This May, Venezuela’s Supreme Court rejected a controversial law that would have allowed for the privatization and sale of low-income housing on the private market. Earlier this year, the opposition-controlled National Assembly approved a law that would have granted residents of the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission the “right to private and individual property” over their houses.
After the law passed the assembly, President Nicolas Maduro claimed the law was just a scheme to create a speculative housing market. In their ruling, the Supreme Court justices wrote that “The law under consideration abandons the social character of housing as a fundamental right in favor of a lucrative market based on the free sale of property.”
Over the past decade, Venezuela has been dealing with a major shortage of housing, and in response the late socialist leader Hugo Chávez launched the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission to build more affordable housing. In 2013, President Maduro’s government pledged to recycle steel sitting in scrapyards to overcome persistent steel shortages, yet the low-income housing crisis in Venezuela persists today.
In the United States, the roofing industry alone generates $46 billion in revenue each year, but in Venezuela, a dire lack of materials and resources has brought new low-income housing construction to a standstill.
When Chinese engineers and managers abandoned a high-speed railroad construction project in January 2015, a mob of armed looters instantly descended on the construction sites and hauled away anything they could find. During two weeks of looting, which witnesses say took place in sight of National Guard Troops, residents stripped metal siding, copper wiring, and anything else that could be used to construct homes. Anyone looking for housing materials is more likely to find them on the black market than any legitimate source.
In the midst of an economic depression caused by incredibly low oil prices, the Great Venezuelan Housing Crisis continues to get worse. Despite this, the privatization movement is reportedly unpopular among many residents of urban low-income housing.
On Twitter, one of the authors of the privatization bill lamented, “Is it unconstitutional to give property to Venezuelans?”