Urban Development and Housing Program in the Xalapa Territorial Reserve


1.- General information

Location: Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.
Autor of the case study: Cristina Almazan Villalobos (UCISV-VER, Poblador@s A.C).

2.- History, background and context:

This experience is part of the general strategy of the UCISV-VER, Poblador@s A.C., aimed at promoting the organization of the communities in popular neighbourhoods to obtain a fair, democratic and sustainable habitat. The organisation of the UCISV-VER Poblador@s A.C. is based on the participation of the communities to ensure the self-management of the projects that improve standards of living.

Xalapa is the capital city of the state of Veracruz (among the five poorest states in Mexico), and has a population of 300,000 inhabitants. The city is growing on the basis of the incorporation of collectively owned peasant ejido lands and small-scale coffee farms. One of the main urban problems is the lack of housing and insufficient basic services for 46% of the population.

The unplanned urban growth presents a particularly difficult situation for low-income families who have no alternative but to settle on land that is not adequate for urban development. Sometimes these families are prey to urban speculators or political parties. Even when they do have access to land for housing they are not eligible for loans and therefore the housing they construct is often inadequate and precarious. Many families live in houses that require complete rebuilding or extensive improvements.

Despite the right to housing being a constitutional right in Mexico, the reality is that there are no government regulations or mechanisms that guarantee the right. The UCISV-VER Poblador@s A.C. operates a program of micro loans for the construction or improvement of popular housing. The program began in the municipalities of Xalapa and Coatepec and was later extended to include other municipalities in the state of Veracruz such as Martinez de la Torre, Tlapacoyan and Minatitlan.

The Program was started in 1997 as a result of the threats by the Veracruz State Government to rescind settlement contracts in the Xalapa Territorial Reserve, and in the face of the need to generate housing alternatives there.

An urban diagnosis was carried out with the community and it was decided to initiate a pilot experience for housing construction for seven female-headed households where participation and group savings would play a major role.

This initiative attracted some state funds and led to the growth of expectations among the members of the organization. After the construction was completed more of the community followed suit and 49, 98 and 260 housing units were built in 1998, 1999 and 2000 respectively using the same method based on groups of seven families. This was achieved by the combined effort and resources of several agents including the women members of the organization who have been most active in the savings schemes, international cooperation that made Revolving Fund a reality and finally, the mobilization of official resources.

At present all the phases of the program have been consolidated, including its socio-organizational, the technical and the financial elements. The operation of the Revolving Fund is in the process of revision to ensure the sustainability of the program in the future.

3.- Objectives, strategies and scope

General objective:
To promote urban and housing development alternatives in the Xalapa Territorial Reserve through the process of social housing production.

Specific objectives:

  • Support the construction of appropriate housing for low-income families and mainly female-headed families.
  • Incorporate local authorities in the initiative when possible.
  • Participate in the development of public policy related to the construction of popular habitat in the state of Veracruz.

Strategic criteria:

  • Consolidation of the community organization for housing developments in the Territorial Reserve.
  • Operation of the Revolving Fund to ensure the sustainable financing of social housing production.

Structure and functioning of the Program

The Program has been developed in three parts:

a) Community organization: this is the most important part of the project as it generates solidarity groups in each neighbourhood and evaluates the project in its technical, financial and administrative phases.
This work requires the building of close relationships with the population to encourage the process of identity and solidarity that is essential for the progress of the project. The activities in this section are the following:

  • Information gathering on the socio-economic profile of the community members.
  • Integration of solidarity groups with seven families in each group.
  • Election of group leaders.
  • Group consolidation.
  • Workshops on different aspects of the project, its operating mechanisms and the need for participation.

b) Financial operation: resources for house construction came from three sources: the female beneficiaries of the project, the Revolving Fund and the Veracruz state government. The beneficiaries and the UCISV-VER, Poblador@s A.C. administered the loan and the following activities were developed in order to operate the resources:

  • Training workshops in accountancy and financial administration that enabled the groups to control the project resources.
  • Opening bank accounts in the name of the groups.
  • Register and control of the savings of each beneficiary.
  • Register and control of the bank accounts.
  • Register and control of the total contributions to the project.
  • Register and control of the loan repayments.
  • Payouts for the construction of each housing unit.
  • Financial and accountancy management of the Revolving Fund.

c) Technical assistance and supervision: this stage was coordinated and administered by the Housing and Urban Studies Centre, A.C. (CENVI), with the participation of the beneficiaries to make decisions about the design, the overall plan for the building works and their execution and included the following activities:

  • Housing design workshops for the female beneficiaries.
  • Workshops on the efficient use of the material resources used in the construction process by the building workers.
  • Elaboration of plans of the housing units and the land layout.
  • Elaboration of the architectural proposals in conjunction with the beneficiaries.
  • Elaboration of plans for the training of construction workers.
  • Elaboration of budgets.
  • Building supervision.
  • Control of the construction works.

Participative evaluations were carried out during all the stages in the process and these enabled the following-up of issues and decision-making to resolve them as they came up.

  • 4.- Actors involved in the process and their role in the project

    Poblador@s A.C. the mission of the organization is to promote community organization among low-income neighbourhoods in Veracruz in order to obtain a fair, democratic and sustainable habitat. One of these neighbourhoods occupies approximately 10% of the Xalapa Territorial Reserve and is directly involved in the program through socio-organizational processes, economic contributions and the social management of the project. The membership and leadership of the group is female
  • Housing and Urban Studies Centre, CENVI: is the non-government organization that was responsible for the technical operation of the program and it mobilized resources for its operation.
  • Solidarity Housing Promotion, FOSOVI: contributed by granting a loan for the purchase of program materials.
  • Institute of Political Studies for Latin America and Africa, IEPALA: is a Spanish non-government organization that mobilized resources for the program.
  • Madrid City Council: granted financing for the operation of the program and the setting-up of the Revolving Fund.
  • European Commission: granted financing for the operation of the program and the setting-up of the Revolving Fund.
  • Social Development Secretariat: granted funds from its scholarship program for community social services workers.
  • Municipal Government: granted construction licences.
  • State Government: granted construction materials for the house construction.
  • Veracruz Autonomous University, Faculty of Architecture: channelled final year students to the project to undertake their statutory community services obligation before completing their studies.
  • Mexican Autonomous University, Faculty of Architecture: channelled final year student candidates to the project to undertake their statutory community services obligation before completing their studies. Some students based their end-of-course thesis on the project.

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

The Program was an instrument for the advancement of the social organization and the promotion of an integral perspective on habitat that is not only the physical space inhabited by men and women but also a space for interaction with society and the natural environment. Given this perspective the following components played a major role in the development of the project:

a) Physical: land acquisition, the construction or improvement of housing, the social management of infrastructure, basic and other services. Importance was given to the protection of green areas that are under constant pressure as a land resource for low-income settlers, and importance was also given to the concept of territory and its role in the overall implementation of the program.

b) Social and cultural: strengthening the community organization and the development of training processes and self-management practices. Priority was given to the positive recognition of womens contribution to the development of sustainable habitat and positive activities were developed to increase female participation, which included: female-friendly timetables, punctuality, security in the meeting areas, accompanying children where necessary, among others.

c) Ecological: the promotion of a new culture especially in the proper use and saving of water. The construction of dry toilets and the installation of root filters for used domestic water were aspects of this new culture. House design included living and health factors in terms of ventilation, space distribution and kitchens and in the designation of areas within or around the home for the growth of flowers, plants, medicinal plants or fresh food for home consumption.

d) Productive: the productive activities of the program have two elements: housing production is a generator of direct and indirect employment; and the housing design included spaces that could be used for productive purposes such as shops, bread making, workshops, etc. The organization actively promotes the generation of family businesses because the generated additional income for the family.

6.- Achievements and main lessons:

Raise the following issues to the members of UCISV-VER Poblador@s A.C.:
a) The social production of housing;
b) The progressive construction of housing;
c) The use of technical assistance to improve low-income housing design;
d) The use of alternative technologies for domestic sanitary services.

The recognition that the model applied by UCISV-VER, Poblador@s A.C. and CENVI, A.C. is viable and has generated confidence in the community. This is reflected in the growth in demand for housing projects of this type.

The international recognition for the program through winning the UN-DUBAI INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR BEST PRACTICES FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF HABITAT in 1998.

The successful operation of the program phases since 1997 that guarantees the correct application of material resources for housing construction that has resulted in adequate and dignified housing for 179 families.

The recuperation of invested funds from the Revolving Fund and the Veracruz state government.

The development of the settlement through community investments.

UCISV-VER, Poblador@s A.C. and CENVI A.C. have gained from the experience of design, implementation and the evaluation of the project.

UCISV-VER, Poblador@s A.C. and CENVI A.C. have mobilized resources for the project and these have come from the beneficiaries and international cooperation sources.

The viability of the project enables the elaboration of public policies with respect to the social production of habitat.

The Veracruz state government has shown its willingness and interest in supporting this initiative.

Difficulties in the operation of the program

a) Operation UCISV-VER/CENVI:
100% subsidy on project operation costs.
Bridge funding support on Veracruz state government resources from the Revolving Fund.
Lack of adequate infrastructure to store and distribute construction materials.
Physical dispersion of construction works in more than 15 neighbourhoods and seven municipalities in the state of Veracruz. The municipalities are Xalapa, Coatepec, Martinez de la Torre, Tlapacoyan, Coatzacoalcos, Cosoleacaque and Minatitlan.

b) Operation by the Veracruz State Government:
Support mechanism for material resources from the Veracruz state government.
Material costs provided by the Veracruz state government.
Lack of adequate infrastructure for the storage and distribution of construction materials.

It has to be mentioned that the organization has made positive advances despite the crisis conditions in which the program was developed and these responded positively to the expectations of the community to successfully promote alternative solutions for their habitat.

In the present national context the organization considers that the socio-organizational and participatory approach has considerable potential for the elaboration of alternative forms of habitat development that can overcome the inertia of the state system that suffers from neoliberal practices. This is particularly true in Latin America where social spending has been reduced and the exercise of human rights is restricted. This includes the right to housing where social participation has become part of government rhetoric that only justifies its own actions, leaving the national and international real estates sector free to operate without interference.

We are convinced that our proposal, like others of its type, represents a concrete alternative that responds to the specific needs of the Mexican people, and particularly its women, and should be supported by national and state housing agencies.

We stand for the right to adequate and dignified housing and the application of norms that support popular initiatives such as our own project, and this is even more important as women have promoted it.

7- Key words

Mexico, Veracruz, Xalapa, territorial reserve, urban and housing development program, social participation, self-management, participative diagnosis, pilot experience, womens role, training, joint-responsibility, joint actions between actors, revolving fund, popular economy.

8.- Sources

Internal documents.

9.- Contacts

Union de Colonos, Inquilinos y Solicitantes de Vivienda
Poblador@s A.C.
Cristina Almazan Villalobos
Circuito Presidentes N 62, Colonia Emiliano Zapata
CP 91090 Xalapa
Veracruz, Mexico
Tel/Fax: (52-228) 8419306