The El Capulin Self-Management Housing Project


1.- General Information

Location: Naucalpan de Juarez, State of Mexico, Mexico.

Author of the case study: Enrique Ortiz Flores.

2.- History, background and context

In 1988 a group of low-income workers, artisans and street sellers that were members of an urban organization called Primera Victoria and others who belonged to the radical trade union for the company Kindy de Naucalpan affiliated to the section of the Settlers, Renters and Housing Applicants Union called Land and Liberty making a new branch of this group that is called UCISV-Libertad. This social organization had already promoted several housing projects and undertaken an important self-build housing program called “Cananea in the south of Mexico City.

UCISV-Libertad is a legally constituted organization that is very active in the Urban Popular Movement (MUP), which is known today as the Emiliano Zapata Popular Revolutionary Union (UPREZ) that operates in the Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico. Its aims are to struggle for the right to the city and to housing for the popular sectors and particularly for its own membership.

UCISV-Libertad approached the National Popular Housing Fund (FONHAPO) in order to acquire a site called El Capuln that they owned and to apply for a loan from the same Fund for its purchase, urbanization and the construction of 163 houses. The multiple phases of the process have to be characterized by their high degree of conflict as the group had to confront innumerable obstacles of a technical, social, economic and political nature in its realization. It took six years from the formation of the group in 1988 for the houses to be constructed and their occupation was only possible in 1994.

In addition to housing production the El Capulin group initiated another project in 1993 that was for the construction of an anaerobic treatment plant for all the used water from the houses of the project, and this began functioning in 1996. Yet another initiative was taken this time to build a greenhouse to produce flowers that has been in operation since 1998.

3.- Objectives, strategies and scope

General objectives

  • Resolve the housing need of 163 low-income families through their own organization and management.
  • Provide infrastructure, urban and other services that guarantee an adequate standard of living in the housing complex.
  • Recycle all used water in the housing complex.
  • Strengthen the economy and the organizational and management capacity of the group.
  • Contribute to the improvement of an urban popular zone.

Strategic criteria

  • Control of the process by the social organization of the group with technical assistance support for housing, used water recycling plants and the production of flowers.
  • Strengthen the organization through education and training, information and participation in management tasks and in specialized commissions.
  • Pressure and negotiation with the authorities and other public agencies, elaboration of proposals to obtain recognition, financial resources, permissions and licences and other types of support that were necessary for the project.

Size of the participating and benefiting population
163 families benefited directly from the project which is approximately 1,000 inhabitants; thousands of other inhabitants in the El Capulin surrounding area also benefited and the water treatment plant improved the quality of water in the river that forms the site limit on one side.

The El Capulin housing complex and neighbouring areas.

Innovative aspects
The main innovations of the project are socio-organizational and technological. One particularly important innovation is the articulation between its social management, production of habitat, environmental improvement and economic development aspects.

4.- Actors that have been involved in the project and their role in its development

  • The organized community: coordinates and integrates the different components of the process, participates in the project through physical work, saves, manages the registers and paperwork with several public institutions, and administers the project resources.
  • Housing and Urban Studies Centre A.C. (CENVI): urban and architectural design for the project, technical direction, construction supervision and the management of the loan financial resources.
  • Eco-development Foundation Xochicalli, A.C. (FEXAC): technological design for the water treatment plant, training, works supervision, technical assistance in cultivating flowers.
  • National Popular Housing Fund (FONHAPO): financed the purchase of the land, land studies and projects, the first phase of the progressive housing and part of the urbanization works.
  • Naucalpan municipality: licences and permissions (putting many obstacles in the process)
  • State Water and Water Treatment Commission and the National Water Commission: approved, supervised and regulated the construction and operation of the water treatment plant.
  • Solidarity Program (Social Development Secretariat): resources for the water treatment plant, approved the technology for the plant.

5.- Program or project components (brief characterization of their interrelationship).

As far as habitat is concerned the project includes the acquisition of the land and its clearance and preparation for building, the construction of progressive housing (measuring 53m2 in the first phase with potential for extension to double the size), urbanization and areas for production.

The project includes a self-managed school for 420 students who are divided into 12 groups. This was constructed in a provisional manner by the community and includes spaces that have been adapted to meet the demand for pre-school services and services for the old. There is also an area of park, a communal building and a chapel in the project.

As far as the social component of the project is concerned, the participation of the community at all stages in the organization of the project has been high and the group has achieved a considerable degree of autonomy. From the beginning the group has been in control of the decision-making process and has administered the resources from loans and external sources, and have also mobilized their own resources. They have also been able to negotiate with the other parties involved in the process and finally, they have defined their own action plans.

Although the terms of the financial loan prohibited the families from constructing their homes by self-build methods, the community were very active in organizational terms, mobilizing their own financial resources and participating in the physical work to prepare the land for construction, building the retention wall, constructing the infrastructure to provide water to the project, the piping network that supplis the water treatment plant, the treatment plant itself, the greenhouse, and the paving and sidewalks in the project zone, and finally, the school for 450 students. Collective participation in construction works to develop the community continues today with works to strengthen the greenhouse, and other tasks to support the cultivation of flowers.

The participation of women has been fundamental to the project and has been the main sustaining force throughout the long process of struggle that has made it a reality. Women have also been the main agents in the development of the productive project.

Two major components of the project that stand out for their interrelationship are its ecological and economic aspects. The treatment plant for domestic and toilet water has led to the instalment of an anaerobic decomposing method with biophysical filters where the treated water is recycled and used for agricultural purposes. This has led to the construction and operation of a community greenhouse for the cultivation of flowers which in turn earns cash for the organization, provides employment in maintenance to one person and another potential 20 jobs in cultivation, packing and distribution activities. Each house has a water cistern for rainwater and this helps the operation of the water treatment plant.

As far as the urban impact of the project is concerned, in addition to its contribution to the environmental sustainability of the zone, a special area of land has been reserved for a school and another for sports facilities. These offer services to the community and provide an excellent example of collective involvement in the visual design of their environment. The elements that run through all the components of the project experience are training, organization and participative management at all stages in the process.

6.- Principal instruments

The UCISV-Libertad is a legally constituted civil society and is structured at the neighbourhood level by representatives that work alongside specialized local commissions and whose composition and work is decided at the local level. These include commissions for supplies, technology, ecology, finances, health, education, culture, sport, press and propaganda, politics, honour and justice and information and reports.

In addition, the community brigades bring together representatives from the different commissions. Both structures report to the project Assembly meetings that have been held on Sundays each week for twelve years and provide continuity to the overall habitat process as well as its different components.

The decision-making process is in accordance with the type of issue at stake and can be by consensus or by vote and this gives flexibility and legitimacy to the process. The project accounts are presented by the groups responsible for them and are collectively analysed by activity.

The community has mobilized both social and financial resources and these include savings, physical work, materials and management. Public funds were obtained for housing construction purposes (FONHAPO), and for the construction of the water treatment plant where loans and non-repayable grants were obtained from the state, municipal and federal governments (SEDESOL).

7.-Achievements and principal lessons

In addition to the construction of 163 houses and the construction and operation of a primary school the project has a water treatment plant and operates a green house and other installations.

The specifications of the water treatment plant are particularly favourable to the environment as it does not use any type of chemical and thus protects the subsoil and the treated water is sufficiently clean to be used for the cultivation of plants. The water treatment plant has two other advantages as well as it does not take up much space (160m2) and being a natural process it does not use energy.

The greenhouse is producing two harvests of flowers each year. These are Christmas flowers (nochebuena) and chrysanthemums. Profits from sales are reinvested in improvements. The lack of capital has restricted greenhouse construction but the building of an extension is planned for the future, as is the installation of permanent production methods.

The project has had a major impact on the life of the participating women and this was the subject of a video that was shown internationally at the Habitat II forum.

The community has developed substantially over twelve years and this is owing to its success at achieving its objectives and their increasing capacity for negotiation, and to manage the urban, technical, environmental and community issues as they arise, and because they have innovated a productive system based on the recycling and management of their own wastewater.

The community economy has been strengthened and the role of the environment in improving the living standards of the whole community has been learnt and new perspectives have been developed on this basis.

The results have had an impact on other experiences and have great potential for promoting changes in public policy. It is now necessary to evaluate the experience in more detail and give it the diffusion it deserves.

Difficulties encountered in the operation of the program

The following difficulties and obstacles have been encountered in the development of the El Capulin project:

  • Technical difficulties and high construction costs due to the steep slope of the site (between 30 and 45 degrees);
  • Conflict with antagonistic social and political neighbouring groups;
  • Long periods before licences and permissions were obtained from the municipal authorities, the intentional obstacles to the development of the project that were carried out by public officials for political reasons which obliged the community to mobilize and protest in order to put pressure on the authorities to comply with the formally established procedures;
  • The squatting of a strip of the site by neighbouring groups and other people from other zones who had been organized by the official political party and this led to a legal battle that lasted for four years until a favourable resolution was found;
  • Conflicts with another organization that was supported by the municipal government and that argued that the site should be used for the construction of a hospital;
  • The prohibition by the low-cost housing loan agency FONHAPO of self-build construction methods in the terms of the reference to select a construction company for the project. In the event the winning company did not comply with the construction contract and this led to increased costs and further project delays;
  • Difficulties with respect to the authorization of the construction plans for the water treatment plant as the municipality did not approve of technological innovations;
  • The complex nature of the water treatment technology that has high standards of installation and requires careful operation. Even today the system is prone to breakdown and the long-term solution requires a revision of its design and operation;
  • The destruction of the first greenhouse by the wind.

Despite these many obstacles the organized community has not given up and their ability to overcome different types of problem and pressures enables them to develop new initiatives and carry them through.

The El Capulin project represents a particularly important lesson in urban terms. It is an innovative project in the context of its location next to a river that is contaminated due to the lack of a drainage system in large parts of the surrounding popular zones, the poor quality of the neighbouring housing, and where, up to a year ago the official political party was instigating squatting and therefore the resulting houses have no legal titles. These factors give the El Capulin experience a special urban meaning in the context of the organized social production of habitat, democratic management of the city and environmental sustainability in low-income communities.

8.- Key words:

Mexico, Naucalpan, El Capulin, self-management; housing; popular neighbourhood; alternative health; water treatment plants; urban struggle; environmental protection; urban agriculture; popular economy; participative processes; women’s role; urban social management.

9.- Sources

Suarez Pareyon, Alejandro. El Capuln in El movimiento viviendista mexicano, Habitat International Coalition, Mexico D.F. 1995
Arias Chavez, Jesus. Una planta de tratamiento de aguas negras para la agricultura urbana, in Kit Ciudades y Medio Ambiente, FMCU, HIC, CESEM, PGU, IPES, Mexico D.F., 2001.

10.- Contacts

Habitat International Coalition for Latin America (HIC-AL)
Tacuba #53, 1er. Piso, Colonia Centro
06000 Mexico D.F., Mexico
Tels: (52-55) 55121586 y 55126726
Fax: (52-55) 55126726