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close this book BASIN - News No 11. March 1996: BASIN and the city summit
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View the document Technology and Social Action: A Housing Development Programme in Rafaela, Argentinia
View the document Enabling shelter strategies for low-income communities
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View the document The low-cost building construction project as an answer to housing problems

Technology and Social Action: A Housing Development Programme in Rafaela, Argentinia

Argentine social and economic framework

Argentina has traditionally stood out from the main part of Latin America due to its marked social integration, its great development of the middle sectors and salary earners sector with high levels of participation in the national earnings.

Nevertheless, as in so many other countries, Argentina is presently going through a social and economic crisis, as a consequence of the great changes taking place around the world. 20 % of the active population is unemployed. Besides, 30 % of the whole population is below the level of basic needs satisfaction (which principally includes housing, education and sanitation).

Having an immense external debt, the government has developed an economic plan charachterized by:

1. A stabilization programme to slow down inflation.

2. State reorganization (privatizations, delivery of services transferred to the provinces, limits to public spending).

3. A development programme, in which the "external market" plays an important role, and due to which many factories working with non-competitive structures have been closed down.

As a result, Argentina is facing a serious unemployment crisis and impoverishment of the medium and low income sectors.

Housing policies: changes and challenges

In the past few years, there have been important changes as regards allocation of funds for the development of housing plans. Previously the Argentine housing policy was managed by the Banco Hipotecario Nacional (National Mortgage Bank) and afterwards by the IPVs (Provincial Institutes for Housing). As these are centralized organizations, the characteristics of the housing projects have always been decided in the capital city, Buenos Aires.

Now the trend is: decentralization of funds, firstly for the provinces and secondly for the municipalities. This is because the municipality is fully aware of the housing demand and has a greater capacity of management and action.

However, less than 10 % of the nearly 1,700 municipalities of the country have taken some action concerning housing. The municipalities have to play a new role as State: to facilitate housing solutions, and not to be a mere housing supplier; to co-ordinate supply and demand; to provide access to credit and technology; to give support to the community, so that it can work through its organizations; and to meet needs with resources.

CEVE, Centro Experimental de Vivienda Económica (Experimental Centre for Economic Housing), a non-profit making institution, is a research centre for technological development, transfer and training in the housing sector. It is supported by the CONICET (National Council of Technical and Scientific Research) and many foreign development organizations, as well as various social actors that work for popular housing.

From its headquarters in Córdoba, and in relation to the municipal action in housing, it gives two types of services:

a. lnstitutional services, ie the planning of housing policies, self-diagnosis, development or strengthening of housing areas, functional organization charts, programmes and projects, etc.

b. Technological services, ie operative and technical procedures for building programmes, housing projects and productive undertakings, transfer of technology, sale of equipment and patterns.

interlocking blocks ease the task of building: strong walls-mansonry work is now accesable to people with minimal training

According to the operative procedures applied by the municipalities and social actors involved, the municipalities require different technologies and training or advisory services. CEVE works in Argentina and bordering countries.

The city of Rafaela

The municipality of Rafaela, in the Province of Santa Fe, a town of 50,000 inhabitants, stands out among the municipalities that have worked successfully in helping the most crisis stricken sectors to solve their housing problems.

At the Secretaría de lntegración Comunitaria (Community Integration Department) of the Municipality of Rafaela, the idea of developing a Department of Popular Housing to tackle the serious and growing housing problems of the lower income sectors was proposed in 1993. CEVE was requested to help to make a diagnosis and develop a project to start working on. The creation of the Housing Department was also supported.

After the project was submitted to the Mayor, arrangements started to be developed: They realized that the first step towards the erradication of illegal land tenure was that the municipality should acquire land for its Social Housing Plan. A huge plot of land was bought with the support of the National Government. This land was meant for building the first 52 houses by mutual assistance, using the MAS building system of CEVE.

It was decided that the families from "Villa Nueva", who were living on the railway premises near the newly acquired land, would be the first beneficiaries of this plan.

In August 1994, an agreement was signed between the municipality and CEVE, by which CEVE rented them a blockmaking machine of its Equipment and Patterns section, provided the necessary training for blockmaking and manufacturing other components, as well as the production organization before the assembly of houses started in September 1994.

Later, when the necessary stock was manufactured, CEVE started the training for the building of the first model of enlargeable house (initial core of 28 m2) and organized the assembly of the rest of the houses by mutual assistance. The cost of the materials for each of these houses is around US $ 3,000.

The municipality with its Popular Housing Team (one architect and two social workers) under the management of the Secretaría de lntegración Comunitaria made great efforts to achieve, in one year, the installation of essential public services, such as roads alignment, drainage, reforestation, running water, electricity, a playground for children, a workshop facility, a community house, a bakery oven, and the first 52 houses by mutual assistance. At the same time, the people were socially organized. 60 % of the labour force were women.

In 1995, another plan following the same system was added to the one described above. This plan, which is being developed at the same plot, is being financed and technically assisted by the Institute Municipal de la Vivienda (Municipal Housing Institute) and the Popular Housing Team of the Secretaría de lntegración Comunitaria.

This new plan intends to build 62 houses by mutual assistance for the benefit of the families from "Villa Barranquitas", another squatter area in Rafaela.

At the same time, the municipality is promoting the creation of job opportunities at the new neighbourhood, eg the production of MAS blocks to meet the demand of future house enlargements and municipal plans. CEVE has offered training services through a project financed by the National Ministry of Labour.

The municipal action described here was awarded the 1995 National Prize for Quality at the public level. The city of Rafaela is an example of how the self-endeavour and hard work of a municipality can achieve intelligent improvements for popular housing and community integration for the low income sector through:

- Training the technical team of the municipality for the construction of the popular housing area

- Projects development that facilitate credits and/or state support

- Land acquisition for social housing plans

- Application of adequate technology

- Execution and management of housing plans through mutual assistance, self-help and other combined ways

- Production and training of productive undertakings in the area of habitat

Thus it can be ascertained that this process is a very interesting pattern for municipalities that take the responsibility of the housing issue within their scope, and follow the objectives of decentralization and local government, which is becoming government policy in Argentina.

The building system

The MAS system (blocks with core of soil and concrete) mainly comprises walls made of special interlocking concrete blocks (20 x 20 x 40 cm). These are assembled dry in 4 or 5 rows, after which the cavities are filled with a mixture of soil and concrete. This system has been developed and patented by CEVE.

Half blocks are manufactured to ensure accurate interlocking without cutting them, special cavity blocks are made for the construction of earthquake proof columns and beams, as well as 13 x 20 x 40 cm blocks for non-loadbearing walls.

For the assembly of blocks, a firm and perfectly level foundation is required. It may either be a platform or built-up girders. Any type of roofing can be used. In this case, corrugated galvanized iron sheets were used.

This system is easy to learn and can be implemented by women, so it is convenient for mutual assistance. With this technology, more than 1,500 houses have been built so far. Videos and brochures for teaching are available from:


lgualdad 3585

Bo Villa Siburu

5003 Córdoba

Republic of Argentina

A. Ferrero, M. Minoldo, M. Mendizabal

Training and Advising Area of CEVE