Venezuela Tries To Put Brakes On Housing Shortage By Turning Old Cars Into New Homes

Looking for a new home in Venezuela, where there is a massive housing shortage, is not easy.

But now the country is looking to put the brakes on the problem.

The government of President Nicolás Maduro announced this week that it would be collecting thousands of abandoned cars – along with motorcycles and bikes – to use as housing material in an attempt to stem the ever-growing housing shortage in the South American nation.

"We have sent 10,485 automobiles, 9,651 motorbikes and 539 bicycles to the national steel industry," Maria Martinez, a deputy justice minister, said during a visit to an abandoned car deposit outside Caracas, according to Reuters.

Martinez added that the old cars could be used for rebars, which reinforce concrete, in the construction of tens of thousands of housing units. Production of Venezuela rebars in March was at an 18-year monthly low of 8,796 tons, down from 46,051 tons in March of 2013.

Housing for Venezuelans has been a contentious issue for the socialist government of Venezuela, ever since late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez announced the "Great Venezuelan Housing Mission" to build or refurbish more than 250,000 housing units in 2012 for low-income families. The number was dropped to 150,000 in 2013.

When Chávez was sworn in as president in 1999, the country already suffered a major shortage of housing, a problem that grew from heavy migration to urban slums and a construction industry that had focused on building homes largely for the middle class and the affluent.

The country's housing deficit has long been more severe than those of many other Latin American nations, said Paulina Villanueva, who heads the Villanueva Foundation, a Caracas-based think tank that analyzes urban planning.

The problem goes back to the 1940s and '50s, when the growth of Venezuela's oil industry and the decline of its farming economy prompted many to migrate to the cities in search of jobs, Villanueva said. She said that for much of Chávez's presidency, the government seems to have had priorities other than the housing crisis.

Many poor Venezuelans live crammed in slum housing with zinc roofs, sometimes lacking running water. Others have seized abandoned buildings where they live as squatters.

Hundreds of such squatters fill an unfinished 45-story skyscraper in Caracas that has been abandoned since the mid-1990s. Often known as the Tower of David after the late entrepreneur David Brillembourg, who invested in the building, the high-rise's helicopter pad marks a strong contrast to the smashed windows that leave many occupants exposed to the wind and rain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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