Thursday, September 28, 2006

Property Rights in Favelas?

Brazil plans to spend $1 million to map Vidigal and Rocinha, two neighboring favelas next to the city's tourist zone, with an eye towards providing full property rights to the residents.

This may be a good thing (though it's much more complex than the government lets on): but there's much nonsense in the article:

1. "Without title, residents cannot finance home repairs, get credit or mail, or sell their property."

Well, no: while residents may not be able to get bank loans, people do manage to make home repairs, they can get credit cards through the local branch of the Caixa Economica, a federally-owned bank, and there's a booming market in which people buy and sell the possession rights to structures in these communities.

2. "They can also be evicted without legal recourse -- a real fear in a city where entire slums -- known as favelas -- have been removed to make way for commercial developments."

Sure this is a risk, but the truth is that Rocinha and Vidigal (and the majority of the city's 600-plus favelas) have been generally accepted as permanent parts of the city. There haven't been massive forced evictions in Rio in decades.

3. "Rocinha is reputed to be the largest shantytown in Latin America."

I appreciate the fudge-factor wording, but, no, Rocinha is not 'the largest shantytown in Latina America'--not by a long shot. It is the largest favela in Rio (or at least one of the two largest; Rio das Pedras is approximately the same size.) But its population is estimated to be somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000. There are many larger favelas in other Central and South American Countries.

4. "the Rocinha and Vidigal shantytowns"

Does it really make sense to call these communities that have water and electricity and in which most buildings are multi-story and made from reinforced concrete and brick 'shantytowns?' Rocinha and Vidigal are two of the most urbanized favelas in the city. Rocinha is almost fully developed, and a number of chain stores from the legal city have opened in the favela. Why call it a shantytown?

5. "The program is expected to benefit more than 5,000 families in the two favelas."

Hmmmm. The communities together probably have a population of close to 300,000. At five people per household, that's 60,000 families. So only 8 percent of the families in the two favelas will benefit. What will happen to the other 92 percent? What will happen to rents when people become property owners? What will happen to local businesses? Will they have to suddenly obey zoning ordinances and other codes? And what about the huge number of buildings that share walls or are propped on each other or cantilevered over each other. How will those land titles be drawn?

In short, handing out property titles is not always a simple thing.

[thanks to Jesse Walker for the link]


Teo Ballvé said...

Not to mention that the actual results of land titling are a matter of heated debate: Detractors not only argue that formal property systems have no impact on access to credit, but also warn of their serious deleterious side-effects: through land speculation formal property systems have been shown to create a rentier class and increase income inequality, they create new overwhelming financial burdens on the poor through taxes and utility bills and they lead to “distress sales” in which the poor become landless by selling their property for short-term financial gains. Moreover, if they are able to obtain credit (and from where is a serious part of this whole calculus) and they default on their loan, and their property is foreclosed, then what?

We need to find alternatives to traditional private property systems that build on the advantages and benefits of titling, but that also militate against the above-mentioned side effects. Some form of community managed collective property might be the way forward. I would be interested to know if anyone has examples of this.

rn said...

Yes, TB. And consider this: most municipalities don't simply give land titles to squatters. They sell them. The squatters have to go into hock to get control of the land that was theirs by common right previously.

I know of cases in Turkey where squatters bought their tapu (or title deed) only to find that they couldn't make the mortgage payments. Then they found themselves forced to sell the very thing they thought would be their salvation.

A Faustian bargain by any measure.

gregzinho said...


I wonder if this plan is at all linked to the following project:

I meant to say something about this on my blog earlier, but I've slacked off pretty horrendously.

I saw that the Centro do Arquitetura e Urbanismo had an exhibit while I was there called "Uma Cidade Chamada Rocinha." Naturally curious, I checked it out, only to discover it was basically a polemical argument in favor of plans to commercially develop the passarela -- proposals included a shopping mall, a cinema, some kind of outdoor amphitheatre. The supposed goal is to integrate Rocinha into the surrounding area, and they claim they won't demolish any homes in the process, but just looking at the map overlays was severely disconcerting. Check it out for yourself.

Also, I just got to Paris where I'm studying abroad this fall. Looking into some urbanism classes up at Paris VIII-Saint Denis (the radical campus born out of '68 where Foucault, among others, have taught. should offer some interesting perspectives). I've loosely followed the story about the evicted squatters at the dormitory south of the city -- like the piece about them getting invited to the soccer game.

Do you know of any volunteer organizations that work in such communities or in the banlieue at large? I'm certainly interested in seeing the part of Paris that doesn't fall under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, but like Rio, it seems best to have a good reason to be there first, knamean?


Anonymous said...

I agree with tb. to give individualized property rights will not solve anything , nor for the inhabitants , nor for the general ghousing question, that is supposed to be tackled.

the question as to who should be the owners after a land reform is as old as land struggle itself. during the french revolution, the (rightwing republican) girondist where in favour of selling the church and the nobles land to private middle class people, why the left wing (montagnards, enrages) tended towards a communal land distribution system based on need whereby the land remaind property of the village communities.

the squatters legalization programs od Caracas , venezuela have the most intresting and egalitarian approach so far: squatters can get legalized on conquered land exclusively as 'neighbourhood associations with at least 100 member families. This would suit brazil well: let the movimento sem terras build social housing there instead of hanging a carrot in front of the poor bastards eyes!

in solidarity

FaveladodaRocinha said...

we do not want this..this is bad for Rocinha people..

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in this volume of Mute

Jason said...

It is very good that real estate market in Brazil developing! Nowadays a lot of people want to invest in Brazil property! Because Brazil is very amazing and exotic country! I have been once and want more!