BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — It is nearing midday, and the Centro de Integración Frida, a center for homeless women, is buzzing with activity.
Florencia Montes Páez, coordinator at the center, fills out forms, organizes purchases and speaks with workshop operators and clients. The institution offers lodging, food and training for women without housing and helps them implement strategies to become self-sufficient.
“When the ladies are close to leaving, we help them apply for the housing subsidy, in order to reinforce and support [their] exit plan,” Montes Páez says.
She’s referring to the city’s housing subsidies. By law, the Buenos Aires city government is required to provide financial assistance to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Depending on family size, residents can receive up to 48,000 Argentine pesos ($1,176) per year in installments between 2,500 ($61) pesos and 4,000 pesos ($98) per month. Recipients use the money to pay for rent or stays in hotels.
Many of the people at the center have been evicted, and their inability to pay for a place to stay is sometimes the fault of the subsidy system itself, Montes Páez says.
Recipients say they’ve experienced delays in receiving their subsidy installments, leaving them unable to pay monthly rent. The amount of the subsidies, too, doesn’t reflect current market rental rates – the disbursements just aren’t enough in a city where rents are skyrocketing .
In the city of Buenos Aires, a room that doesn’t require a security deposit or an advance of three months’ rent costs at least 6,500 pesos ($159) per month, and the prices increase regularly.
Montes Páez says that a recipient who doesn’t receive subsidy funds to pay rent will almost certainly be evicted, even if a tenant offers to pay more after the installment arrives.
“No matter how much you pay them later, everything falls apart,” she says.
In May of 2017, there were 4,394 homeless people in the city and an additional 1,478 people who depend on night-to-night temporary housing, with 20,000 people at risk of homelessness, according to the Primer Censo Popular de Personas en Situación de Calle, a census on homelessness carried out with the support of social organizations and the relevant agencies of the city of Buenos Aires. According to the census, those at risk of homelessness include people who are leaving prison or who have serious illnesses.
Twenty-three percent of the homeless respondents said that they were not homeless a year earlier.
Alejandro Amor is the head of the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, an official, independent watchdog for the rights of the city’s residents. He says the values of the subsidies have not increased for two years.
“The terms don’t respond to the immediacy that the person needs in order to pay,” he says. “With the amounts of the subsidy, it’s not even enough to pay for rent.”
Recipients of the subsidies say that delays in payments were common before but have become worse.
“Before, it took five, 10 days maximum; [as of this year,] there are delays of up to 20 days,” says Karina Pintarelli, a former recipient who has stayed at the Centro de Integración Frida for three months, after living on the streets following an eviction.
Ana Gamarra lives in a rental unit with her two children.
“For the last two months, I haven’t been getting the subsidy,” she says. “I owe on the rental, and I’m paying little by little what I can, but they already want to kick me out. The payments always come a little late, but this year, it got worse than ever – it’s terrible.”
Vanesa Banegas, another person at the center, was evicted while facing similar issues.
“I was late two or three days with the payment, because I still couldn’t cover it, and they threw me onto the street,” Banegas says. “They didn’t wait for me.”
María Angélica Argumosa lives in a hotel room with her two young children and needs the subsidy to pay rent, but she says she doesn’t get it on time. The rise in rental rates has made things even harder.
“Before, with my job and the subsidy, I had enough,” Argumosa says. “Now, the money isn’t enough for anything. The hotel manager already told me that if we don’t pay soon, he will kick us out.”
Extreme inflation and other consequences of Argentina’s economic crisis make the situation even more difficult.
“Today, there is greater demand for subsidies, and people also have higher expenses, which, if they have 15 or 20 days of delay, they have no way of paying,” says Ignacio Domínguez, social promotion coordinator for the city’s autonomous monitoring agency, the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires. “Sometimes they have to return to homelessness because of the delay.”
Horacio Ávila, founder of Proyecto 7, says that receiving a subsidy is difficult now, because it takes at least two months to get an appointment to apply.
The Ministerio de Desarrollo Humano y Hábitat, the government ministry in charge of the housing subsidies, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.