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Latin America Gentrified: How A Rent Gap Can Change Everything

Gentrification is affecting many Latin American cities. As residents push back, there are worries that existing residents and cultures alike will be erased.

Image of housing inequality in Sante Fe, Mexico City

Mexico City's Santa Fe neighborhood

Mariana Guerrero

MEXICO CITY — In Latin American cities such as Medellín, Buenos Aires and Mexico City, real estate rental prices have increased considerably, with values even above inflation. The problem arises as a consequence of the construction, and remodeling of old buildings or houses, in neighborhoods located on the outskirts of large cities which have been left in the hands of real estate developers or businessmen. One of the main impacts of these decisions is an increase in social inequality.

Gentrification occurs when low-income or middle-class residents are displaced by a population with greater economic power. The wealthier people then settle in neighborhoods that are often considered "disreputable", according to Carla Escoffié, a lawyer specializing in human rights and housing issues.

“They arrive in these places and begin to impact the consumption dynamics, the price of rent, cost of living and other factors. They generate a revaluation, then prices start to rise until the original population begins to be displaced symbolically and economically,” says Escoffié.

New forms of inequality

The impact of gentrification is difficult to measure, but it is already visible in different parts of Latin America. Experts have identified neighborhoods such as Lastarria in Santiago de Chile (Chile), Bogotá's Chapinero, San Felipe, La Candelaria, and La Perseverencia (Colombia), Buenos Aires's Palermo (Argentina), Las Mercedes in Asunción (Paraguay), and neighborhoods in Mexico City, such as Roma, Mérida and around Parque Morelos in Guadalajara (Mexico).

In Colombia, Medellín is emerging as a new focus of gentrification, together with the municipalities of Envigado and Guatapé. Experts attribute the phenomenon to the high influx of foreign tourists, who accounted for 53.1% of total visitors in 2022 alone, according to Cotelco figures. (Cotelco is the association of hotels and tourism in Colombia.)

In the case of Guatapé, the construction of a social housing building in a traditional area was approved. These properties were designed for families with difficulties accessing housing, but with prices starting at 159 million pesos (around US$ 9 million), when typically prices in the area are never above 120 million pesos (less than US$ 7 million).

Mexico City is also at further risk of gentrification after the government signed an agreement with UNESCO and Airbnb last October to promote "digital nomad" tourism.

The criticism is not directed at the buyers and their origins, but rather at the way they ramp up prices

In the Mexican capital, 2023 began with an 16% average increase in housing prices. In some areas, the increase has already reached 64% in recent years.

"Something has to be done in terms of regulating the housing agreement. Despite the fact that during the pandemic demand dropped, tenants preferred to keep their homes empty instead of lowering prices," says Max Jaramillo, an expert on social inequalities in Mexico.

The problems with digital nomads

Gentrification also translates into inequalities. Melina Pekholtz, codirector of Territorio Paralelos in Paraguay, argues that for a city to be safe and livable, it is necessary for the upper, middle and lower classes to interact in the same space and converge in public where everyone should be equal.

“We need to understand that we cannot create ghettos, that we cannot create neighborhoods for the rich and neighborhoods for the poor because that generates vulnerability, social gaps and violence,” she said.

Since there is such a large housing deficit, people cannot become independent.

On the other hand, those who oppose these real estate projects have been criticized and branded as xenophobic as most of the occupants are foreigners. The criticism is not directed at the buyers and their origins, but rather at the way they ramp up prices for locals. "We cannot ignore the fact that the foreigners are arriving from the global north. From the United States, Canada and Europe. There is an imbalanced dynamic simply because of their purchasing power," says Escoffié.

Foreigners are arriving in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, or Medellín, for short periods of time or permanent stays, to live in areas from which the local population have been physically and symbolically displaced.

Image of a \u200bMarch against the adjustment to social assistance programs, Buenos Aires

March against the adjustment to social assistance programs, Buenos Aires

© Esteban Osorio / ZUMA

The impact on the most vulnerable

The people most affected by this phenomenon are those in vulnerable situations.

"Since there is such a large housing deficit, especially of affordable housing, people cannot become independent. Women are often force to continue living with their extended families, or remain in violence situations if they have abusive partners," says Melina Pekholtz.

Many of the people displaced from these neighborhoods, where they had been living for years, have taken to the streets to protest the lack of state regulation and show their indignation. For example, in Mexico City, there have been protests against the agreement reached with Airbnb.

"People forget that for the person it is not just about leaving the physical house, it is about leaving a place tied to their family and neighborhood community," says Max Jaramillo.

Supporting people, not investments

Gentrification must be analyzed beyond the four walls of the building from which people are being displaced, because along with it, cultural and traditional practices are also being marginalized.

Jaramillo explains that the resistance to these projects is based on a defense of dignity and what is built in the territory: the social and community fabric.

Experts agree that state intervention is necessary for a sector that is not operating under the logic of the free market. It is also urgent to evaluate of the impacts of this type of project before their approval. Warning show that rents will continue to rise if dynamics that are happening in these areas are not controlled.

It is a call for respect to the dynamics and customs of citizens and their spaces. Instead of allowing investment that displaces people and their culture, we should invest in support and guarantees for those who already live in these places.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

The Problem With Calling Hamas "Nazis"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have referred to Hamas militants as "the new Nazis." But as horrific as the Oct. 7 massacre was, what does it really mean to make such a comparison 80 years after the Holocaust? And how can we rightly describe what's happening in Gaza?

photo of man wearing a kippah with a jewish star

A pro-Israel rally in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Paulo Lopes/ZUMA
Daniela Padoan


TURIN — In these days of horror, we've seen dangerous equivalences, half-truths and syllogisms continue to emerge: between Israelis and Jews, between Palestinians and Hamas, between entities at "war."

The conversation makes it seem that there are two states with symmetrical power. Instead, on one side, there is a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization with both a political and a military wing; on the other, a democratic state — although it has elements in the majority that advocate for a mono-ethnic and supremacist society — equipped with a nuclear arsenal and one of the most powerful armies in the world.

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And in the middle? Civilians violated, massacred, and taken hostage in the horrific massacre of Oct. 7. Civilians trapped and torn apart in Gaza under a month-long siege and bombardment.

And then we also have Israeli civilians led into war and ideological radicalization by a government that recklessly exploits that most unhealable wound of the Holocaust.

On Oct. 17, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to Hamas militants as "the new Nazis." On Oct. 24, he drew a comparison between Jewish children hiding in attics to escape terrorists and Anne Frank. On the same day, he likened the massacre on Oct. 7 to the Babij Yar massacre carried out in 1941 by the Einsatzgruppen, the SS operational units responsible for extermination. In the systematic elimination of Jews in Kyiv, they deceitfully gathered 33,771 men and women, forced them to descend into a ravine, lie down on top of the bodies of those who were already dead or dying, and then shot them.

The "Nazification" of opponents, or the "reductio ad Hitlerum," to use the expression coined in the 1950s by the German-Jewish political philosopher Leo Strauss, who fled Nazi Germany in 1938, is a symbolic strategy that has been abused for decades to discredit one's adversary.

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