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Government looks to legalize informal houses in favelas

. Oct 30, 2020
favelas land brazil Rocinha, in Rio de Janeiro, is Brazil's biggest favela. Photo: Donatas Dabravolskas/Shutterstock

A distinguishing characteristic of Brazilian cities are favelas, vast swathes of low-income and often precarious dwellings, built on occupied land. A result of labor migrations of rural populations to the city and the absence of adequate state housing policies, a significant portion of these homes are technically illegal, with rightful owners being unable to receive property deeds.

On Thursday, the federal government launched a program seeking to rectify the legal situations of occupied lands all over Brazil, including favelas. The administration’s pledge is for residents to receive deeds within a maximum of ten years.

</p> <p>Indeed, more than 11 million Brazilian citizens live in the roughly 7,000 favelas spread across 734 Brazilian municipalities, according to the most recent data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (<a href="https://agenciadenoticias.ibge.gov.br/agencia-noticias.html">IBGE</a>). At the same time, there are a number of upscale homes built illegally on public lands, which have become luxury housing complexes.</p> <p>By some distance, São Paulo is the state with the highest number of &#8220;illegal&#8221; homes built in favelas: 1.06 million. Rio de Janeiro comes in second, with 717,000, followed by Bahia (469,000), Pará (432,000), Amazonas (393,000), and Pernambuco (327,000).</p> <p>Public administrators and experts say that evicting residents from irregularly occupied lands is unviable, and that rectifying land ownership may result in economic and social benefits. Meanwhile, some mistrust the model proposed by the government this week, as it does not comprise measures to rectify the legal situations of infrastructure, especially in poor neighborhoods.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Brasília has a lab for registering homes in favelas</h2> <p>A pilot project will begin in the Federal District, smaller than any of Brazil&#8217;s other 26 states and home to capital city Brasília. The region has a long history of occupations of public land, dating back to Brasília&#8217;s construction in the 1950s.</p> <p>Workers&#8217; camps — which were to be demolished once the city had been completed in 1960 — slowly transformed into satellite cities which grew in an organic and chaotic manner. This was in stark contrast to the so-called &#8220;Plano Piloto&#8221; of Brasília, which was meticulously planned and remains today the only urban nucleus to be recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site.&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent times, the Federal District has seen a boom of illegal housing constructions, led by criminal organizations profiting from the sale of land. Today, almost one-third of the local population lives on &#8220;occupied land,&#8221; a phenomenon that straddles social classes.</p> <p>The Economy Ministry&#8217;s federal property department signed a letter of intentions with the local administration of the Federal District to carry out a process of land property regularization in Vicente Pires, one of Brasília&#8217;s satellite cities.</p> <p>Located to the west of the capital, Vicente Pires arose as an agricultural colony but soon transformed into a middle-class neighborhood dotted with enormous apartment buildings and gated communities, after its land was divvied up and sold illegally. Today, it is home to over 200,000 people and suffers from persistent infrastructure problems, such as annual floods.</p> <p>The plan signed on Thursday forecasts access to basic services such as sanitation and public lighting. Part of the proceeds from the disposition of properties will be invested back into these infrastructure projects. &#8220;The program represents the possibility of encouraging the local economy, as people will be able to have access to credit lines and take part in active commerce,&#8221; said Diogo Mac Cord, the Special Privatizations Secretary of the Economy Ministry.</p> <p>Mr. Mac Cord also highlighted that the regularization program will result in increased tax revenue, beyond being a policy of sustainable development, encompassing environmental, social, and economic aspects. The Federal Property Secretary Fernando Bispo, meanwhile, said that the plan is to recreate the pilot project in the Federal District across the whole country. &#8220;Lots and properties which have no use for the public administration, or do not have social importance, will be sold as a priority,&#8221; said Mr. Bispo.</p> <p>An ordinance dating back to February allows the federal government to rectify the legal situations of occupied lands by way of third-parties, be they companies or associations. Wealthier individuals will be forced to pay for their land, while residents in poorer areas considered as having social importance will receive deeds free of charge.</p> <h2>A failed experiment in Peru</h2> <p>However, unlike federal government representatives, urban planning specialist Rodrigo Faria Iacovini is pessimistic about the administration&#8217;s land property regularization plan.</p> <p>&#8220;It follows the Peruvian model of regularization en masse, adopted in the 1990s and which was a failure. There, poorer families still could not get loans from the bank, even after having the deed to their lands. With that, many sold their lots to real estate companies, who profited massively with their resale,&#8221; says Mr. Iacovini, a Ph.D. in urban planning from the University of São Paulo and coordinator of the School for Citizenship of the Pólis Institute and the Brazilian Institute of Urban Law.</p> <p>Peru was one of the pioneers in land ownership programs in Latin America. In 1996, then-President Alberto Fujimori created the Committee for Formalizing Informal Property, funded by national, international and World Bank resources. The Peruvian government delivered around 1.6 million land property deeds between 1996 and 2006.</p> <p>However, despite praising the scale of the Peruvian program, academics and authorities highlighted flaws in the nature and validity of its pillars. Some critics said that the narrow focus of rectifying the legal situation of occupations broke with the prior regularization tradition in Peru, which included the improvement of socio-economic policies and programs of promoting integration in informal areas and communities.</p> <p>Instead of comprising settlements, neighborhoods, and communities, the regularization process in Peru focused on individual homes, property rights, and free market sales, regardless of their social context and consequences. Social security and welfare networks were brushed to one side.</p> <p>“This is the problem of the model being adopted by Brazil. Every housing policy has to have an aspect of land property regularization, but it has to be integrated with other aspects, such as urban plans which offer infrastructure to the population,&#8221; added Mr. Iacovini.</p> <p>He believes that Brazilian authorities have chosen the Peruvian model because it is cheaper and allows for an immediate return, which serves the government&#8217;s political objectives.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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