In Mexico, it is estimated that the life expectancy of children living on the streets is 25 years; that is, 50 years less than the average for the rest of the population. According to the 2020 Census, there are more than 8,669,000 uninhabited and temporary dwellings; that is, approximately 19 percent of the total in the country, commented Mariana Sánchez Vieyra, technical secretary of Projects of the University Program for City Studies (PUEC) of UNAM.

While participating in the panel of experts "The challenge of housing in the new normality", organized by this academic entity, on the occasion of the 4th. National Week of Social Sciences and World Habitat Day, she pointed out: Having adequate housing is a human right and a central factor for people's quality of life; however, large sectors of Mexico's urban population lack it.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights considers it fundamental and on a par with food, clothing, and medical care. It is also a guarantee recognized in Article 4 of the Constitution. However, many families and individuals do not have access to an appropriate property or share the roof with other people; at the same time, there are a significant number of uninhabited people.

The house became a defense against COVID-19 by the strategy of staying in it, but in Mexico, not all people have a home, as some are homeless. In addition, due to the health emergency, a significant number of Mexicans lost their jobs and had to leave their homes.  In other cases, due to overcrowding or the lack of basic services such as drinking water, it is not possible to have minimum standards of social distancing or hand washing, she recalled.

Big cities, big problems

Marina Contreras Saldaña, from UNAM's Postgraduate Program in Urbanism, speaking about the situation in Ciudad Juarez, said that in this metropolis there is an important application of the social interest housing policy, promoted after the year 2000. From 2001 to 2010, 150 thousand new homes were built for formal workers who arrived through migratory flows and in 10 years 30 percent of the current housing stock was built.

In 2017, more than half of the neighborhoods were subdivisions, most of them of social interest and few residential. According to the 2020 Census, seven out of 10 homes are owned, and half are still being paid for; this data is important in the context of the pandemic, in which income and debt have played a crucial role.

Eftychia Bournazou Marcou, from UNAM's School of Architecture, explained that housing is a long-term, structural problem, which can be approached from its spatial unit scales with its material characteristics, overcrowding, infrastructure, etc., or be seen from its surroundings, relative location for goods, services and sources of employment.

In addressing the issue of the Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico, she stated that one of the important strategies in this region should be the decentralization of activities, economic units, provision of goods and services, and sources of employment. "This, much more than what the pandemic reminded us, is one of the fundamental challenges to improve the lives of people who live far away from these goods".

In her opportunity, the coordinator of the Latin America Office of Habitat International Coalition, María Silvia Emanuelli, stressed that according to official figures from 2015, in Mexico 76.2 percent of the employed population could not access the purchase of a house through the market, neither by credit nor by subsidies. "Majorities continue to be left out and the housing that has been produced is not adequate."

The right to this good is understood only for wage earners and homeowners, and the majority are excluded. The solution to having a broad vision of this right is to understand it as the international human rights treaties do: that it be a possibility for all. The State, he suggested, should reinforce alternatives such as cooperative and communal tenure, community land trusts, processes of social production of habitat, public housing, neighborhood improvement, etcetera.

María de los Ángeles Zárate López and Alonso Hernández Guitrón, from the Autonomous University of Baja California, referring to the case of the border city of Tijuana, exposed that it has 576 thousand housing units. In 2015, 30.5 percent belonged to the popular segment, 25.7 to traditional housing, 13.3 to the economic type, and 19.8 percent to residential. Of the total, 24.7 had some degree of overcrowding.

The city has grown mainly due to the creation of new housing developments and the formation of irregular settlements. Although approximately 98 percent of the houses have piped water and sewage, it is beginning to present serious problems in the supply of the service.

The specialists mentioned that there are more than 100 areas considered irregular settlements; there are about 300 thousand properties of which 27 thousand are not feasible to regularize, since they are located in high-risk areas. "The challenges that existed before the pandemic are still valid today, and have even worsened: to expand financing schemes that are appropriate to the user's profile, to promote efficient planning supported by a land policy, and to rethink urban design and the design and dimensions of housing," they emphasized.

In turn, Franco Barradas Miranda, from the University of Quintana Roo, pointed out that the habitability conditions found in a case study, the Caribe subdivision in the city of Chetumal, impede complying with the indications of the Ministry of Health, given that the dimensions of the properties do not allow for respecting a healthy distance. In these places "physical and functional overcrowding generates stress and hinders healthy development". Furthermore, the lack of water availability during the day makes frequent hand washing difficult, and this could explain why this housing complex is one of the most affected by the pandemic in that locality.

Source: UNAM