Bankers, Reformers, and Intellectuals Debating Modernity: The Origins of National Housing Policies in Colombia in the Aftermath of the Great Depression

Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:50 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom North (Marriott Wardman Park)
Susana Romero, Cornell University
In Colombia, during the Great Depression, urban businesses seemed to blossom, like banking and construction, while the agrarian sector was severely affected by indebtedness, lack of cash, and the abandonment by many of its population, who sought wage employment in the public works or the recently founded urban factories as an economic alternative. The extant historiography, mainly developed by economic historians, has strongly stated that the Great Depression was easily handled in Colombia and that it just accelerated big transformations, such as industrialization, urbanization, and state interventionism. However, this scholarship overlooks the fact that the particular ways in which the Colombian state intervened in the aftermath of the Depression to deal with social, political, and economic instability, generally by implementing reform policies, defined the nature and evolution of social policies in the mid-twentieth century.

In this paper, I trace the origins of the first national housing institution in Colombia, the Instituto de Crédito Territorial (ICT, Institute of Territorial Credit, a credit entity that would finance the improvement of rural housing) to grasp the historical forces that shaped housing policies in Colombia. By focusing on the intellectual and political debates spurred by the crisis, I identify what sectors were closely involved in conceptualizing and implementing social reforms, what their main social concerns were, and what political strategies they considered could efficiently help the state regulate social transformations. This process was shaped by the interplay of issues related to mass politics (the Depression made evident the need to assuage the agrarian conflict with social policies), state formation (the state perceived the democratization of credit for housing, for instance, an invaluable instrument to expand its reach to remote areas of the territory), and economic development (it became clear that economic crisis was intimately linked to political instability and social agitation).