SITUATION BEFORE THE INITIATIVE BEGAN
The Union of Tenants and Housing Applicants, Veracruz(UCISV-VER) is a community organization that was established in Xalapa, Veracruzin 1984. The main demand of the very low income population was for access to land for housing since they mostly squatted land on the city's periphery which was of extremely poor quality and where urban service provision was nonexistent. Some of the squatted areas are unsuitable for human settlements.These areas had grown considerably, largely due to rural out-migration, and by1991 around 46 percent of the city's total population of 350,000 thousand inhabitants lived on the city periphery. Generally speaking they work in Xalapa's construction or tertiary sector's (cleaners, domestic services,drivers, street sellers, etc.), and earnings are very low.
Relations between this section of the Xalapa population and the city and state authorities were of mutual antagonism.
UCISV-VER'sleaders had known the Centre of Housing and Urban Studies (CENVI) for some time(one of them had been a community leader in Mexico City), and they had already established a dialogue on participative housing and urban improvement methods and issues.The problem in Xalapa is complex as it involves different levels of government, political interests, poverty, the lack of urban services to a large section of the population, land regulation, housing, the environment and community development. In addition, the peripheral areas had not been included in the 1988 official plan for the city, UCISV-VER together with CENVI decided that an instrument was necessary which focused on the whole problem. With this CENVI obtained modest financing from the Ford Foundation to elaborate a PartialPlan for the 80 low-income neighborhoods on Xalapa's periphery which coverswater and drainage and considers the urban structure and land use. Fourrepresentative settlements were chosen for the elaboration of a detailedimprovement plan, including all urban services, roads and progressive housing.The Plan had a significant training element directed at the communities andtheir leaders in order that they participated fully in the diagnosis of thesituation and in the elaboration of proposals to resolve their problems.
The Partial Plan was finished and formally at a meeting of UCISV-VER local leaders and residents from the peripheral zones, along with CENVI staff in April 1991 where it was widely acclaimed. Participation has been higher in the18 zones where UCISV-VER has a strong organizational base. Following the presentation of the plan CENVI obtained funds from the Dutch agency NOVIB togive a series of training workshops to UCISV-VER local leaders on housing andplanning issues.
Theslogan "Protest with a Proposal" came out of the process and has remained a slogan of USICV-VER ever since and has been adopted by other groupswith similar aims (see below).
Representatives from CENVI and UCISV-VER then began negotiating with the city and state authorities for the inclusion of the alternative plan in the official plan for the city, along with its full implementation.
Priority was given to land regulation as no developments could take place until the settlements were legally recognized. By 1993 all but about 30 percent of the settlements had been regularized by the city government.
The provision of urban services to the peripheral settlements is to being this year to finish in 2000.
The process was aided by the participation of UCISV-VER in the International Conference "Ciudadagua" held in Costa Rica in 1991 where they presented the water supply problem in the peripheral areas of Xalapa.
In 1993 UCISV-VER presented its initiative for a new Human Settlements Law to the Veracruz State Parliament. The proposal included the establishment of territorial reserves for low-income housing, land regularization, ecologically sustainable alternatives for urban services, and participative land use planning practices.
In 1992UCISV-VER negotiated with the state government for a programme for ecological sanitary units in all the peripheral areas of Xalapa and over 70 units were installed.
However, the housing problem still remained to be solved. In 1993 the UCISV-VER negotiations the state authorities for the setting-up of a low-cost housing programmed a state territorial reserve to address the problem of access to land,particularly for the population who were settled on sites inadequate for housing and 150 of the members of USCIV-VER took up this option and have purchased a plot of land. The first obstacle for them was to negotiate for the provision of urban services and now that they are installed, building hasbegun. A model house was constructed on the reserve in 1997 with funds fromUSCIV-VER and CENVI (through the British funding agency Homeless International)and other financial support from the state authorities. However the families lack savings with which to build and in 1997 a savings and loans programme was established which is directed at and operated by women. The programme is basedon the Mexican traditional savings methods for low-income groups, called theT ANDA. Here a group of people agree to save a given amount at a number of regular intervals which is equal to the number of savers. At each interval oneof the group claims the amount equivalent to the full sum of their savings forthe whole period, (but continues paying into the scheme until the end of the period so that all the other members can do the same). At the end of the TANDA period UCISV together with CENVI loan each individual an amount equivalent to one-and-a-half times their savings total, and the state authority doubles thisamount -but not with cash as their contribution is given in building materials.While the CENVI/UCISV-VER loan has to paid back in full through the members participation in another one-and-a half TANDA's, the state authority'sresources are a subsidy which are not repaid. Up until now one group of women has completed the cycle and the first phase of their progressive homes has already been completed . Up until now the loan pay -back by the women has been100%. Another three groups are now using the savings method, one of which is constructing new housing on the territorial reserve, another is improving housing in one of the four peripheral zones detailed in the plan and the fourthis improving housing in one of the 18 peripheral zones where UCISV-VER is most active. Further, another Mexican housing NGO, FOSOVI, is participating in the scheme by significantly increasing the loan fund with its own resources. In addition, the city authorities are expressing interest in participating in programmes for housing improvement in the peripheral zones.
The impact of the project goes further than the clearly positive effect it has had on the living conditions and development of communities on the Xalapaperiphery, and whose evaluation requires different criteria .
On the one hand the slogan "Protest with a Proposal" has been adopted inother cities in the state of Veracruzwhere UCISV-VER is active, and where integrated planning proposals are being developed with the populations involved. It should be emphasized that these partial plans are elaborated with community participation at low cost and are of a high professional quality. They provide a general instrument with whichthe population can confront the official agencies on equal terms. The slogan"Protest with a Proposal" is also being adopted in parts of Mexico's Federal District where similar problems exist in some areas.
Coordination between all the parties involved has improved. Service provision's frequently a political issue and the case of Xalapa's peripheral areas has enabled the planning of these low-income communities to be considered regardless of political interests. Coordination between the community-based organization, the non-government organization and the city and state authorities has improved. One example of this is that in 1996 the director of CENVI, Alejandro Suarez Payeron, was invited by the city authorities to revise the new plan for the city to ensure that the proposals laid down in the alternative plan were included in the new official one.
The USCIV-VER has grown both in Xalapa and throughout Veracruz. In Xalapa it has one seat in testate government, and has maintained democratic political control as community representative in the municipal government in two settlement areas and has won the same type of representation in two other municipal areas in two other cities in the State.
In 1997 UCISV-VER developed a Integrated Social and Urban Improvement Plan which is operating in the organization's installations in Xalapa. It includes programmes for health, education, nutrition, the environment, housing and urban management and planning. In addition it is developing similar plans for at least three other cities in Veracruz.The organization has shown that a planning instrument can be used to obtain services in the short and medium terms. As a result its leaders are more experienced and better trained.
The special opportunity present during the project was the strong social demand for access to land and urban services and the improvement plan channelled this energy into a high-level training and technical effort which involved a large section of the peripheral inhabitants.
Since they were founded the USCIV-VER and CENVI have had a strong environmental bias,and their arguments for the provision of housing and urban services have always included recycling and environmental sustainability. Both organizations are aware that the major participants in housing and urban projects are women andthe savings-loans programme is directed at them. Part of the success of the project up until now derives from these factors along with particular sensitivity towards the language and cultural references of the participants ingraining programmes and the publicity generated to explain the different aspects of the project.
All of the phases of the USICV-VER/CENVI project up until now have been undertaken with the minimum of resources, which have come mainly from overseas. The dependence on external funds is addressed in project, as it has looked to the city and state governments to finance service provision for low-income groups,to address the problem of land access, and to subisidise the savings and loans scheme. In addition the project model is being taken up in other cities that have no access to external funds.
The main lessons learnt from other projects which influenced the formulation of the Xalapa peripheral zones improvement plan come from other areas. Both CENVI andUCISV-VER, along with students from the Architecture Department of the National Autonomous University worked on urban participative planning projects in San Miguel Teotongo in Mexico City, Other influences on participative urban planning come from Brazil, and much has been learnt about savings and small loans from India.
The most important lessons of the project are: i) Integrated partial plans have to be elaborated to high professional standards where the peripheral zones are not conceived as marginal to the city. The aim is for them to be integrated into the main urban areas where they can benefit from the development of the city..
ii) The development of housing projects for low income groups involves the mobilization of a wide range of resources. The mobilization of the resources of the poor has to be carefully directed to meet very specific targets at very specific points in time. Unfortunately, micro-loans do not exist in the formalmarket neither are they contemplated by government.
iii)Participative planning practices and group savings can strengthen communities-and their organizations. It is important that the savings plan is carefully constructed so that it doesn't overstretch the women's savings capacity.Successful community savings schemes strengthen women's self esteem. When this is achieved it gives considerable stability to their lives and to those of their families.
The iniciative is already being used as a model in other cities and has the potential to be transferred to others.