July 23, 2014
More City dwellers live alone, childless
Born-and-bred porteños take 61% of exclusive housing market; 30% own home
A childless woman living on her own in the city she was born in, potentially in an apartment she owns — that’s what a quick look at the latest basic statistics will tell you about a typical resident of Buenos Aires City, where a growing number of people live by themselves, have few or no children, and where roots — either by birth or the ownership of a home — can mean make or break when it comes to accessing housing in the capital’s exclusive real estate market.
Laura Gerscovich is one of the City’s 39 percent of women who have no children, one of the 32 percent of residents who live on their own, and one of the over 61 percent of people living in the capital who are porteño by birth, according to the results of City Hall’s latest Annual Household Survey (EAH) that showed more City residents are living by themselves and having less children compared to 10 years ago.
An artist by profession, she told the Herald that her family connections in the City were what secured her the unit she currently rents in the Colegiales neighbourhood.
“I needed space for my workshop, but I knew that these types of units are hard to come by,” she said, stressing that it took her a year to find a place to live.
In Buenos Aires, over 56 percent of residents own the home or land they live on, while 32 percent rent, according the EAH survey, which noted among other findings a greater percentage of female to men (53.7 versus 46.3 percent), and a growing ageing population (over 30 percent of City residents have already turned 50).
“The only reason I was able to secure it was because my father owns a business here and my sister, a house. Had it not been for them, I doubt the real estate agency would have even let me see the place,” Gerscovich added.
Twenty-four-year-old Santiago Martín had a similar experience. As one of the 13 percent of people living in the capital to have been born in Buenos Aires province, he said the process of entering the property market in the capital was a nightmare, especially since most real estate agencies only accept tenants if they’re able to produce a guarantor who has property in the City.
“We came to the City every weekend from La Plata for about two-and-a-half months before we secured a place to live,” Martín told the Herald. “We had found a place in Caballito neighbourhood with a private owner, but even he said he wouldn’t accept us without a guarantor from the City.”
The music teacher now lives with his brother and cousin in Microcentro, in one of the 16 percent of City households, according to the EAH survey, that have three inhabitants.
“We obviously weren’t looking for a mansion in Recoleta, so finding a three-bedroom apartment was really challenging because there just aren’t that many out there,” he added.
The cost of renting can also be an issue. Resident doctor Ursula Grimaldi, 31, said having looked for a place in Barrio Norte with a friend (30 percent of City residents live with one other person) took a lot of pressure of her when it came to paying rent and expenses.
In a city where the average apartment costs 2,740 pesos per month according to a March report by the Reporte Inmobilario firm, average wages in 2013 as established by the EAH survey were 8,000 pesos per month in neighbourhoods like Recoleta, Palermo and Belgrano, but dropped significantly toward the south of the City, where in zone four’s Pompeya, Parque Patricios and La Boca neighbourhoods, for example, the average individual wage was just under 4,500 pesos per month.
“I’m from Rosario and most of the real estate agencies told it me it wasn’t even worth going to talk to them because they wouldn’t accept my guarantor,” Grimaldi told the Herald. “But above all what I found most shocking were the prices compared to wages. Often, the best you can get for your money is a very small place. It’s quite limiting.”
Poor housing policy
The difficulties experienced by many people looking to enter the real estate market in the capital are not unknown to City Hall, whose housing policy under Mayor Mauricio Macri has long been regarded as one of the current PRO government’s most significant policy weaknesses.
A report last month by the Economic and Social Council found construction had jumped 100 percent between 2010 and 2011 in the capital, but that new homes and apartments were predominantly being built in wealthier parts of the City where the demand for housing and the growth of the population are lower.
“The effort of a person from a poor household (to gain access to housing) equates to 67 years of work and savings, while for someone from the top decile four and a half years would be enough,” the report noted, using average land prices from 2012.
Demographer Viviana Masciadri from the University of Buenos Aires told the Herald that evidence of the City’s inaction over housing is most obvious in the growth of the informal neighbourhoods known as villas.
“The right to housing is enshrined in the Constitution but it’s not totally applied because otherwise we’d see greater policy making,” she told the Herald, noting that the construction of citizenship in Argentina — on a number of levels, not just housing — “historically has to do with your economic situation.”
The Economic and Social Council’s report found that in zone eight — which includes the Soldati, Villa Lugano and Villa Riachuelo neighbourhoods — the population grew by 15.8 percent from 2010 to 2012, but the least new constructions took place there during that time. It also noted the growth of shanty towns.
Masciadri pointed to Villa 31 in the Retiro neighbourhood as an example, and said that “despite City Hill having all the tools to evaluate the living conditions of residents, the precariousness in the area of housing has worsened.”
“As professionals in the area, we know that studies like the EAH survey aren’t taken into account, probably because the ‘logic’ is not shared (by people in decision-making positions),” she added, questioning some of the motives and powerful interests behind the inaction on the poor conditions facing people in the villas.
However, on other household realities — like those revealed in the EAH survey — Masciadri suggested Buenos Aires City was not unique.
“There are other cities like Santa Fe and Córdoba that are seeing the same symptoms of demographic change, and despite having better health care and quality of life than in the countryside, governments there will be forced to address the same scenarios, such as an ageing population,” she said.
“In many ways, the demographic changes we see in Buenos Aires are simply a replication of a global phenomenon that’s happening in many big urban centres.”