The challenge of building a home in Venezuela
Mary Triny Mena
South America;Venezuela

Homeownership is a distant dream for many Venezuelans. Even though the Venezuelan government builds homes for low-income families, not everyone is lucky enough to be selected to live in one.

Mortgages and housing loans are scarce in the country, while the number of private property construction projects has been in free fall for a decade. Amid the housing shortage, a state-run program is encouraging families to build their own homes.

Lorna Zambrano works at a construction site in Antimano, west of Caracas. The 40-year-old single mom is in charge of gluing the tiles in the bathrooms for this building that will soon become her home.   

Lorna, who has been living in a shelter, uses her free time to work as part of the self-sufficient housing project sponsored by the Venezuelan government.

“I’ve never imagined that I would have to learn how to glue ceramic tiles,” says Zambrano. “I’m a receptionist, that’s my job. And the heaviest thing I have ever lifted was a ballpoint pen."

Most workers are women with no previous knowledge of masonry or construction materials. Eight years ago, neighbors joined forces to build homes for their families. Now the plan is to complete two six-floor apartment buildings for 96 families.

Ircedia Boada is one of the beneficiaries who has been working since the beginning of the project.

“How does this work? The state provides us the material and resources and we provide the labor to make the building," said Boada.

According to official government figures, Venezuela’s housing program - called “Gran Mision Vivienda Venezuela'' - has built 4.4 million houses since 2011. The main goal is to reach five million by the end of 2024.

There are no recent official figures on the deficit of housing units in the country.

While the public sector claims to be meeting its goals, the Venezuelan construction chamber says the sector has suffered a sharp decline of 96 percent over the past decade. Arguing a combination of factors led to the decline, including the country’s hyperinflation, the coronavirus pandemic, government controls, and legal regulations for new projects. 

The Venezuelan Chamber of Construction says the current legal framework must change to encourage private investments. The legislation in place prohibits pre-sales of properties or loans paid in foreign currencies.

President of the Venezuelan Chamber of Construction Enrique Madureri says most of the construction activity passes through the control of the Venezuelan government.

“The state is the great owner of the oil industry, of the steel industry, of the cement industry,” explains Madureri. “It is also the great owner of the construction industry, leaving no space for private companies."

Some private development projects did take place in 2021.  Several high-rise office buildings and apartments were built in an upscale area of Venezuela’s capital.

However, the new buildings have not helped middle or lower-class Venezuelans. Like Pedro Pérez, who has been living at his mother's house along with his wife and two daughters. It’s a small two-bedroom apartment but it is his family’s only choice for now, despite having two jobs, Pedro is struggling to make ends meet, let alone being able to buy a house of his own.

“It’s hard because there’s no purchasing power and if there is no extra aid like a housing loan, or access to a mortgage is difficult, those are now restricted,” said Pérez.

At the construction in Antimano, at least, there is hope for a group of Venezuelan families to secure a home. The first building is almost done and they estimate it will be completed before the end of the year.

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