Linking Migration to Housing and Urban Planning in Guatemala

Housing Laboratory on Migration and Cities in Guatemala


On October 29, 2020, the second virtual session of the Housing Laboratory on Migration and Cities in Guatemala (LAV for its initials in Spanish) took place. The Housing Laboratory’s objective was to explore the role of urban and land use planning in the context of international migration and return migration. It further considered how these processes can be integrated into Guatemala’s National Housing Council’s (CONAVI) ongoing efforts to update Guatemala’s National Policy on Housing and Human Settlements in order to guarantee access to decent housing and boost local economic development. To anchor the discussion, the Laboratory addressed three city cases with urban planning processes underway, each of which differs in scale and migration dynamics: (i) an intermediate city in a metropolitan area: Amatitlán; (ii) an association of municipalities (mancomunidad in Spanish): MANCUERNA; and (iii) a small city: Salcajá.

The Laboratory was organized by the Inter-American Dialogue’s Migration, Remittances, and Development Program in collaboration with Cities Alliance -member of the Executive Committee of the Urban Housing Practitioners Hub (UHPH)-, the AVINA Foundation, the National Housing Council of Guatemala (CONAVI), the Municipality of Amatitlán, the Commonwealth of Municipalities of the Naranjo River Basin (MANCUERNA), Propuesta Urbana, MICOOPE Cooperativa Salcajá, and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). The Housing Laboratory was carried out within the framework of the Global Cities and Migration Joint Work Program implemented by Cities Alliance and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, in its Guatemala chapter.

Key Points of Discussion:

  1. The housing conditions in areas that experience high levels of out-migration, internal migration, and return migration have changed drastically in recent years. In urban areas, there is an increasing quantitative deficit, with many families without housing because they don't own land, they are renting, or they share housing with another family. While in rural areas there is an increasing qualitative deficit, with a high concentration of houses that do not meet the minimum safety standards. 
  2. In Guatemala, informality surrounding housing and remittances jeopardizes the possibility of generating a virtuous cycle through which savings built upon remittances flow into housing finance and facilitate access to decent housing. This informality can be found in construction practices, land ownership, and the extent to which remittance recipients formalize their savings in the financial system.
  3. To mitigate informality in housing, municipalities must provide a simple and speedy process for land tenure regularization. To this end, they should work to fill in information gaps regarding land ownership, risk, and normative frameworks. Priority areas include strengthening land registries, specifically, in terms of construction projects, conducting risk mapping to identify where building is prohibited, and outlining clear norms and standards for land use planning, urban development, and real estate market dynamics.
  4. Strategies to mitigate credit risk are key to opening up access to credit for internal migrants, returned migrants, and families that receive remittances. Channels for doing so may include financial education programs, insurance options coupled with credit, loans for supervised housing, and allowing credit seekers to use evidence of accumulated and stable remittance income as a wage history.
  5. Municipalities play a key role in providing planning mechanisms that (i) promote construction in adequate locations and (ii) ensure that infrastructure and services are available in accordance with established and geographically identifiable social, economic, and environmental priorities. In order to lead this process effectively, municipalities must strengthen their institutional capacity and seek cooperation among diverse stakeholders, including actors at the inter-municipal level.
  6. Local economic development strategies must promote skilled employment as well as entrepreneurship. Relevant actions in this realm include demand-driven vocational training, channeling resources from remittances into promising business sectors, public-private partnerships, and labor market intermediation platforms.

The event report along with the concept note which helps contextualize the discussion and outlines the objectives and expected results of the Housing Laboratory can be downloaded below.

Watch the full event recording in Spanish here:


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