BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Mariana Cecilia Machaca is a deft navigator through Villa 20, the informal settlement where she lives. As she walks, she chooses the safest streets. Her son was robbed here recently.
“The number of people who rent [here] is impressive,” she says. “I rent by room; some people rent an entire house.”
Though there are some intriguing sights here – a man exhibiting parrots in a cage, a woman selling ceviche – the settlement is mostly filled with multi-story houses with irregular facades. There are tangled cables hanging overhead and flooded alleys underfoot.
Machaca has lived in Villa 20 for 15 years. With her two children, she rents a room with a shared bathroom and kitchen. She wants to move out of the settlement to a safer place but can’t afford the required deposits.
“I found a place to rent for the same price, but I never managed to save enough to get in,” she explains. “They ask you for many months down, and I couldn’t manage to get together 40,000 pesos ($969) at once for rent.”
In Buenos Aires, tenants are typically required to pay a refundable deposit of one month’s rent for each year of the rental contract, as well as one month’s rent in advance. A two-year contract, for example, could require three months’ rent up front. A tenant might also be asked to supply other collateral, such as a relative’s or friend’s property, a paycheck or insurance.
In the informal settlements, Machaca says, a renter doesn’t need to provide collateral or any money in advance. To get in, a renter must have a friend who knows the owner.
Sebastián Pilo, a director of the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia, an NGO that works to strengthen democracy in the city, says that in some cases, rent in the informal settlements is actually more expensive than in formal neighborhoods.
“If you take the price of rent by square meter, it ends up more expensive to rent in a slum than [in] a formal rental in the city,” Pilo says.
The number of renters in the informal settlements is increasing, Pilo says.
“More and more people rent in the slums because they can’t access the social network or the capital necessary to rent [formal properties],” he says.
Close to 300,000 people, or 8 percent of the city’s population, live in informal settlements in the city of Buenos Aires, according to estimates by the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, an independent institution that acts as a watchdog for the rights of the city’s citizens. More than 87 percent do not have access to the gas network, and 18 percent do not have sewers.
Monthly rents in the settlements range from 4,000 ($96) to 10,000 ($242) pesos. Rent for a studio in a formal neighborhood in the city is about 6,100 pesos ($147), according to a report by the Defensoría.
Machaca pays 4,000 pesos ($96) per month to rent a room with a shared bathroom and kitchen. If she were to also rent the neighboring room, which measures 6 square meters (64 square feet), she would have to pay 7,500 ($181) pesos per month. For that price, she says she could rent an apartment with a private bathroom and kitchen.
To help residents in informal settlements, the Cámara Inmobiliaria Argentina, the country’s real estate chamber, implemented an insured rental system in June that replaces some of the up-front rental costs with a monthly insurance payment.
“With this system, the tenant gets in with the month’s rent and an insurance fee between 1,200 ($29) and 1,800 pesos ($43). The idea is to make it more accessible for the tenant and safer for the owner,” says Alejandro Bennazar, president of the Cámara.
However, this system will require tenants to show that they have the necessary income to handle the rent, Bennazar says, which can be difficult for those, like Machaca, who have informal jobs that don’t always document income.
For now, tenants in the informal settlements still struggle with insecurity both personal and financial.
“My son was robbed the other day. They beat him to get his cell phone, and he said, ‘Mom, I do not want to live here anymore,’” Machaca says. “I explained that, for the amount of rental income, we cannot rent outside [the settlement]. It breaks my heart, but it is our reality for now.”
Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.