Gentrification in Latin America


In recent years, gentrification in Latin America has skyrocketed, with Americans moving to cities such as México City, México and Medellín, Colombia in vast numbers. Due to this, the cost of living and day-to-day lives of locals have drastically changed. Housing prices have soared and culture has been dimmed. 

Many Americans moving to México City or Medellín go there as remote workers, earning their salaries in US Dollars and having the privilege of experiencing life as inexpensive relative to the money they make. The issue here is that their high salaries fund their homes and lifestyle, and as they have money to spare, landlords and businesses are inclined to increase their prices. This has brought about the major displacement of locals from their original homes. 

In 2022, “the number of foreigners with a temporary or permanent residence in México City increased by 23.8%… [and] the price of rent for apartments in the neighborhood of La Condesa increased by 66% in the last 24 months” (El Economista). Similar numbers can be reflected in Medellín where “the analyses show increases of up to 50% in the value of rents” (El Colombiano). And, “Laureles – a high-income neighborhood in Medellín… saw rent prices jump 80% just in the first four months of 2023” (Bloomberg). Locals are unable to meet the rising prices of rent with their incomes in Mexican or Colombian pesos, while Americans working remotely can do so with their salaries in USD. People are forced out of their homes due to factors outside of their control which are often unregulated too. 

Unfortunately, Americans seem to be quite ignorant of the harsh effect of their choices. They do not realize that the consequences of their moves to our countries include displacement and a watering down of our local cultures. Everything seems to be tailored to the American eye, to what will please the foreign mind and ease their experience. From giving them the comfort of speaking English, down to the new taste of food and feel of the environment, our hospitality provides the perfect life. As Americans take up more and more space, life for locals becomes tight as bills and life become harder to pay. 

Sofía González Lozano is Mexican and a first year IE student. “Besides the high prices, we are also talking about things where your own culture is being affected. For example – I know this may be irrelevant – but the salsas aren’t spicy anymore in a lot of places across México City,” González Lozano said, adding that “it is becoming very difficult to access a lot of places that were normally more accessible, such as housing. For example in México it used to be normal that if you lived in Polanco you had money and you were Mexican, but now if you live there it’s purely gringos who live there – the area is not as Mexican as it used to be. And, this is something that has developed very recently, it’s not something that dates decades back.” Gentrification’s effects are not just limited to economics but also to cultural effects.

It is strange to be on the welcoming side for gringos as it has not proven difficult to be so hospitable to Americans. They say that they come to our countries because they live a better life, but that tune rings so familiar – it’s the very same one we share with them when we move to the US. But, our stories are met with a hypocritical answer from Americans; to them, we are not deserving of those better lives in the US, and yet they act entitled when the same “better life” ideal is to be realized in our countries. Generations of Latinos have moved to the US in search of better professional and life opportunities, getting jobs in the US and being large contributors to the US economy, and they have been met with generally distasteful attitudes. We do not have the privilege of moving only partially, of keeping our jobs at home but our lives abroad as many Americans have been. Our countries reap negative effects with Americans moving in comfortably, but the spirit of generosity and hospitality that Latinos hold so dear has not wavered dramatically over the gringos’ entitlement to our land and life. 

Swinging back to Medellín, the city has become a place that functions on the basis of the wants and needs of foreigners. Medellín also experiences deep problems that are furthered by gentrification. In Medellín it is not uncommon to see many cases of “sex tourism”, where middle-aged, usually white, American men will take a younger paisa woman out on a date or out for an evening, and later followed by their prostitution. The city’s most touristic and beautiful zones become the outing place for the foreign men who take local women out in such a manner. This is an extreme outcome and manifestation of what gentrification can lead to; as gentrification rises, danger for locals appears in more ways than one – household insecurity, sex tourism, heightened costs of living, and so on. “El Parque Lleras, where many clubs and restaurants that are very visited by foreign tourists are located, has turned into a place where crimes related to human trafficking, narcotrafficking, and the exploitation of minors happen” (El País).

Two young girls of 12 and 13 years of age were being prostituted in a recent case by an American tourist called Timothy Allan Livingston. He had taken the two girls to his hotel room and was “discovered thanks to a citizen’s alert” (El País). He was let free with no charges to his name. No charges for having endangered the lives of two girls: not women, they are young girls. “In Colombia prostitution is not illegal nor is it penalized” But due to this recent case, Mayor of Medellín Federico Gutiérrez signed two decrees, the first of which bans the offering of sex tourism in the Poblado area and the second of which sets a curfew on bars in the area (El País). 

“Sex tourism is a manifestation of a much greater problem that carries other complex difficulties” (El País). Dealing with such a tense dynamic that is so entangled with the effects of gentrification is not going to be a simple task. But both the weeds and the root need to be dealt with. The government must ensure safety for women and girls, as well as ensure stability in the economy and life for everyone local to the city. 

In terms of dealing with the first, it would be important to evaluate how effective a ban on sex tourism in Poblado is for keeping young women safe, and test it alongside other possible policies and security enforcements. These are highly intertwined. For both Medellín and México City it would be valuable to look at methods of regulating foreigner residency that other cities across the world have implemented. For example, Amsterdam has a limit on the amount of days that people can rent and the Portuguese government incentivizes owners to make their properties long-term rent friendly. Such government policies could be the change needed to restructure the relationship that cities have with foreigners, and may prevent gentrification.

Featured image by: CasaCol

Eloise Dayrat
Eloise Dayrat
I am a first year LLBBIR student. I am Colombian and French, but grew up in the US. I am also lactose intolerant, but my breakfast is still yogurt every morning. Sometimes I order my coffee with oat milk in it to compensate. I love music and spend the entirety of my excessively long metro ride to IE discovering artists. I love to run – that is when I don’t have class at 8am. And, I like to write, particularly about politics, history, and social movements and relations.

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