Villa 31, in Buenos Aires City.

A survey of villas, Argentina’s informal housing developments, has been carried out by the government with the help of various NGOs across the country. The survey recorded statistics regarding life in the villas, giving residents and housing units a level of legitimacy and recognition that had been previously lacking. Prior to this, these areas, home to millions of people, simply appeared as grey areas on maps and were by many accounts social and political no man’s land.

The government is also promising Certificates of Residency to the inhabitants of the villas, which they say will help this marginalized sector of Argentine society access services and benefits they have been previously denied due to having no official documents showing place of residence.

The survey has been executed throughout Argentina by 7000 people from state and civil organizations including Techo, Cáritas, Barrios de Pie, Corriente Clasista y Combativa and the Confederation of Economy Workers (CTEP). These groups have been working to collect data on 4,100 villas: determining which settlements fall into the official classification; delimiting the areas that they occupy; and using geolocation software to create digital maps showing each residence. The official denomination for this form of low-income neighborhood is Barrio Popular and is applied to areas in which at least 8 families are living, and where more than half of the population has neither property deeds nor regular access to at least two of the basic services: running water, electricity and sewers.

According to the decree creating the National Register of Barrios Populares: “It is essential to recognize the important efforts made for years by the inhabitants of these settlements, named Barrios Populares, in constructing their residences and their neighborhood, despite the enormous difficulties, inequalities and rules of a market that excludes them. It is becoming necessary to support the inhabitants of the barrios populares by granting them security with regard to the ground they inhabit, the access to different basic services and urban and social integration.”

Families that form part of the register are to receive a Certificate of Family Residence, which will “accredit the existence and veracity of the residence, in order to apply for connections to services like running water, electricity, gas and sewers; to apply for CUIT and CUIL; to make requests of public organizations; to apply for health, social security and education benefits.” In Argentina, a CUIL is a number officially assigned to each worker, like a Social Security Number in other countries; a CUIT is the equivalent for employers and businesses.

The new certificate is therefore designed to allow inhabitants of the areas known as villas official access to public systems and services. The government has stressed, however, that it will not constitute a property deed; “that is a more complicated process”. The efficacy of this scheme remains to be seen. Certificates will be delivered by ANSES, the National Social Security Administration, throughout the country from the 8th of June, following a pilot project in Vicente López, Lomas de Zamora and Corrientes City.

As for the data being collected by the survey, some results have already been published. Of the 4100 recognized villas in Argentina, 3,725 have already been visited since last September, with 1,340,272 people surveyed so far. The province with the highest concentration is Buenos Aires Province, with 1612 villas. Over half of Argentina’s villas (2275) were constructed before the year 2000, and 749 between 2000 and 2010. Of the people surveyed, 38% were under 20 years old, and only 3% were over 65. When combined, villas across the country make up a surface area of 330km², over 100km² larger than the City of Buenos Aires.

With all of this happening in an election year, government sources have been keen to clarify that their actions are not intended to use the villas as political pawns. One source close to the President said: “There is no remuneration in what we’re doing; we’re not saying ‘I’ll give you the certificate but don’t protest in the streets.’ We don’t want to use it as a political tool. Up to now, there was no register of the number of settlements in Argentina.”