At only 28 years of age, Federico Fagioli is a national deputy for the Buenos Aires Province for the ruling center-left coalition, Frente de Todos. The legislator lives in Pueblo Unido, a working-class neighborhood in a settlement built on land that was occupied and taken over by the organized community. Fagioli himself helped lead the land occupation and has helped provide housing to many people.
Fagioli’s political journey is linked to the workers of the popular economy and the struggle for right to housing policies. “From the neighborhood to the Congress” was his campaign slogan, and once he arrived, he didn’t forget his people and their problems.
In 2014, Fagioli, who is also a leader of the left-wing political front, Frente Patria Grande, and 115 families decided to occupy five blocks of a property in Glew locality, situated in the Almirante Brown department, in the province of Buenos Aires. Many of these families, who lived in crowded quarters, came from the nearby Almafuerte neighborhood.
From this experience he analyzes the housing deficit in the country and the occupation of land that raises different positions within the government, the opposition, the media and Argentine society.
ARG Medios: What brings people to occupy land?
Federico Fagioli: Housing deficit is a long-standing problem in Argentina. The occupations are a result of the same. There are 4,416 popular neighborhoods where more than 5.5 million people live and most of these neighborhoods have emerged from occupations.
ARGM: What is the main cause of the housing deficit?
FF: In Argentina, the real estate business is a multi-billion dollar business, because of which, in recent years, there have been inadequate or almost nil housing policies. Today access to land and housing is a matter of privilege, which even a middle class person who has a job cannot afford.
ARGM: How did the pandemic impact this problem?
FF: The problem was exacerbated by the pandemic. The pandemic unveiled and put front and center the problems that already existed in Argentina. Many sectors are defining the occupations as illegal and are stigmatizing people. We have a responsibility of generating necessary public policies to resolve this.
AGRM: Is there a regulation by the national and provincial government to penalize people for occupying land?
FF: I do not think that most governments suggest that this problem be solved with violence. It is important that all the state entities go out and tell people what is illegal because otherwise it is conveyed that we can do what we want. The issue is whether the problems related to land occupations, which is caused by a housing deficit, is resolved by stigmatizing, beating and criminalizing people who do so out of an extreme need. The response of the public officials should be to generate inclusive policies, activate plans for building lots with utilities and urbanize popular neighborhoods.
ARGM: Why has there been a political response from a security perspective?
FF: I have spoken with many provincial and national officials to advance in policy-making to find a fundamental solution to the issue of land occupations. The one who argues that the occupations be resolved from a security perspective is a person who has no perspective on deepening policies that solve the underlying problem. The only thing that person wants to do is widen the gap in housing matters for real estate companies to continue to concentrate land.
ARGM: How do you evaluate the management of Maria Eugenia Bielsa?
FF: We believe that the Minister of Territorial Development and Habitat needs to be a little more agile with the approval of the projects that the Socio-Urban Integration Secretariat is proposing to her because they are very important for the neighbors. This will not only solve the housing problem but will also generate a lot of work in these neighborhoods.
ARGM: In relation to the previous government, what was Mauricio Macri’s government’s housing policy?
FF: There was no housing policy during the past four years. Macrism did not lay a single brick to urbanize the popular neighborhoods or facilitate access to utilities to precarious housing areas.
ARGM: Did housing inequality deepen during Macrism?
FF: During Macri’s government, there were VIP land takeovers. Macrism auctioned and gifted lands worth millions of dollars to its own officials. Those lands belonged to the Argentinians and we lost them because they were sold much cheaper than their real value. There is a group of society that has been generating conditions for the housing gap to continue to expand.
ARGM: What is the solution suggested by the Frente Patria Grande?
FF: We have been proposing to build areas with utilities, urbanize popular neighborhoods, finish the houses that are yet to be finished, improve and relaunch PROCREAR, the national government’s housing program. There are many policies that must be done once and for all because otherwise, we avoid the problem.
ARGM: How can a problem that has multiple dimensions and interests from various sectors be addressed?
FF: It needs to be addressed comprehensively with a broad view. We have to have different measures that accommodate the different realities of families. One solution has to be to PROCREAR so that people who have a normal job can access that credit and buy their home. There must be a policy of integration and urbanization of the popular neighborhoods because if we do not solve the overcrowding that exists in the country, the takeovers will continue to happen. And another solution has to be building lots with utilities. We propose to start with 400,000 lots, but we believe that we have to build a million lots and it can be done on state land.
ARGM: Can the housing deficit be solved only by building houses?
FF: The problem is related to the ability to generate work. If we do not create the conditions for people to be able to pay for the land and save, we are in trouble.
ARGM: How can this proposal suggested by the Frente Patria Grande be financed?
FF: There is a law enacted in 2018 that Macrism did not implement and did not allocate any budget to. In the beginning of the year, implementing that law, we created a trust from the PAIS tax and we are proposing that 15% of the tax on big fortunes, which is approximately 45 billion pesos (600 million USD), go to that trust. We are moving forward on the plans and signs of the construction policies to urbanize the popular neighborhoods.
This article was originally published in Spanish in ARG Medios. Translated by Tanya Wadhwa