Self-help re-settlement project in Fortaleza


Narrative: What the project achieved

In 1988 an agreement was signed between the People’s Council of Rondon (CONPOR), the Groupe de Recherche et d’Echange Technologiques (GRET) and the Municipality of Fortaleza to undertake a self-help re-settlement project.

The project ran into difficulties almost immediately, causing delays and the dropping out of a few families.

In 1989 a new agreement was signed with the new administration of the Municipality. In March 1990, a micro-enterprise for the production of building materials is officially established as well as the Housing Department of CONPOR. However, the project still experienced problems and a low level of commitment on behalf of the community until a contract was established legalising the status of their housing.

The project picks up rapidly thereafter with the realisation of the following:

August 1991: the creation and construction of the nursery of Nova Alvorada and the building of a small commercial centre

In 1992: the completion of housing units and the commercial centre

1994: the establishment of a Community Fund for Housing, renting of the boutiques in the commercial centre, and the establishment and of a micro-industrial district including carpentry, textile production, and iron-mongery;

By 1995: completion of infrastructure and basic services including roads, electricity and water supply, drainage and sewage.

The micro-enterprise now has a daily production of 3000 soil-cement bricks costing 40% less than what is available on the market, 10 laundry sinks, 10 sinks, 400 stone blocks, 300 claustras, 5 toilets and 2 1000 litre water, all at costs of 30 to 50% below market prices.

40 people including young adolescents, have been trained in the construction sector.

A community housing fund which is tapped by over 600 people each year.

The CONPOR ensures the local administration of women’s projects on behalf of the Women’s Union of Parque Potira as part of the Community Housing Fund and for job creation activities.

The two key elements for the success of the project are:

  • Partnerships: between and amongst the social services of the municipality, the community , a capacity-building agent (GRET), and the involvement of the Federal University of Ceara which tested some of the innovative technologies used in construction and building materials. This partnership was able to learn by doing and led to changes in municipal policy and to the establishment of a strong community capable of managing its own settlement (housing, infrastructure and services) . The partners provided important inputs for start up credit, technology and skills training.
  • The holistic approach of the initiative which did not limit itself to housing and basic infrastructure but addressed the problems of employment, education and training, social facilities and services through a broad-based participatory approach to planning, decision-making and resource management.

This has led to the institutionalisation of democratic process. Discussion groups and general assembly meetings are held in which decisions are made in a participatory manner. Resources mobilised are administered by community groups and accounted for to the partners involved.

The social processes involved in this small initiative has enabled the community to envision a brighter future, while remaining

realistic in its ambitions. The experiences and lessons gained are now being applied to other types of issues and problems by both the community and the local administration.

CONPOR has recently been invited to share its experience with. amongst others, the Municipality of Belo Horizonte.

The project has resulted in a follow up programme entitled: “the Comunidades Programme” which is also featured in this database.

An ongoing parallel initiative is “Casa Melhor” which seeks to improve existing settlements. This initiative was launched in an experimental phase in 1994 involving funds allocated, on an equal basis by the Municipality, the inhabitants themselves and international aid channelled through GRET.

The conditions for participation in the upgrading programme are:

  • The formation of solidarity groups comprising of 10 to 15 families disposing of 1.5 to 3 times the minimum wage and committed to improving their housing;
  • The distribution of credit to individual households is managed by the solidarity groups.
  • The period of the loan is 12 months;

Beneficiaries are allowed to improve any part of their homes.

In January 1995 the first loans were disbursed to 12 families of the Conj. Sao Cristovao Association, and the loans have been expending ever since. The success of the programme led to the creation of the Programme d’Appui l’Auto-Construction (PAAC) which covers a larger area but in which the Municipality does not participate financially. Since then, the combined impact of the two programmes – Casa Melhor and PAAC – are as follows:

  • loans have been disbursed in 10 neighbourhoods of the city of Fortaleza and in one municipality of the metropolitan area;
  • 1780 families have formed 50 community groups within the first year of implementation
  • 148 houses have been improved affecting 740 inhabitants residing in 11 communities;
  • 100% reimbursement rate of the loans.

The major difficulty encountered by both programmes remains security of tenure, without which families and groups are reluctant to borrow money to improve their housing and to gain access to public utilities such as water and electricity. This has been overcome partially by the programme but needs to be extended to inhabitants of the favelas as a whole before large scale transformations will take place. The effective demand for such a loan programme, however, is very large and the partners involved are looking into the possibility of mobilising other institutions to create a Popular Bank to be owned by the beneficiaries themselves.


The key elements contributing to the sustainability of the practice are:

  • Institutional arrangements have been established for and by the community to continue to evaluate, plan and implement housing projects, employment generation activities, maintain basic infrastructure and services, and to maintain a community revolving fund;
  • The success of the project has led the local authority to revise its attitude, perceptions and policies regarding low-income and squatter settlements;
  • The CONPOR is involved in sharing and exchanging its experiences with other NGOs/CBOs, and local authorities in the country which implies that the lessons learned from the experience have been internalised;
  • The initial project has led to other programmes and initiatives for home improvement loans and the institutionalisation of a Integration Council (see case study on the Communidades Programme).


Shelter solutions found for 50 homeless families
40 people trained in construction skills
Micro-enterprise established producing affordable building materials – 40% cheaper than market prices
Basic infrastructure and services created
A nursery established with a capacity for 60 children aged 2 to 6.
Home improvement loans provided to 148 families.


40 jobs created
micro-enterprise established
basic services provided
home improvement loan scheme initiated