An Experience of Popular Habitat Production in Sao Paulo, Brazil

This experience took place in the city of Sao Paulo, and involved the development of alternative housing policy through what is called the Program of Mutual Aid and Self-Management for the construction of new housing.

It began because of the political will of the municipal government and pressure from social movements. The resulting program involved community participation in the management of public resources and the administration and control of construction processes.

The municipal government served as the financing agency and guiding force of the Program.

This program allowed organized communities to obtain their own technical assistance for designing housing and urbanization.

The Program involved three actors: the municipal government as financing agent,

community-based organizations as the promoters and implementers, and NGOs as advisors.

The initial, experimental phase of the program took place between 1989 and December

1992. During this period, the program attended some 12,000 families whose income ranged between 0 and 5 times the minimum monthly wage. These families belonged to

96 Community Mutual Aid Associations located in various areas of the peripheries of Sao

Paulo, which in turn were affiliated with the Union of Housing Movements (UMM).

The program involved the innovative principle of popular participation in its elaboration, and resource distribution was overseen by an informal forum between the government and


Constructions costs were reduced in the large-scale production of housing, demonstrating the effectiveness of this experience as a basis for an alternative housing policy. Precedents were generated for possible future public initiatives in the field of social housing, urbanization projects, housing plans, and the efficient control of public resources.

The State came to play a strictly enabling role, transferring administrative and construction processes to the population for their efficient handling, resulting in the democratization of the Programs implementation.

This experience helped CBOs and the housing movement in general to consolidate their proposals around the principles of cooperation and self-help. This has caused an impact on a national level, since the experiences have led to a housing bill to expand the project to the national level as an alternative housing policy or resource management program.

When the housing bill was sent to the National Congress, there was intensive popular mobilization, consecrating as institutional struggle the role of the Federal Government in the solution of habitat-related problems.

Because of its positive results – in the form of the housing bill- the progress represented by this experience will spread to other cities throughout the country. This possibility is being fought by the private sector which formerly had investments in housing, through relationships with the government based on political favoritism. With this new program they lose their power of influence and consequently their former access to public resources.

In 1993, with the change in the administration of the municipal government, the program was interrupted by the Mayor, who instead invested public resources in the private sector.

This resulted in the abandonment of approximately 8000 unfinished housing units, and as a

result the CBOs decided to develop a program for 15,000 housing units over the next 4 years.

As a federation, the UMM seeks to develop debate with and exert pressure on the municipal government in order to modify the strategy proposed by the state government in

September 1995 which effectively caused the program to be absorbed by the state government of Sao Paulo. The program is currently not being implemented due to a lack of political will on the part of the state government.

Our conclusion is that, since this is a new experience, it has suffered from certain primarily administrative obstacles within the extremely bureaucratic state apparatus. On the positive side, it represents a number of technological and political developments as well as changes within communities which are leading towards new forms of housing policy which will effectively attend to the low-income populations needs. It is important that all actors reflect on the role of the State in relation to social problems, so that it can play a role which truly enables the initiatives of the population.