Sweat Equity: How Uruguay’s housing coops provide solidarity and shelter to low-income families

Daniel Chavez: Uruguay’s housing cooperatives are a successful and proven alternative for the provision of shelter and related urban services to low-income families, as well as a vibrant social movement. With over 25,000 families organised in 560 cooperatives, this programme is one of the world’s most ambitious and radical attempts to solve the housing crisis, and is currently being disseminated and adapted to diverse national contexts in Latin America and other regions of the globe.

During the past four decades, the Uruguayan Federation of Mutual-Aid Housing Cooperatives (FUCVAM) has been promoting workers’ autogestión (self- management), participatory democracy, and ayuda mutua (sweat equity; the direct contribution of work in the the building site by all cooperative members) as viable tools for the construction of high-quality dwellings. At the same time, FUCVAM has been a leading force in the resistance to authoritarianism and social exclusion.

Throughout its history, housing construction and political activism have been two highly intertwined components of the Uruguayan cooperative housing movement, as the active involvement of its members in the building process translates into a much broader social engagement.

FUCVAM understands housing as a commons. The houses built by the cooperatives are not privately owned. The cooperative members search for a suitable plot of land and take out a loan from the state together, and then, as a collective, they assume control of the whole building process and the management of the urban space once construction is completed, fostering internal solidarity, social empowerment and democratic innovations along the way.

This six-minute short documentary film presents the multifaceted elements of this movement through the eyes and words of three FUCVAM activists: Matías, Isabel and Gustavo. Belonging to different generations and representing diverse social and generational backgrounds, they collectively tell a history of struggle and triumph in the search for practical solutions to vital problems faced by workers and low-income communities around the world.

Daniel Chavez is a Uruguayan/Dutch social scientist and documentary photographer. He specialises in public policy and development issues, with special emphasis on public services provision and participatory democracy. He is a Fellow of the Transnational Institute (TNI). Daniel has authored and edited a number of books, published in several languages. He holds a BA in Social Anthropology from the University of the Republic (Montevideo, Uruguay) and a MA and a PhD in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University-Rotterdam.

Republished with permission from the author.

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