A Process of Negotiation and Self-Construction for Community Development in the Dominican Republic


In 1989, Ciudad Alternative initiated a process with a group of families who were inhabiting the building an old garbage incinerator in the city of Santo Domingo. They had built their shacks of waste materials among the different levels of the old building, including its basement. The environment was dark and asphyxiating, and thus the people in the area referred to the residents of the building as moles.
The city government, which owned the building, had donated it to a religious congregation. IN line with its overall housing policy, it sought to evict the families without relocating them.
The inhabitants approached the Committee for the Defense of Neighbourhood Rights (COPADEBA), recommended that they seek the support and technical assistance of Ciudad Alternativa.
At first, the government, through the agency designated to attend to such cases (National Resources), offered to give each family a check worth between RD$300 and RD$500 (US$30 and US$50, at the exchange rate at that time), to agree to be evicted. The inhabitants refused the offer.
A process of negotiation was initiated to come up with a satisfactory offer. The inhabitants, with the support of COPADEBA and Ciudad Alternative, carried out a census of the families in the building, to gain more accurate information regarding the situation. Thus it was determined that there were 108 families, fewer than the governmental census had claimed.
Four possibilities for negotiation with the State were formulated in assembly:
1. Remodel the old garbage incineration building, to make it inhabitable.
2. Convert an abandoned rum distillery into an apartment building.
3. Provide apartments in Guachupita, located near the La Incineradora neighbourhood.
4. Provide lots, as part of a project for housing self-construction.
After numerous visits and confrontations over a period of various months, the inhabitants managed to reach an agreement with National Resources, through which National Resources, through which each family was assigned a lot in Pantojas, a governmental project on the periphery of the city. It was agreed that National Resources would provide materials for the self-construction of 108 temporary housing units. The inhabitants would provide labour, and COPADEBA and Ciudad Alternativa would contribute technical assistance for construction, resource administration, and organization of the work process.
The project was completed over a period of two years, due primarily to delays in the provision of necessary materials on the part of National Resources.
This represents the first experience of coordination between the State, inhabitants, a popular organization, and an NGO in relation to this sort of process in Santo Domingo. It represents an exception of the eviction policy of the presidential administration of Dr. Balaguer. The urban renewal policy of this administration has resulted in the eviction of thousands of families who have been thrown with all their possessions into the streets or onto empty lots. Their former homes are demolished at the time of eviction, without allowing families to build alternative housing beforehand.
While the Pantojas Project has not had an impact on official housing policy, it is nevertheless important to highlight what has been achieved by Ciudad Alternativa together with certain governmental officials who supported these efforts.
Likewise, the support and initiative of private companies who contributed beyond their obligations favoured successful implementation of the project.
This experience leaves us with a series of lessons for housing policy, above all on a local level. There is a need for the government to develop a favourable environment to private investment in housing and no longer participate directly in construction, and the government together with society, must seek alternatives to directly support those families most in need and not just support housing projects.
Similarly, NGOs must seek ever more innovative alternatives for coordinating among the various sectors involved in housing. They must help create an environment favouring the solution of problems and help these processes connect with global changes related to the development of disadvantaged sectors and the institutions of democracy.