Informal Settlements: an old challenge requiring new answers

Margarita Greene, Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile

Chile has a long trajectory of social housing policies. At the beginning of the 20th century, acknowledging governmental responsibility for housing, the country initiated the first institutions and public programmes to deal with increasing housing problems. Although the contributions –and errors– of Chile’s social housing policy history are many, the ways it has approached informality, self-construction and incrementality are of special interest, and these issues have gained notoriety once again.

Like most of the accelerated urbanization process in Latin American, Chile’s main cities grew largely through informal settlements built in the periphery by the poor. At different periods in time the government first ignored them, then eradicated them (by what has been described as ‘slum-razing’ strategies), and later radicated them through upgrading neighbourhood programmes. At the turn of the new century the country was envisioning the end of informal settlements, and the greatest challenge in the housing sector was to improve the poorly equipped social housing neighbourhoods. However, in the last years the situation changed, and new informal settlements began to increase again in different parts of the country. This has been accelerated greatly with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The paper describes these new informal settlements, their location, type of inhabitants, and suggests ways of approaching them. At present, only one thing is clear: although they seem to represent a same old problem, they need new and differentiated strategies to deal with them, customised to their particularities.