Housing Policy in Chile: Liberal Success – Roof for the Poor


This article is part of a study on the social and urban impacts of the public housing stock built in Santiago of Chile from 1980 to 2000.

The housing policy in Chile during the 80s and 90s was a success. Based on a centred and
consolidate institutional structure and not affected by the changes in political reality, this policy has provided a roof to the poor, building 500 000 public housing units and it has regulated most of the slums and poverty-stricken urban settlements. Continuously during the last two decades, it has also managed to reduce the housing shortage; within a context of domestic economic growth (mid-90s), this large-scale housing production has surpassed the population vegetative growth and the formation of new homes. Based on a financial connection between the state, the users and the financial market, this policy has stabilised and made the construction of the residential stock profitable, surpassing the fluctuations of the economic trend. It has made low-cost public housing construction profitable among very few specialised firms. Having a transparent system for allocating state resources, this policy has received a positive evaluation by the actors involved, surpassing the institutional or contextual vicissitudes.

The capacity to assist the poorer sectors in the cities is cyclical, because it is continually being scrutinised by the private implementers; in each cycle, the state’s subsidiary role proposes and negotiates the conditions for its implementation with the building companies; in the context of a stable market economy, the state yields, specially because of the repercussions of land value.

The design of this policy to reduce the housing shortage by subsidising the supply from the
subsidiary role of the state within the context of the market economy, considers only one
approach to give access to housing: new units in ownership, which does not consider the housing location in the city.

The inertia created by its success has hindered a public debate which would make possible the analysis and evaluation of this policy and its social and urban impacts, particularly regarding the complexity of the new urban poverty, the territorial configuration of a homogeneous concentration of poverty, and the cost involved in maintaining and renewing a low-standard public housing stock and segregated cities.