Evaluation of the effect of emergency housing on multidimensional poverty: the case of techo-argentina

Mitchell, Ann; Macció, Jimena (2018). 'Evaluation of the effect of emergency housing on multidimensional poverty: The case of TECHO-Argentina' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Access to adequate housing is one of the most pressing issues facing urban Latin America today. Of the 130 million families living in the region’s cities, 9 million live in a dwelling made of inadequate materials, 5 million experience overcrowding, 14 million have insecure tenancy and 21 million lack at least one basic service (electricity, water or sewerage) (Bouillon, 2012). Households that cannot afford to purchase housing through the market construct their own housing on unoccupied land, a people-led strategy of urban development that has led to the proliferation of informal settlements, or slums, throughout Latin America and the world (UNHabitat, 2016).

Social movements, cooperatives, self-help organizations and NGOs play a central role in these processes of people-led urbanization, by coordinating land occupations, facilitating access to public services and helping to improve housing conditions (Ortiz Flores, 2011). TECHO—an NGO created in 1997 in Chile—is one of the organizations working to improve living conditions in urban slums that has the broadest geographical scope in Latin America.

The objective of this paper is to evaluate the effects of TECHO’s emergency housing programme on multidimensional poverty. The TECHO programme provides a basic 18 square meter dwelling made of prefabricated wood panels and an insulated tin roof. Each dwelling is constructed on the plot of land where the household resides. The evaluation employs a quasi-experimental pipeline methodology and is based on household surveys conducted in 34 informal settlements in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It builds on the findings of two previous evaluations of TECHO’s emergency housing programme (Galiani et al., 2016; Simonelli, 2013).

The paper makes three main contributions to the expanding literature on the application of Sen’s capability approach to the evaluation of social programmes (Biggeri and Ferrannini, 2014; Lorgelly et al., 2010; Pham, 2017). First, it considers how to operationalize the capability approach in the measurement of programme outcomes (Sen, 1985). A review of the ample literature on the effects of housing on wellbeing and extensive field work in informal settlements led to the selection of the following outcome dimensions: physical health, psychological health, sleep, privacy, interpersonal relations and security. Moreover, as Sen has long argued that individual perceptions of wellbeing can be distorted by adaptive preferences, an effort was made to identify objective wellbeing indicators over subjective ones. Second, the paper demonstrates how the multidimensional poverty measure proposed by Alkire and Foster (2011) can be used to obtain additional insight into the impact of social programmes. It constructs an Alkire-Foster measure in six housing-related dimensions and then assesses the programme’s effects on the Alkire-Foster multidimensional head-count, poverty intensity and adjusted headcount measures. Finally, the paper proposes an empirical method—the Zero-inflated Poisson (ZIP) regression model (Lambert, 1992)—to jointly assess the effects of social programmes on the probability of being multidimensionally poor and on the accumulation of deprivations among the multidimensionally poor.

The paper has three main findings. First, it shows that TECHO’s emergency housing programme produces a large reduction in multidimensional poverty. The percentage of households classified as multidimensionally poor declines substantially, from 59 to 26 per cent. The dimensions in which there is the largest reduction in deprivation are psychological wellbeing, privacy, interpersonal relations and security. Sleep quality improves, but not hours of sleep. In health, the incidence of respiratory illness declines. The reduction in the incidence of multidimensional poverty along with a small reduction in poverty intensity together produce a sharp reduction in the Alkire-Foster adjusted headcount measure, which falls by more than half. This result is robust to variations in the poverty threshold. Second, the paper demonstrates that the magnitude of the programme’s effects is greatest for those households that were initially the poorest. Third, the results of the estimation of the ZIP model demonstrate that the housing programme is successful in both moving households over the multidimensional poverty threshold and moving the poorest households closer to the threshold by reducing the accumulation of deprivations experienced by the poor.

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