The fight of housing cooperatives against gentrification in the Historic Centre of San Salvador

Natalia Quiñónez

Published in Issue 1.2 // Retrospectives

Keywords: housing cooperatives, informal rental markets, collective property, historic centres, Latin America


The Historic Centre of San Salvador, in El Salvador’s capital city, hosts a history of disputes regarding access to land, housing, public spaces and basic services. In this article, the struggle of the centre’s inhabitants for more decent housing is an example of how people can change power relations embedded in cities as contested as those of Latin America. Through cooperative organization, precariously housed inhabitants reclaimed their right to be part of urban transformations despite gentrification and turistification pressures. Inhabitants proposed the collectivization of property and bottom-up decision-making through the establishment of housing cooperatives. Although the central government has faced challenges for assimilating and supporting their proposals, joint coordination is providing results. Allowing space for inhabitants’ participation at the policy-making level has enabled cooperatives to become firm opponents of informal rentiership and land underutilization. Results so far constitute an unprecedented attempt of developing adequate housing from a human right’s perspective, not as a commodity. The housing cooperatives in San Salvador’s Centro Histórico, to this end, provide some insightful lessons of resistance.

Natalia Quiñónez is a Salvadoran economist currently studying a Masters programme in Sustainable Territorial Development at KU Leuven, Belgium. At FUNDASAL, she worked with housing cooperatives from the project evaluation area.

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