Santo Tomás Población (low income community), in the district of La Pintana, comprises 20 social housing developments, with approximately 55 thousand people (SECPLA, 2015) in a territory of 145 hectares (358 acres). Its area is limited by Santo Tomás on the north, El Observatorio Avenue on the south (adjacent to the land of La Platina, large vacant land assigned for an urban development project), Bahía Catalina on the east, and Santa Rosa Avenue on the west.
Map of Santo Tomás
From the early 1980s to the early 1990s, the district of La Pintana, located on the south of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, worked as a receptacle of social housing, as a product of massive eradications occurred during the military dictatorship. The population of La Pintana grew more than 90 thousand people, represent the highest (and fastest) growth rate in its history. As a result, La Pintana grew divided in four unconnected sectors, with urbanization processes in different times: La Pintana Centro, El Castillo, El Roble and Santo Tomás, the latter located in the northeastern area of La Pintana.
Santo Tomás Población appeared as a result of forced eradications and access to subsidies from the current state housing agency (SERVIU), specifically during 1987. From that year, the first housing developments emerged, social housing units below 36 square meters (387 square feet), like Vila Quinto Centenario, in the oldest area. In each four-story multi-family building (called blocks) reside up to 48 families, in a high density situation. A minor group arrived to Santo Tomás due to the eradications that occurred in the San Bernardo district of Santiago, given the low quality of housing, and were settled in the area of San Alberto. The first impressions of the residents about living in Santo Tomás were of rejection, due to the lack of basic services. As a female local leader in her fifties says: “there were no schools, basic services or jobs available. Not even close to our place”. For many residents, the fact of coming from different districts of Santiago, and of not being the product of any land squatter or emblematic self-administered process, leaves this población without any identity. For a female resident in her forties, “this población lacks history. They (we) put us a fictitious date to celebrate our anniversary”. The first zones that were developed were the single-family housing located in sectors 6 and 7 (yellow color in Figure 3 below). Later, sectors 4 and 5 of Santo Tomás, between Sofía Eastman, Aníbal Huneus and Gabriela Figueroa streets (orange color), and the sectors of Santa Rosa and Sofía Eastman, together with Observatorio Avenue in 1995 (red color).
According to residents, the lack of facilities is a problem that extends up to present; there is no supermarket or pharmacy, and there are serious problems in the coverage of basic services. In the words of a female residents in her fifties, “there is just one primary healthcare facility that has a capacity for just 10 thousand people”. Neighbors relate this problem to a sense municipal abandonment, which derives of a sort of punishment for being a “non-voting” area, in comparison with the other areas of La Pintana.
In organizational terms, residents highlight that ten years ago the organization was much more solid, and that a ‘social board’ existed as an alternative way of working with the municipality. According to a female resident in her forties, “in those years [the main local leaders] have the strategy of working directly with the central government and not with the municipality, as a way of making their demands heard”. Today, the organization is in a critical point, and there are areas that do not have a Junta de Vecinos (local council) or a sede social (local venue). A female local leader in her fifties, summarizes the historical identity of Santo Tomás: “each one builds its history: our history is a result of a debt, and essentially, of the abandonment from the state”.
In addition, there is the stigma of living in La Pintana, one of the poorest and most peripheral districts of Greater Santiago. This way, there is sensation of having a triple stigma: a discrimination from the municipality for being a non-voting area, a local and metropolitan discrimination for the reputation of Santo Tomás Población, and a metropolitan and even national discrimination for being in La Pintana. Thus, the perception of attachment and identification with the place is crossed with a strong categorization from outside that imposes a negative identity. The experience of residing in a peripheral and underequipped area as Santo Tomás leads to contradictory feelings among its residents, as a female local leader says: “living in Santo Tomás is going out of all the centralism and chaos of the city. However, the lack of jobs makes it a dormitory neighborhood”.