Chavez rolls out housing for the poor

2012-06-26 11:03


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Caracas - Just months before Venezuela's presidential elections, President Hugo Chavez is rushing the delivery of subsidised housing to low income people, financed through oil revenues.

Under the premise that no Venezuelan should be without decent housing, the government last year launched the "Great Venezuelan Housing Mission" to offset a 2.7 million unit shortfall and give Venezuelans "the greatest amount of happiness possible".

"Last year we delivered 146 178 houses. We broke the historic record. This year we have already delivered 70 661 and the goal is to reach 200 000," Chavez told Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit on Friday.

"And the goal for the next six years is to reach three million housing units. It is one of the most successful programmes of recent years," said Chavez, who hopes to be re-elected in October to a third six-year term.

The houses, which are being built all over Venezuela, are assigned through a national registry that signed up more than 3.6 million families between May and October.

Under the plan, the government will subsidise between 10 and 100% of the value of a home, depending on the buyer's income. The units range in value between $16 000 and $115 000.

War horse

Chavez, who is recovering from a recurrence of cancer, boasts that he is putting a roof over the heads of those "who were excluded for a long time by the bourgeoisie when they were in charge".

But the opposition accuses him of using the state's oil revenues to buy votes.

Economist Asdrubal Oliveros says the housing issue has become "the government's war horse in this presidential campaign".

"It would seem that the government has tied all its hopes of staying in power to the accelerated delivery of housing. At every crucial moment, Chavismo has found targets of opportunity, and in 2012 it's housing," he said.

Several months ago, state-run television began broadcasts every Thursday of ceremonies in different parts of the country where thousands of houses have been handed over to needy new owners.

These are massive occasions, presided over by some member of the government, in which the beneficiaries invariably express their gratitude to Chavez.

No urban development strategy

"They are experts on running a permanent campaign. People who don't have a house are sold on the idea that they could get one too," said Mariana Bacalao, a specialist in political communications at the Central University of Venezuela.

Oliveros, who believes the government's policies worsened a chronic housing shortage, says that at the current rate of delivery of new housing units the government will never meet its announced goals.

"The government is trying to sell sensation. It will not give away those three million houses to people, but some people will get a house," he said, adding that to the extent people think they will get a house, the government will benefit.

Analysts see other problems with the programme as well - the absence of a long term urban development strategy and hasty construction that has already resulted in some complaints about defective housing.

"The housing problem is not solved by building houses. What the state needs to build are services, and to provide planning and access to credit, and not this policy of immediate results," said historian Margarita Lopez Maya.

She noted that Chavez has launched housing programmes several times before and yet the housing shortage remains.

Oil reserves

In 2011 and 2012 alone, the government will devote $19.3m to the Great Housing Mission, according to Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez.

Venezuela produces an average three million barrels of oil a day, according to official figures, with prices hovering around $100 a barrel, although prices have lately fallen.

With that kind of income and the security of knowing that the world's largest reserves remain underground, the government has showered millions of poor Venezuelans over the past decade with social programmes, from healthcare, to pensions to subsidised food.

Analysts warn, though, of the nasty consequences for a country that depends on oil exports if the price of oil continues to fall.

Read more on:    hugo chavez  |  venezuela

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