TBY talks to Rosendo Pujol Mesalles, Minister of Housing and Human Settlements, on inclusive housing, social peace, and the benefits of bonos.

Rosendo Pujol Mesalles
Rosendo Pujol Mesalles is the Minister of Housing and Human Settlements and professor at the University of Costa Rica. In 1991, he helped found the research program on Sustainable Urban Development (ProDUS) and was its director until 2014. He holds a doctorate in urban and regional planning, with an emphasis on transport and physical planning, a master’s in urban and regional planning, with an emphasis on urban policies, and a master’s of science in structural engineering with an emphasis on seismic risk and civil engineering.

In which areas is the ministry investing the majority of its resources?

We have a group of stakeholders that includes two public institutions the MIVAH and the second floor bank (BANHVI). The BANHVI has financial entities, which directly deal with the builders and the people in need of housing, and their organizations. The system is celebrating its 30th birthday this year. It has changed throughout time. It used to be a bank that made loans to poor families, but long ago political decisions transformed in an institution that only give grants (bonos) to families. On the other hand, another component of the bank gives loans to financial institutions in order to lend to middle class families. The system has been essential in helping to maintain the social peace in Costa Rica. For example, recent studies have shown that among families that have received a housing unit from the state, the educational performance of their children is much better. Female teenagers who live in a house given by the system are 30% more likely to finish their secondary education. The government's goal is to provide the poorest people (with no plot for the house) 9,600 housing units by the end of its term.

How does the ministry work with private construction companies to provide housing to the poorest people?

The most critical point is that some of the houses built in the past were badly located out of cities and towns. We need to build houses and apartments closer or inside cities and towns. We are part of the same system. We talk and work with all the stakeholders in order to change procedures and priorities. At this point, some of the construction companies are in a comfort zone and do not want to change. That's the tension we have with them; we want to be able to assure the country that people are receiving the housing subsidies, particularly the poorest of the poor. With the Puente al Desarrollo program, this government established a "contract" with families meeting certain requirements in order to receive support.

How do you see the sector evolving in five years' time?

I am optimistic about housing construction for the middle class, because the economic growth of the country, the low inflation, and the lowering interest rates are opening many housing opportunities for the middle class. Of course, the margin of intermediation by the financial institutions has to decrease, the competition among the builders has to increase, and the regulations should be more effective. The contribution to the economy is going to grow to double digits in the next two years. With respect to housing for the poor paid by the state we expect the programs to continue around 10,000 solutions per year. We hope that most of the homes and apartments will be built close to or inside the cities.

What are the ministry's main goals for the next year?

From a popular housing point of view, we want to increase the assignment of resources by at least 15-20%, depending on this year's results. The other goal is to update the urban regulations that are part of our obligations as the Ministry of Human Settlements, such as the modifications of condominium regulations, and but not the law in itself. Accelerate the construction of collective grants (bonos comunales) for different purposes, in particular building the winning projects of the two competitions for improving open spaces.