Media:Bold textA growing commitment by city, state, and national governments of Brazil to regularize slums or favelas has put in train a process of transformation. A key turning point was the 1988 federal constitution, which strengthened the role of local government and encouraged municipal policies to legalize and improve tenure conditions in these informal settlements. A groundbreaking new city statute enacted at the federal level in July 2001 provides a legal underpinning for municipalities to regularize favelas as part of concerted plans to combat spatial segregation and social inequity—and to creatgjkghkghke more inclusive and democratic urban governance.
In many cities in Brazil, large shares of the population—25 percent of the residents of Rio de Janiero and 40 percent in metropolitan Recife—live in informal or illegal settlements, often on public lands. These favelas are home to an essential workforce— a workforce subject to terrible health conditions, frequent natural disasters such as mudslides and floods, and crime. Official policy toward favelas in the past was that of neglect (with occasional introduction of services when politically expedient or necessitated by emergency) and threats of eviction. Not until the 1970s did most municipalities begin to even include such settlements on planning maps as provisional, despite their existence for decades in many cases.
Transformation in these settlements has started to occur in recent years where local governments, supported by their state and the national government, have made commitments to sociopolitical as well as physical inclusion of the favelas into the city. Beginning in the early 1980s a number of cities, most notably Belo Horizonte and Recife, initiated efforts to regularize or integrate the favelas into the urban fabric and give them legal recognition. New planning instruments were introduced at the national level to permit designating certain settlements as “special residential zones of social interest” (ZEIS), which permitted planning and zoning regulations to be adapted to the land use requirements of these communities.
In Recife, a further mechanism (PREZEIS) was established in 1987 to institutionalize, for the first time, the process of integrating irregular settlements into the formal planning apparatus, with community participation, and allow for the provision of services and infrastructure to reduce disparities. Under this law Recife created a land tenure legalization commission charged to identify and address specific problems in each ZEIS through participation of multiple stakeholders—a device credited with enforcing the government’s commitment to follow through with its regularization program despite resistance from conservative sectors. The state of Pernambuco has joined Recife’s efforts by bringing investment resources to help cover the settlements designated for regularization across the metropolitan area.
Programs with similar objectives have been adopted in other Brazilian cities, including Porto Alegre, Rio de Janiero, and São Paulo. The Rio program (where the state government has also reversed its past resistance to favelas, by providing finance for building materials for residents without requiring collateral) is notable for its scale.* In Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre the programs entail a strong emphasis on participatory budgeting and planning for investments in the settlements. A 1998 study by the Brazilian Institute for Applied Economics indicates that at least 794 municipalities have some kind of favela or informal settlement upgrading program and about 506 of these include some form of land tenure regularization.
Where tenure regularization policies have intended to transfer full individual freehold titles to the occupiers of public or private land, as in Belo Horizonte and Rio, this aspect of the program has been problematic to implement and less successful than the physical upgrading and service provision. Other municipalities, such as Porto Alegre and Recife, have used an innovative alternative legal instrument to promote individual and community security of tenure. This formulation, the “concession of the real right to use” (CRRU), is a leasehold that confers private property rights to publicly owned land for a period of up to 50 years, either for an individual or a community. Combined with the designation of settlements as “zones of social interest,” the CRRU protects residents from eviction and gives them broad property rights. This instrument permits the state to protect access for the low-income communities to land they occupy in order to promote socioeconomic integration of the city; it also serves to preserve scarce public land for current and future social uses. Settlements granted such use rights have gained physical improvements from private and public investment in housing and infrastructure, and increasingly take on the appearance of working class neighborhoods physically integrated with the adjacent areas.
Though still largely untested, the new national City Statute gives municipalities the tools to go even further in regularizing informal settlements. The Statute includes, for example, provisions for facilitating the transfer of privately owned land to the existing occupiers in cases where occupation has gone uncontested for at least five years. To complete the transformation in the quality of life and social inclusion of the urban poor, these political and legal commitments and investments need to be supplemented by a broader set of policies that also promote economic opportunity and counter other dimensions of poverty.