CARACAS – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that he will order $1 billion invested in the construction of “at least 25,000 homes” in Caracas as part of his government’s efforts to move the city’s poorest residents out of the capital’s at-risk zones.
Chavez, at a press conference for foreign journalists, said that he will take the funds from the $20 billion loan extended by China in exchange for a guaranteed supply of Venezuelan oil.
With $1 billion, he said, “we can make at least 25,000 homes.”
The president also asked the National Assembly “to work on a special law” to confront the housing deficit “as a state problem” in Venezuela.
“I want to directly assume that responsibility,” Chavez said, adding that he would continue urging the private sector to build and sell houses at “fair” prices.
Chavez said that he conceived the project to build at least 25,000 houses in the capital after the deaths of at least 14 people over the past week, after their rickety dwellings collapsed due to heavy rains that have drenched Caracas.
Last Friday, the president admitted that one of the “debts” his government owes to the country after his 11 years in office is “the gigantic” problem of the housing deficit.
Venezuela is facing a deficit of about 2 million housing units, and the Venezuelan Construction Chamber says that the country needs to construct some 200,000 units annually to overcome the situation.
In 2009, 98,000 housing units were built nationwide, but this year that figure could fall to 60,000 because of investment problems and the scarcity of basic construction materials such as cement and steel, the chamber says on its Web site.
Chavez said last week that building “small earthquake-proof buildings” in those areas of Caracas would result in “lowering the (population) density” of the city’s hillsides, where millions of poor Venezuelans have erected shacks and other rudimentary housing.
The president, over the past four years, has appointed about eight ministers in the housing area in a so-far-failed attempt to reduce the housing deficit.
In recent years, he has also signed agreements with partner countries to build low-cost housing, but the rate of progress on those projects has never been officially revealed.
Chavez nationalized the cement industry in April 2008 amid repeated complaints that the government’s housing construction plans were being delayed due to the shortfall in that essential material, a situation that allegedly had resulted from the fact that cement-makers were exporting the majority of their production.
The president’s announcement came one day after the Venezuelan legislative elections, in which his United Socialist Party of Venezuela saw its majority in the national legislature fall below the two-thirds mark. EFE