The organization of the homeless in Chile is in the form of various neighborhood associations, commissions, and collectives

These committees must obtain legal status in the different municipalities of the country, according to the current legislation. They are the basic and well-established organization of the homeless, and their action is aimed at putting pressure on the institutions and authorities in power to find a quick solution to the conflict of not having a home and living in precarious and sub-human conditions.

For years, the form of pressure used by the organized homeless to speed up the waiting times was to “take over” uninhabited land, in apparent abandonment, and reach an economic agreement with the owner to build housing for the homeless. The decrees, laws, and regulations were intended to remedy the real and concrete situation created by the “seizure” of land by the settlers. In Chile, the search for a social housing solution is being criminalized through the adoption of laws that punish actions and organizations in the struggle for decent housing.

The government currently recognizes that there are around 650,000 homeless families, a figure that includes the 1,290 camps that currently exist in Chile (National Cadastre of Camps 2022-2023 of the Fundación Techo). The “state offer” represents a real advance on the deficit of these 650,000, at the rate of around 35,000 houses per year. At this rate of construction, it would take at least 20 years to resolve the problem. At the very least, this guarantees that for the next 5 years, there will be half a million marginalized families without a home, which this law of the garrote seeks to control.

In this scenario, and amid the beginning of the electoral campaigns for the control of local power (municipalities and regions), the debate on the presidential veto of the law of usurpation has intensified in recent days. Disagreements that initially focused on the risks of privileged self-defense (allowing armed civil confrontation) and the lack of graduated penalties (prison for the marginalized poor) have now turned to the future of people already living in camps.

Faced with questions from its sector, the executive has backed itself up with a transitional article that excludes people on the National Register of Camps from detention or eviction. “They cannot be detained (…) if they are found occupying a property that is part of an encampment included in the National Register of Encampments prepared by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, in force on 1 March 2024,” reads the regulation approved by the National Congress.
The ruling party has opened the door to the possibility that the right-wing will advance its historical anti-humanist agenda to defend its privileges, regardless of the fate of millions of poor people in the country, reviving its worst practices, which, let us remember, included several massacres of unarmed civilians (Iquique, Valparaiso, etc.

The predictable dramatic situation of families without homes

Santiago Castillo, coordinator of the Agrupación Pobladores y Pobladoras de Lo Hermida, denounced (in an interview for the media Interferencia) the Law of Usurpations as a repressive response by the state to the housing crisis in Chile. He argues that this legislation, together with the Emergency Housing Plan, reflects a policy of “carrot and stick” in which the state offers palliative measures but also criminalizes land occupation. According to Castillo, both the Piñera and Boric governments have opted for similar approaches to the social crisis, without addressing its structural causes, such as labor informality and low wages.

The Agrupación rejects the idea of criminalizing land occupations, arguing that they are a response to the need for housing and a historical tool for homeless families to draw the attention of the state. They believe that the law of usurpation violates human rights and international treaties on housing signed by Chile.

Castillo also highlights the growth of encampments during the social uprising and the pandemic, comparing them to historical movements such as the Popular Unity. He warns that the law seeks to punish social movements and the Mapuche movement. He stresses the importance of the social function of land as a structural solution to both housing and the Mapuche cause.

“In the case of the eviction in Cerro La Virgen de San Antonio, in the Valparaíso region, 3,900 families will have to be relocated once they have been evicted from the 217 hectares of land they have illegally occupied. The owners are demanding 1,501,046 UF for the land, equivalent to 56.7 million dollars, or more than 260,000 dollars per hectare, or more than 14,500 dollars per family.
If these families are among the poorest in the country, they have an average annual income of less than 6,000 dollars, in a country where, according to price studies, the cost of living is around 31,000 dollars a year (for a family of four). The value set by law for social housing (for the poor) is between 15,500 and 20,800 dollars.

The figures do not add up, to be solved by “the laws of the market”, in the “logic of agreements between private parties”, concepts of rampant neoliberalism. Without state intervention, this is a dead end for these thousands of families, and when the state criminalizes poverty, it is a closed circle.

In Chile, the lack of a national urban development policy leaves the municipalities as the main players in the property market. These entities have great influence in the regulation and execution of projects. The Plan Regulador Comunal, defined by the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, is central to this scenario, affecting aspects such as land use and urban density. Building permits and municipal decrees can be instances of real control or false agreements, depending on the local administration. There are cases of mayors who have direct relations (parents, children, siblings, spouses) with the owners and partners of real estate companies, so it seems that the office is primarily a platform with a business objective.

For its part, the whole apparatus set up by the financial elite in this “real estate business”, bleeds the common people, by taking their savings for housing; by taking their pension funds thanks to the “investments” of the AFPs, (initially in the indirect purchase of papers, until today in the one created by law: the real estate investment funds); by taking their mortgage loans at usurious rates; by taking their tax relief insurance, among others. In addition to the articulation of their speculation and financial accumulation, the opening of the stock market to property developers and housing companies in the country: Pazcorp sa and Socovesa sa, Moller and Pérez Cotapos. sa, Salfacorp sa and Besalco sa.

Nothing is more dangerous to the system than a social organization.
In the organized social base, it is becoming increasingly clear that the elite is trying to empty the participation of the people in political and social institutions, leaving the creation of reality in the hands of the power of the media and virtual platforms. Today, this reality, which according to the latest polls is right-wing in the country’s electoral intentions, should be an element that allows the emergence of a real attempt by the various anti-neoliberal, popular, feminist, environmentalist, and humanist forces to build an alternative path for our society. As difficult as it may seem, there is no other possibility than for change to come from the confluence of the organized grassroots, with clarity and a vision of the future.

There is an urgent need for social movements to create spaces in which they can meet, to work on common directions and concrete elements of convergence that will allow them to articulate and organize themselves and develop a political project. However, such a project must necessarily take on the task of moving decisively in the direction of real and participatory democracy, promoting horizontality, respecting and valuing convergent differences, of a style of relations that truly understands, values, and promotes the collective, shared intelligence, the depth of popular sovereignty. In other words, overcoming caudillismo, voluntarism, personalist impositions, manipulation, and eternal divisionism.
Such a direction seeks, as a priority, the implementation of definitions for a rapid and substantial change in the concrete issues that have made the broad strata of Chilean society precarious.

Collaborators: Ricardo Lisboa Henríquez; M. Angélica Alvear Montecinos; Guillermo Garcés Parada and César Anguita Sanhueza. Public Opinion Commission