RENCA – The Metropolitan government and the Public Works Ministry ordered police to remove people from the side of Renca hill in Santiago. Hundreds have occupied the area and built shacks in recent months. Among other things, a shortage of government-subsidized housing has led to these desperate measures.
A large group of police officers with guanacos (armored vehicles with water cannons) and buses arrived at Renca hill, in northern Santiago, the morning of Mar. 10, to evict hundreds of occupants who had taken over a plot of land to build shanties. The land belongs to private owners and to the Public Works Ministry. Five people were arrested during the removal.
One of the residents told Cooperativa that “the pandemic has brought us here because we were working, but now I have nowhere to live, I was living in a different shanty town, but I was evicted, now the same happens again, I have been here for three years and now I have to live under a bridge, but the government does not realize that.”
— Prefectura Santiago Occidente (@CarabPOccidente) March 10, 2021
One of the leaders also said they are demanding a government subsidy so that they can at least meet the requirements for something that will allow them to have their own homes, “whether we are Chileans or foreigners.”
Renca Mayor Claudio Castro said, “that place is not suitable for housing, because work will soon begin for a big infrastructure project that includes a tunnel and access roads for the Américo Vespucio and Panamerican highways.” He added that he and his local government are, however, looking at ways to provide social assistance to the families.
The Government’s Failed Housing Policy
The incidents in Renca are only the tip of the iceberg for a problem that many families face not only in Santiago, but also other parts of the country. On Feb. 17, approximately 100 people disrupted rush hour traffic at the Grecia roundabout in Peñalolén. Demonstrators demanded solutions to their housing needs.
Plans for government-subsidized (“social”) housing in Peñalolén were temporarily halted in early 2020, after a lawsuit was filed by wealthy property owners of the nearby Comunidad Ecológica, who hoped to stop the project on environmental grounds. A court dismissed the lawsuit and construction resumed shortly after.
— Jean Claude Penjean (@JCPenjean) February 17, 2021
According to figures published by Chile’s Construction Chamber (CChC) in 2019, there is a shortage of 739,000 houses. Additional problems include quality of housing and quality of life: a study showed that in 2013, 65 percent of social housing apartments were smaller than the current standard of 55 square meters – especially cramped quarters when, as is often the case, four or more people live there. Lack of public services in these areas makes life even harder. For example, in Santiago’s poorest districts, there is as little as 3.5 square meters of park per capita.
Francisco is finishing his degree in Journalism at Universidad Finis Terrae in Santiago.