The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Housing as Urbanism: The role of Housing Policies in Reducing Urban Inequalities

8 June 2017

Camila PhD news

Camila Cociña Varas has successfully defended her thesis arguing that, housing policies can play a role in reducing multiple inequalities, but to do so housing must be understood as urbanism, as a multiple-scales process with agency at the economic, social and political level.

Her argument emerges from intellectual and political concerns that; historically, the success of housing policies has been mainly measured by quantitative achievements and has been linked to poverty alleviation. But as poverty becomes a more multidimensional concept, aspects of inequality become important. Politically, studying housing policies in Chile just in terms of their relationship with poverty would therefore be reductionist, and even potentially harmful. For thirty years, Chile has had financially effective housing policies, with poverty reduction and quantitative achievements considered widely successful, and yet levels of inequality remain stagnant and the lives of those who inhabit the products of these policies seem to be full of injustice.

She begins to explore these issues by discussing the normative positions regarding the definition of ‘reducing inequalities’ as the object of a social policy. Then a series of theoretical debates on inequality, space and housing are presented, developing a framework of analysis and proposing a series of conceptual bridges between housing and inequalities, defining ‘housing as urbanism’ and recognising its condition as an economic, social and political device.

The research was conducted in Bajos de Mena, a peripheral territory of Santiago, Chile, examining two post-2006 housing programmes that have attempted to decrease urban inequalities, and exploring the extent to which they are actually contributing to tackling the problem of inequality. The main challenges identified are summarised under five themes: institutional order, sectorial agendas, fragmentation and targeting; individual choices vs. collective processes; clientelism and dependency; design as a transformative tool; and the problem of scale, i.e. land policy and citywide processes. Through researching another two urban programmes in the area, existing institutional efforts addressing the challenges identified are explored, leading to the conclusion that urban programmes involve important attempts that need to be in conversation with traditional housing programmes in order to achieve their potential.

Her thesis contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the consequences of housing policies in a complex territory. It also attempts to contribute to the discipline of urbanism. Establishing stronger links between housing and inequality, it seeks to open up new spaces for solidarities within the urban scale, exploring their translation into policy challenges, and the potentials of urbanism to articulate policies at different scales.