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“Homes with Value”: Property Reform, Mortgage Finance, and the Remaking of the Mexican City


This dissertation examines how the shift from post-revolutionary to market-oriented land and housing policies transformed the meaning of land, home, and property in Mexico’s fastest growing city, Cancún. During the 1990s, technocratic reformers sought to open the Mexican economy to free market forces. Two reforms in particular were key to this effort: the individualization of the ejidal system of communal property and the reform of the country’s social housing agency, Infonavit into a mortgage finance institution. Ejidal reform made previously inalienable land legible to the market, transforming urban adjacent ejidal property into an investable commodity. The reform of Infonavit transformed previously creditless low-income workers into housing consumers by providing government-backed mortgage finance to millions. In short, ejidal reform unlocked vast swaths of urban real estate for private investment, while the reform of Infonavit provided crucial financing for the construction of new suburban landscapes. Nearly thirty years later, the material effects of these reforms are evident in the sprawling, uniform tracts of concrete row houses lining the periphery of cities across Mexico. However, I maintain that the most profound transformations ushered in through these reforms lays in people’s sense of belonging to their homes, their communities, and the nation. Infonavit and ejidal reforms replaced the idea that property should serve a “social function”—a concept foundational to the post-revolutionary constitution—with the idea that property must function in a free market. This conceptual shift had far-reaching implications for ejidatarios, Infonavit creditees, and homeowners. I find that the affective investment in ejidal land as a patrimonial possession has been replaced by an emphasis on its market value. Among Mexico’s new class of low-income homeowners, I find that the cultural pursuit for a home as patrimonio motivated a broad desire to become homeowners. Indeed, this desire was crucial to fueling the rapid expansion of mortgage and home construction markets. As owners via finance, low-income homeowners became enmeshed in incommensurable logics for understanding a home’s value. I argue that as financialized commodity, a house belies the economic and affective security implied in the traditional notion of the home as patrimonio.

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