In 1971, after more than a decade of national and municipal policies aimed at the top-down removal of shantytowns, the Buenos Aires City Council approved the Plan Piloto para la Relocalización de Villa 7 (Pilot Plan for the Relocation of Shantytown 7; 1971–1975, referred to as the Pilot Plan hereinafter). This particular plan, which resulted in the construction of the housing complex, Barrio Justo Suárez, endures in the collective memory of Argentines as a landmark project regarding grassroots participation in state housing initiatives addressed at shantytowns. Emerging from a context of a housing shortage for the growing urban poor and intense popular mobilizations during the transition to democracy, the authors of the Pilot Plan sought to empower shantytown residents in novel ways by: 1) maintaining the shantytown’s location as opposed to eradication schemes that relocated the residents elsewhere, 2) formally employing some of the residents for the stage of construction, as opposed to “self-help” housing projects in which the residents contributed with unpaid labor, and 3) including them in the urban and architectural design of the of the new housing.
This paper will examine the context in which the Pilot Plan was conceived of as a way of re-assessing the roles of the state, the user, and housing-related professionals, often seen as antagonistic. The paper argues that residents’ fair participation and state intervention in housing schemes are not necessarily incompatible, and can function in specific social and political contexts through multi-actor proposals backed by a political will that prioritizes grassroots agency.