One of the flagship projects of Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s Buenos Aires City Government is the urbanization of the city’s many slums, home to an estimated 275,000 people. In a symbolic move, Larreta even moved his office into a former narco-bunker in that most emblematic of shantytowns, Villa 31 y 31 bis. “This place, only 6 or 8 months ago, was the main enclave for narcotrafficking in the slum”, he said at its opening in December of 2016.
However, while the government may have celebrated recent achievements in Villa 31 y 31 bis – 2,300 inhabitants now enjoy paved streets, drainage and sewage systems, and power lines, according to La Nacion – there are some signs that the project is not being carried out in a timely fashion.
The latest “budgetary execution” report from the Finance Ministry shows that, last year, the government underspent on a number of its urbanization projects.
The program Reintegration, Integration and Transformation of Slums (Reintegración, Integración Y Transformación De Villas), the most well-funded program in the government’s Housing Institute’s (IVC) portfolio, spent less than half its budget, according to the report.
The project, which anticipates the construction of 25,000 homes in 16 different slums, as well as other urbanisation projects – does not appear to be happening at breakneck speed: of the AR $245,012,500.93 it was assigned, it spent AR $103,313,412.93 — a measly 42 percent.
According to Perfil’s sources, the government was unable to spend the funds because matching funds raised through a gaming agreement did not arrive in time.
However, there was an upsurge in the budget’s execution with the appointment of Juan Ignacio Maquieyra to the head of the IVC in August (fun fact: Maquieyra is one of the students who rattled former President Cristina Kirchner at her famous Harvard press conference back in 2012.)
Meanwhile, the City Government used 66 percent of the budget assigned to the urbanization of Villa 31 y 31 for 2016. To compare: the overall average of the government’s budgetary execution rate was 93 percent, according to Perfil.
This sprawling 100-block shantytown in Retiro, home to 40,000 people, is the most talked-about and most emblematic of the city’s slums, given its central location and long history (it has gone by many names, including Villa Desocupacion and Villa Esperanza). Since it first sprung up in 1932, it has been the object of many failed urbanization attempts.
According to Larreta, his government aims to reverse this trend, turning this slum into a “barrio.”
“The first thing we have to do is that which you can’t see: build infrastructure for everybody. So everyone can have access to a sewage system, a drainage system so it doesn’t flood, and to electricity. Before the end of 2018, the whole slum will have access to infrastructure the same as any other barrio in the city,” he said in interview with La Nacion in February.
The project, which will in part be funded by a US $170 million dollar loan from the World Bank, should culminate in the inhabitants obtaining title for the property they live in.
While previous governments have made similar promises, they have been criticized for failing to deliver.
Back when he was Chief of Government for the City of Buenos Aires, President Mauricio Macri was criticized for spending only 46% of the budget destined for urbanization projects. He also failed to implement a number of key urbanization laws, according to Pagina 12.
Urbanization is a difficult process. In order to turn Villa 31 into Barrio 31, Larreta will need to pave streets, install drainage and sewage systems, a new electricity system, public lighting, new public spaces, and relocate the many families who live beneath the Ilia Highway.
Let’s hope he pulls it off. The debt to those who lives in Argentina’s slums is over 70 years in the making.