Venezuelan housing rights groups took to the streets of Caracas on Thursday to reject the political opposition’s plans to privatise social housing.
Since launching its housing “mission” or program in 2012, the Bolivarian government, together with communities, has built more than 1 million homes for some of Venezuela’s poorest families.
But the recently built social housing is now under threat of being sold off, thanks to a motion pledging to privatise the houses introduced by the newly elected opposition-controlled National Assembly early in January.
Dubbed the Law for the Award of Property Deeds to the Beneficiaries of the Venezuelan Great Housing Mission (GMVV), the legislation was approved by parliament in initial discussions on Thursday. It will now go to second discussion where it will likely be passed.
“The majority opposition assembly is defending the rights of the banks, the construction and property lobbies that have been hit hard,” said marcher Kristal V, a member of the Pioneers Movement, to Venezuelanalysis.
“Nobody is going to privatise our right to housing, our right to be a socialist community. Today we are fighting for the right to urban soil,” she added.
The new law follows an opposition win at the country’s National Assembly elections on December 6th last year – when legislators affiliated to the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) swept a two-thirds majority for the first time in over seventeen years.
The new majority allows opposition legislators to pass national legislation virtually unopposed in parliament and has led to a stand-off between the Bolivarian government and opposition controlled legislature.
On Thursday, protesters took to the streets to lend support to the government against the new legislators. They said the law was a direct attempt to eliminate the hard fought right to public housing in Venezuela.
“The approval of this law would be a huge setback to the advances made by the state to ensure the right to housing,” Juan Carlos R of the Settler’s Movement explained to Venezuelanalysis.
“We poor people do not need a house as a piece of merchandise, we need it to live in! It’s the bourgeoisie that has two or three houses which they buy and sell for business,” he added.
The mastermind behind the law, MUD legislator Julio Borges, has said that the new legislation will give residents the official property titles to the houses, allowing them to sell the state-built homes on the private market.
Until now, GMVV residents have been granted a Deed of Use legal document which gives them the right to the houses for life – but the homes can only be sold under specific circumstances and not on the private market.
The opposition move has been vehemently attacked by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has vowed to block the legislation. He told opposition legislators that they would “have to overthrow” him in order to pass the motion in his annual state of union address.
Maduro’s government has promised to build millions more public homes for the approximately 50% of the population that currently lives in makeshift houses in the country’s shantytowns – also known as barrios.
For Borges, however, it’s not the role of legislators “to build houses”.
“My role is to give ideas for people to progress, and to that end we are doing what is correct.”
“There is no explanation why the executive would deny something that is as important to Venezuelan families, such as having the full deeds to the property they live in. Something that will mean that families can progress, inherit and sell these houses if they want to keep progressing,” stated Borges.
But the government and social movements argue that the homes should not have a speculative value, but rather remain as houses destined for families in need.
“They (the opposition) never supported the project of the GMVV, they protested when the state took over urban soil for construction and now their mouths are filled with hypocritical lies about democratising the right to housing. They never built a single home, and now they want to capitalise on this project,” explained Kristal.
For many other marchers on Thursday, the proposed law also leaves a huge question mark hanging over what options will remain for those Venezuelans who rely on the subsidised social housing.
Many fear they will be unable to access the houses once they are floated on the highly speculative and unaffordable private housing market.
“They want to send us back to the hilltops, that’s what they want,” said Ricardo Molina, who echoed several other protesters in describing the law as an attempt to re-gentrify exclusive areas of Caracas where blocks of social housing have been built – to the dismay of many middle class voters.
On Thursday, MUD legislators made no reference to the march, but confirmed that they will move ahead with the planned legislation – despite government and social movement opposition.
If Maduro blocks the law, it will then be passed to Venezuelan Supreme Court judges who will have to decide if it potentially violates the constitution.
But social movements aren’t leaving the future of the housing to chance, and they have pledged to continue resisting the proposed legislation in the streets.
“We will take over all urban land if the opposition nullify the laws,” stated Molina.
Reporting by Jonas Holldack.