 1996. 30% of them are migrants, slightly more than double the number a decade ago. “The camps are the tip of the iceberg,” says Sebastián Bowen, executive director of Deficit Cero, an initiative that aims to eliminate the housing deficit in Chile by 2030. “There are many families that live close to each other, overcrowded…”, holds. “This adds to a mistrust of institutions to solve the problem, so they do it on their own,” he adds.
The Nuevo Amanecer takeover is known as “the mini city of 10%” since a meeting on the subject organized by the Foundation for the Center for Public Studies (CEP). For many purposes, it is. Within the 11 unpaved hectares appear hardware stores, hairdressers, restaurants of different nationalities (the population of migrants ranges between 70 and 80%). There is also crime. Some have taken the opportunity to sell the land they occupied, and even built houses, for up to 2,500 dollars, the residents say.
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The mayor of Cerrillos, Lorena Facuse, explains by phone that, when she took office in May of last year, there were clandestine brothels and nightclubs. In coordination with the undersecretary for crime prevention, they have managed to control them, “but there are still nightclubs where there is drug and arms trafficking.” Facuse trusts that, once the takeover becomes a camp in the coming weeks, the Government of Gabriel Boric will offer safer basic service solutions. “Considering that the socket will be there for at least a decade due to its extension, they must have an electrical connection. If a fire occurs, hundreds of people will die, including children, ”she warns.
The “10%” responds to the fact that the bulk of the inhabitants built their houses with the withdrawals of 10% of their retirement savings, a measure questioned due to its economic impact approved by Congress with the aim of relieving the pockets of the families in pandemic. With the first withdrawal, Fuentes lined his house; with the second, he improved the roof; and with the third, he got a loan to buy a car. The leader is not afraid of running out of funds when she retires: “If I live to old age, I hope that my children, for whom I brushed off the dirt to educate them, help me”. All five are professionals and have their own homes.
Access to that extra money from pensions means that the Nuevo Amanecer takeover is not like the common one in Chilean settlements. Among the hundreds of houses are buildings made of cement, brick or good wood. Several have two stories and a front porch. The electricity company Enel installed an electrical connection that allows most homes to have access (in an unstable manner) to electricity. The immense population has extended the wiring irregularly, propitiating the fires. The neighbors also created an illegal system to access the water -which runs out on weekends- and in the bathrooms they have septic tanks.
One of the pillars for the organization of the settlers is the artist Tomás Ives, 41, who acts as secretary of the settlement. “Structurally, it doesn’t meet the elite’s expectation of what a shot should be. They are not four sticks with a tin roof. It is an intake of people who work and who even earn more than the minimum wage ($430), but who, due to a systematic failure of the housing policy, even if they work, even if they contribute, are forced to live in an intake,” holds.
To deal with this crisis, the new Minister of Housing and Urban Development (Minvu), Carlos Montes, announced in Congress the first week of April a Housing Emergency Plan, which aims to build 260,000 homes in the four years of Management. Bowen shares the official diagnosis of the crisis, but stresses that “the problem cannot be tackled by doing more of the same, even if it is done faster.”
The State offers a series of housing subsidies depending on income and family composition, among other factors. In the last five years, it has delivered between 20,000 to 30,000 annual subsidies for a total of 30 million dollars for a new home, according to Minvu figures. Its recipients are in the most vulnerable 40% of the population.
“We have a housing policy that is the demand subsidy for housing. That’s not enough,” says Bowen. The former director of Techo Chile considers that this system should be complemented with measures that encourage leasing, self-construction and micro-densification. Among the priorities, he proposes to generate a transitory housing policy to prevent those who do not obtain a subsidy from seeing informality as the only way out.
Pamela Santisteban, a 33-year-old Peruvian, walks through the passageways of the intake while greeting almost everyone she meets by name: Haitians, Dominicans, Colombians… Amidst the noise of the new constructions and the trucks that offer gallons of gas, comments that before he lived with six other people in a “mini space”. She was the only one who worked: she earned 280 dollars a month and the rent was 300. “They didn’t give me the numbers, so I had to come here with my mother and my daughters.” She was charged $600 for each piece of land (she bought two. Her mother lives next door).
In the last three years, which includes the social unrest of 2019 and the pandemic, the number of camps has almost doubled. The increase in housing demand, driven largely by the increase in the migratory flow, and the increase in investment in housing, which has caused a rise in the price of land, has blown away “the dream of owning a home” of the most vulnerable families, a desire deeply rooted in Chilean culture. With inflation climbing at a steady pace (9.4%), mortgage lending on the rise, and a hurt labor market, projections indicate that the homeless population will continue to grow.
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