Can a property deed, a piece of paper, change people’s lives? Inspired by academic research showing a positive relationship between legal property ownership and social indicators such as education levels, we set out to find and analyze data on irregular settlers in and around Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital.
We knew that as journalists we would struggle to conduct in-depth data analysis by ourselves, so we worked in partnership with the Urban and Housing Policy Research Center at the Torcuato Di Tella University, our first formal collaboration with the academic world. In order to see if there was a relationship between legal property ownership and social indicators, we needed to know when property deeds had been delivered in neighborhoods for which census data on education, health, income and other indicators was available.
The first steps were not auspicious. One of our biggest challenges was that data in Argentina is scarce and not always systematized. The City of Buenos Aires is its own province, while the city outskirts are part of the Province of Buenos Aires, which is further subdivided into different municipalities. These municipalities can be quite large; La Matanza, for example, has a population of nearly 1.8 million.
After weeks of gathering data, meeting with public officials and talking with different sources, we concluded that it would be impossible for us to collect the necessary data for the Greater Buenos Aires area. Instead, we decided to narrow our focus on public housing in the City of Buenos Aires for which we had both the data on apartments with formal property deeds and the social indicators in the relevant areas.
Our analysis confirmed previous findings that there is a relationship between legal ownership and social indicators. When people don’t hold property deeds to their public housing apartments, they are more likely to live in overcrowded homes and in poor sanitary conditions. They are also more likely to have higher unemployment levels and lower levels of education.
Residents living in 17 percent of the 52,000 public housing apartments in Buenos Aires do not hold property deeds. Our reporting helps shed light on their struggles. The construction and maintenance problems in a number of the capital’s public housing buildings are severe.
The government’s failure to complete the land tenure process makes it more difficult for residents to take care of their homes and advocate for their rights.
Our experience with this project revealed that collaborating with an academic partner allowed us to conduct a much deeper investigation and produce new data. We believe our research can be valuable not only to journalists but to policymakers in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America seeking to make evidence-based public policies.
In addition to the journalistic piece, we also produced a video that shows the living conditions in the capital’s public housing complexes and features testimonies from the residents themselves. We also made all the data available and produced a working paper (in Spanish).