Despite Homeownership, Lourdes Struggles to Access Affordable Services on Mexico City’s Periphery
Lourdes moved from Charco Petatal to the hilly, outer neighborhood of Mexico City, Compositores Mexicanos, when she was 20 years old because her husband, Dionicio, inherited the property from his family.
“We would not like to go to live somewhere else,” Lourdes explains, given that the property value of her house seems to be increasing and she feels lucky not to pay rent. She also has an established community in Compositores Mexicanos. “We got used to living here. We have our family close and there is not as much insecurity as before.” The biggest improvement Lourdes has seen since moving 30 years ago was the street paving. “When there were no streets, there were many vandals because the patrols could not pass through unpaved streets,” she notes. Now, as a mother of two grown children, and a recent grandmother, Lourdes says that she typically feels safe in her neighborhood.
Another improvement to Compositores Mexicanos has been the addition of a new bus stop. “In the past, public transportation used to be 10 blocks down from home. Now it’s right in front of the house.” Twice a week at 4 a.m., she and her husband travel downtown to the Central de Abastos wholesale market to buy supplies for their market stand in Pastora by 9am. While she now feels “better connected” to downtown, which is 18 kilometers away, she still has concerns about her travel safety and the time it takes to commute. The bus ride downtown takes an hour and a half, and Lourdes says there are frequent bus accidents because operators drive aggressively on hilly streets to compete for passengers. Although the neighborhood also has an informal system of Volkswagens, known as vochos, it is typically less efficient and reliable than the formal bus system.
In terms of Lourdes’s experience with other city services, she says that she is satisfied, but still faces problems of access. As merchants in the local market, Lourdes and her husband earn US $156 per month on average, but their income is highly variable, and is often much less during the rainy season. “The household income depends on the sales made in the day,” she explains. “As traders, we do not have a fixed income and we lack any social security that a formal job could offer.” While Loudres is happy to have access to the city’s formal services, she worries that the variability threatens her families’ ability to pay their monthly property taxes and utility bills. Currently, these bills account for about 35 percent of Lourdes’s family’s income, which is approximately half of a single wage-earner’s salary in other common low-income occupations in Mexico City. Loudres says she and her daughter have struggled to pay the monthly electricity bill of $8.50, and that their supply has been cut off several times in the past.
Lourdes’s experience with her housing and the city’s services highlights the complex set of challenges faced by the urban-underserved. Although Mexico is considered an upper-middle income country and services are often more widespread than other parts of the world, the urban-underserved still encounter access and affordability challenges. Lourdes’s access to housing is the result of her husband’s inheritance—a unique benefit that would seem to give her a marginal advantage despite her family’s low income. Still, poor public transportation and the insecurity of her seasonal work in the informal sector keep Loudres and her family locked in to a cycle of poverty that may be difficult to overcome.