Allegados (Chile)

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Location: Chile
Author: Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren
Affiliation: Development Planning Unit, Bartlett Faculty, University College London

By Ignacia Ossul-Vermehren

The term allegado (literally: ‘close,’ ‘near’ or ‘related’) is used in Chile to refer to poor families or individuals who live in the homes of their relatives. Allegados usually do not pay rent, but make small contributions toward household utilities and other expenses. Seventy-five per cent of allegados affirm that they live in this way for economic reasons (MIDEPLAN 2013 [1]). Typically, they occupy a single room in their relatives’ house, though they may also live in a larger part of the house. In this respect, allegados differ from South Africa’s backyarders, who build a shack in the backyard of a shared plot (Gilbert and Crankshaw 1999[2]).

In countries where the poor cannot access housing through alternative practices such as informal settlements, renting or sharing existing housing stock becomes the only way to access accommodation. This is particularly the case in big cities where land is scarce (UN-Habitat 2003[3]). Gilbert (2014[4]) points out that, contrary to general assumptions, most informal dwellers in developing countries do not live in their own accommodation (that is, in informal settlements) but rather rent or share accommodation. Relatively little attention has been paid to this phenomenon because of its ‘invisibility.’ It is only in the recent years that the authorities, academics and policy-makers have begun to recognise the prevalence of this practice.

Allegados became a significant feature of Chile’s housing scene following the social-housing projects launched by the military regime of 1973-1990. These were large-scale projects, constructed mainly by the private-sector but financed by the Ministry of Housing, usually on the outskirts of cities. While the mass construction of housing helped to reduce the housing deficit, its poor design, location and social conditions had a negative impact on people’s quality of life (Rodríguez and Sugranyes, 2004[5]). As a result, many young adults preferred to set up home in their relatives’ houses rather than apply for a housing subsidy. While doing research in Chile, Collins and Lear (1995:156[6]) observed allegados and described the phenomenon as follows:

The simple houses of the poblaciones [poor neighbourhoods] often are home to two to four extra families. These allegado (drop-in) families, often adult children of the owner of the house, live with their spouses and children one family to a bedroom, often three children to a bed. Within four walls they try to create a nuclear family life, each family usually with its own TV and separate paraffin or gas stove.
In the Municipality of San Joaquin, Metropolitan Region (Chile) there are 44.079 inhabitants which live as allegados. They have organised into 29 different Housing Committees to apply collectively to social housing, nevertheless due to scarce land in the area and long housing waiting lists only a few have managed to secure a land and acquired social housing. The rest waits as allegados, sharing a reduced space with their host family and waiting for the dream of owning their own house.

Every two years, Chile’s Ministry of Social Development carries out a survey of households’ economic conditions. More than half of the country’s total housing deficit is accounted for by people living as allegados, while the rest are people living in poor housing conditions or informal settlements. Allegados are classified as ‘external’ or ‘internal.’ External allegados are two or more families living in the same house or site but with separate budgets, while internal allegados are two or more families sharing a single budget (for example, a daughter who lives with her partner and their child in her parents’ house and off her parents’ income). The number of allegados is calculated by the ratio between the number of families and houses (external allegados), or the ratio between nuclear families and the main family (internal allegados) (MIDEPLAN, 2013[7]).

Chile’s allegados differ from house-sharers in other parts of the world in several important ways. Whereas informal residents in Peru, Venezuela and Mexico have been able to settle on land on the outskirts of the big cities, in Chile such land occupation fell drastically under the military regime because of violence towards illegal occupants. In circumstances where occupying land on the edge of the city became more difficult, renting and sharing inside the city became more common.

The situation in Chile also differs from that in countries where there is high migration from the countryside into the towns. In such cases, it is common for rural migrants to seek temporary accommodation in the city, often sharing with another family for a short period until they can find a permanent home. In the case of Chile, however, most allegados are city-born and can stay in this type of arrangement for several years (UN-Habitat 2003[8]).

Another key distinction between Chile and other countries is that in Chile the occupants of a house, both host family and allegados, all tend to be members of a single extended family. It is for example common for young couples or single mothers to return to or remain in their parents’ houses. This reflects the fact that the family acts as a key social network in Chilean society, especially for poor communities.

Many allegados see this as a semi-permanent arrangement (Arriagada 1999[9]) with as many as 65 per cent stating that they are not looking for another solution in the near future (MIDEPLAN 2013[10]). However, it is important to note that often both allegados and their host-families find the arrangement far from ideal. This apparent contradiction reflects the complexity of the situation. The cramped nature of the space occupied by the family members creates potential sources of tension such as the threat of sexual assault or the discomfort of limited space in which to carry out daily activities. As a result, the practice can carry high psychological costs. Where possible, therefore, people who have lived as allegados (usually when they were starting a family of their own) try to move out of the family home to unoccupied land. However, most of them stay as allegados.

Allegados have been a key factor in Chilean housing policy since the military regime ended in 1990. Since then, allegados have fought to be recognised in state assessments of the national housing deficit—they refer to themselves as ‘the biggest invisible settlement in the country’—and their plight has prompted some housing policy reforms. An emblematic case was that of the Toma de Peñalolen housing movement (toma¸ meaning ‘take,’ refers here to the illegal seizure of land). In the 1990s, when the housing problem was supposed to have been resolved, 1,800 allegado families seized private land in Santiago and created an informal settlement, claiming the right to remain in the area and not to be pushed out of the city (Castillo 2010[11]). Thanks to its highly organised leadership, clear demands and at times radical collective action, Toma de Peñalolen had a strong influence on housing policy. In 2006, a location subsidy was introduced, providing additional funding on top of the existing housing-subsidy scheme in order to allow the building of social housing in more desirably located land.

Scholars and allegados movements alike recognise the practice of allegados not only as a response to the shortage of housing but also as a manifestation of poverty more generally. As a coping strategy, sharing accommodation helps people to deal not only with homelessness but also with other vulnerabilities such as limited childcare, access to jobs in the city or alternatives for domestic abuse victims. In this sense, a better examination of allegados introduces new elements enabling us to better understand the relationship between housing and vulnerability. Allegados movements are accordingly campaigning to be recognised as a symbol of inequality and to highlight the social and political significance of the housing deficit and of poverty more widely.


  1. MIDEPLAN (Ministry of Social Development, Chile). 2013. Encuesta CASEN 2013. Vivienda sintesis de resultados
  2. Gilbert, A. and Crankshaw, O. 1999. ‘Comparing South African and Latin American Experience: Migration and Housing.’ Urban Studies, 36(13) 2375
  3. UN ̶̶Habitat. 2003. Rental Housing: An essential option for the urban poor in developing countries. Nairobi, Kenya. and
  4. Gilbert, A. 2014. ‘Arrendatarios y autoconstrucción: selección y restricciones en el mercado de viviendas en los países de menores ingresos,’ Revista De Estudios Urbano Regionales, 13: 39-40
  5. Rodriguez, A. and Sugranyes, A. (2004). El problema de vivienda de los con techo (Vol. 30). Santiago: Ediciones Sur
  6. Collins, J. and Lear, J. 1995. Chile's Free Market Miracle: A Second Look. Oakland: Food First Books
  7. MIDEPLAN (Ministry of Social Development, Chile). 2013. Encuesta CASEN 2013. Vivienda sintesis de resultados
  8. UN ̶̶Habitat. 2003. Rental Housing: An essential option for the urban poor in developing countries. Nairobi, Kenya. and
  9. Arrigada, C., Icaza, A. M. and Rodríguez, A. 1999. ‘Allegamiento, pobreza y políticas públicas. Santiago: Temas Sociales.’ Boletín del Programa de Pobreza y Políticas Sociales No.25 SUR Corporación de Estudios Sociales y Educación
  10. MIDEPLAN (Ministry of Social Development, Chile). 2013. Encuesta CASEN 2013. Vivienda sintesis de resultados
  11. Castillo, M. J. 2010. ‘Producción y gestión habitacional de los pobladores. Participación desde abajo en la construcción de vivienda y barrio en Chile.’ Derecho a la Vivienda y a la Ciudad, 6