Habitat International Coalition
Global network for the right to habitat and social justice
Social Production of Habitat. Conceptual framework
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Author: HIC-AL

Conceptual framework

HIC, in accordance with its Constitution, identifies three lines of action in the housing rights field: its recognition, within the legal framework which regulates housing as well as the policies and tools that shape the actions of the diverse actors in the field; its defense, which implies government obligations to respect and protect this right; and its full implementation for all, independently of income level, social condition, culture, or religious, political, sexual, or other preferences, etc.

Civil organizations working in the human rights field usually focus their activity around promotion of their recognition and primarily on their defense vis-à-vis the state entities responsible to guarantee and protect their fulfillment. For HIC, this activity does not translate into improvement of peoples’ living conditions if not paired with active labor to materially implement these rights.

From this conceptualization derives our Coalition’s interest in issues related to the production, distribution, and use and maintenance of housing and other fundamental components of habitat such as infrastructure, services, and facilities.[1]

More than one-fifth of the world population lives in very precarious conditions or is entirely homeless. Public policies, increasingly oriented to conceptualize housing as merchandise, and human habitat as business, tend to exacerbate this situation, leaving millions of families without options. These families, found throughout the planet and especially in poor countries, are forced to self-produce their settlements and homes, with no support and facing all types of obstacles.

In the southern countries, between 50 and 75 percent of homes and many of the other components of habitat are produced and distributed outside or in the margins of the market systems controlled by the private sector and governmental financial programs. With different names and characteristics, this phenomenon is produced in all poor countries, and even, although on a smaller scale, in rural and urban areas of industrialized countries.

We refer to the diverse modalities adopted by this phenomenon in Latin America as social production of habitat, which is the name adopted in the title of this project. Social production is understood as all those processes which generate living spaces, urban components, and housing, carried out under the control of self-producers and other social agents acting without lucrative purposes. These agents may originate in the families themselves acting individually, in informal organized groups, in social enterprises such as housing cooperatives and associations, or in NGOs, professional groups, or even charity groups which respond to emergencies and the needs of vulnerable groups. Self-management modalities range from spontaneous individual self-production, to collective production implying a high organizational level of participants, and in many cases complex processes of production, negotiation, and management of other habitat components.

This production form is found in both the rural and the urban spheres, and implies varying levels of social participation in the diverse housing production phases: planning, construction, distribution, and use. It begins from the conceptualization of housing and habitat as a process and not as a finished product; as a social and cultural product and not merchandise, and as the act of inhabiting and not mere object of exchange.

It is therefore a complex phenomenon expressed in multiple productive modalities which range from improvement and expansion of existing housing and new housing production to neighborhood improvement and the production and management of large urban complexes.

Recognizing the difficulty to denominate this phenomenon under one common term in all regions, we feel that the concepts expressed here allow us to establish a common base on which to initiate an inter-regional discussion process to help us "synchronize” its conceptualization and articulate a joint plan for its promotion, defense, and consideration in public policies and in the implementation of adequate instruments for its strengthening and future development. The strategic role social production of habitat can have in the struggle to overcome poverty and the growing deterioration of the social fiber constitutes a solid foundation on which to build said process.

Social production of habitat, especially that supported by collective self-managed processes incorporating training, participative responsibility, organization, and active solidarity among inhabitants, contributes to strengthen community practices, direct democratic exercise, participants’ self-esteem, and more vigorous social co-existence.

The growth of organized inhabitants’ management capacity and their control over habitat production processes; the channeling of resources from savings, credit, and subsidies within the communities in which the actions unfold, and the subsequent strengthening of popular market circuits, contribute in turn to strengthen the economies of individual participants, the neighborhood community in which they are located, and the popular sectors as a whole. Investment in improvement of an informal settlement is essentially investment in improving the productivity of the people and the urban economy as a whole. Placing the — collective and individual — human being at the center of their strategies, work methods, and actions, puts into march innovative processes with profound content and impact toward transformation of reality.

[1] Aspects related to access to potable water, sanitation, energy, transport, education, health, basic goods supply, access to work, security, recreation, religious centers, etc.

• Social Production of Habitat / People's housing process   

Habitat International Coalition
General Secretariat