March 17, 2023
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Single mother Silvia Figueredo had been looking for a more affordable place to rent for months, so when one came up in her price range, she rushed to view it. But when she arrived at the address, she was met with a line of people a block long, all of them interested in the same apartment.
“It’s like going to an audition, and the one with the highest qualifications gets to rent it — maybe,” says Figueredo, who feels unable to compete with working couples without kids. She also needs a guarantor or a deposit to secure a long-term rental, and she has neither.
More property owners are selling their rental homes to pursue more profitable business options after a 2020 law capped the amount rent can be raised each year and increased the minimum rental agreement from two to three years. With fewer rentals available, landlords can be much more selective as to who lives in their properties, leaving more vulnerable groups, such as single mothers, transgender people, same-sex couples and homeless people, with few safe housing options, say industry experts, many of whom are calling for more government incentives to help solve this critical shortage.
Alejandro Bennazar, president of the Cámara Inmobiliaria Argentina, the country’s chamber of real estate, is one of them. He’s noticed an increase in the number of people pulling out of the rental market and choosing to sell their properties for United States dollars.
Figueredo has a 12-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter who live with her. She separated from her partner 11 years ago due to violence, and he stopped paying the rent three years ago. She receives no financial support from him or government assistance, working two jobs to support herself. Her ex-partner’s name is on the lease, and the landlady refused to transfer it into Figueredo’s name because she doesn’t have a guarantor. Instead, she served her an eviction notice.
“I’ve been evicted from my current place, and I’m dying from the shame, but I have no way to rent,” says Figueredo, who can afford a two-bedroom apartment but says landlords won’t accept her when she tells them she has two children.
Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina
Marisol Ferrato, a single mother of three, says she is in the same situation. Her search for a rental began in early 2022, and she is still looking. She says she has followed up on almost 100 possible rentals only to be told they are no longer available, or they can only accept her with one child.
“Fewer properties are being rented out, and if you find one, they ask that you meet more requirements,” Ferrato says, describing requirements such as higher deposits, higher minimum income and fewer people living at a property. “This is only going to get worse.”
Rental property scarcity makes the selection process increasingly exclusive and discriminatory, says Gervasio Muñoz, president of Federación de Inquilinos Nacional, a national tenants’ federation. He says single mothers, members of the LGBTQ community and people from other countries are affected most.
“To have access to a home, you have to go to the private market,” he says, since public social housing programs are extremely limited. “And the government doesn’t get involved there in any way. It doesn’t oversee compliance with rental laws, let alone ensure there is no discrimination.”
The Ministry of Territorial Development and Habitat, which is responsible for guaranteeing access to housing, declined to be interviewed by Global Press Journal.
Argentina is already experiencing a housing crisis. The country has a housing deficit of 3.5 million homes, according to the most recent estimates from the ministry’s Secretariat for Habitat in 2017.
Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina
This bleak statistic is coupled with a steep drop in the number of rentals available in the City of Buenos Aires, 30% less in the last quarter of 2022 compared with the previous year, and the lowest rental supply since 2018, according to Buenos Aires’ General Directorate of Statistics and Censuses, citing information from commercial real estate agency Argenprop.
Lucía Cavallero is a sociologist and researcher at the University of Buenos Aires and a member of Ni Una Menos, a grassroots feminist movement that campaigns against gender-based violence. Cavallero’s research has recently focused on the housing crisis after members received numerous requests for help and advice from women who were finding it hard to leave violent partners because of the lack of rental property. Cavallero says there is an unregulated market and no government office where a woman can seek help when she encounters a conflict as a tenant, which in turn gives more power to landlords.
“There is a phenomenon of discrimination that is related to the historic discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” she adds.
Jesi León, a transgender woman who lived and now works at the Centro de Integración Frida, a center that has 45 beds available for cisgender and transgender women who are living on the street, says she was turned away from a rental property after the landlord saw her. She says she saw a room-for-rent notice and shouted through a fence to the woman who owned the house to ask if it was still available.
“She said yes, and when she came out to show me the place, she saw me and said, ‘Oh, no. There aren’t any.’ I guess she was expecting a young man because of my voice,” says León, who lives in a hotel that charges 1,000 Argentine pesos ($5) each time a guest receives a visitor in their room.
Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina
Bennazar says there should be government incentives to encourage property owners to rent out their spaces, along with public policies that make it easier for renters to buy a home.
But Muñoz says the solution lies in new laws to prevent homes from sitting empty for indefinite amounts of time, unavailable for rent or resale. According to a report from the Centro de Estudios Urbanos y Regionales (Center for Urban and Regional Studies), 14.6% of homes were vacant in 2021. The report analyzes the percentage of vacant housing in the City of Buenos Aires from 2017 to 2021 and says that the largest increase in vacant housing occurred in 2021.
Figueredo, who is awaiting a decision on her eviction appeal, says she wants nothing more than for the government to support single mothers.
“You feel alone in this,” Figueredo says. “You feel like you have no way out, like you’re helpless. At this point, I’m no longer angry with the real estate agents or owners. The government is entirely to blame.”
Lucila Pellettieri is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Shannon Kirby, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.