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Brandeis University

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development


This investigation explores the relative success of Chilean housing policy in addressing and resolving the country’s urban slums. The investigation is grounded in the theory of marginality in Latin America, a theory that argues that the development and industrialization of Latin America in relation to the global north concentrated power in a small but dominant upper class and created social, political and most importantly economic systems that perpetuate the internal and external domination of the region. These relationships result in the permanent conditions of urban underdevelopment and social, political, and economic marginalization present in Chilean slums.

Over the last seventy years Chile has worked to resolve the country’s slums through programs based primarily in subsidies for public housing projects, a policy that has been largely deemed a success. This investigation examines the application of these programs and the relationship between the state and slums in the case of the community Vergel Alto in the city of Valparaíso. It documents that instead of state support, the inhabitants of Vergel Alto have experienced decades of inadequate housing conditions, conflict with the authorities and abandonment. The reality encountered in Vergel highlights important deficits in the housing policies of the past including the lack of comprehensive intervention, their paternalistic nature and their almost exclusive focus in slums’ physical components.

This investigation considers the unique state intervention in Vergel after the devastating fire of 2014 and the community’s work to create internal development as a possible alternative to the subsidies and reconstruction without citizen participation that have characterized past interventions. This work uses this model to suggest that eradicating Chile’s slums require a more holistic solution, one which takes into account their roots in economic, political and social factors in works with community members in a democratic and participatory fashion.


Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Urban Studies and Planning


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