Self-managed mutual aid groups: mutiroes in São Paulo


1.- History, background and context

Social, political and institutional context in which the experience develops:
In the process of national re-democratization following the military dictatorship (mid-1980s), various new social movements emerged, including the housing movement. In addition to these movements specific demands (water, childcare, health clinics, community centers, pavement, etc.) a struggle also began to secure broader participation spaces, such as in the thematic councils.

In the housing field, the failure of official and centralized housing policy, parallel to the changes established by the new constitution in reference to municipal competencies, and pressure applied by the popular movements, opened the way for a series of innovations in the way in which this issue is addressed.

Based on the practice of the base communities, the occupations, and the Uruguayan experience (2), a struggle was organized which, with the election of a democratic and popular local government in 1989, transformed this proposal into public policy.

Project creator: collaboration between Housing Movement and So Paulo State government.
Initiation date: 1991.
Process phases: (in the city of So Paulo)
1989-92: implementation of the program in the municipality
1993-96: suspension of the program
1997-00: return to discussions, without concrete progress
2001: the program is resumed.

Project creator: collaboration between Housing Movement and So Paulo State government.
Initiation date: 1991
Process phases:
1991-94: first pilot experiences
1995: approval of the legislation
1995-99: program implementation
1999-00: suspension of the program
2001: the program is resumed

2.- Objectives, strategies and scope

Construction of popular housing financed by the public authority, with resources and processes managed by the community.

Size of participating and beneficiary populations:
Case A: 10,400 families in the first phase and 1,500 in the current phase initiated in June 2001.
Case B: 23,000 families.

Territorial scope:
Case A: Municipality of So Paulo.
Case B: Metropolitan region of So Paulo.

Innovative aspects:
Socio-organizational: management of the resources and the entire housing production process by the community, with support from a technical advisory team.
Technological: popular housing prototypes have been overcome through a diversity of construction projects and methods.

3.- Actors involved and their roles

Beneficiary population: homeless laborers organized in community construction associations.
Social organizations: regional housing movements and the Union of Housing Movements.
NGO: technical advisory.
Local government: Case A: Prefecture of the municipality of So Paulo (Ministry of Housing and the Housing Company). Case B: Government of the State of So Paulo (Ministry of Housing and the Housing and Urban Development Company – CDHU).
Financial sources: Case A: the municipal housing fund, originated in municipal fundraising. Case B: originated in State fundraising.

4.- Program or project components

Habitat elements included in the productive process:

Land: The program works primarily with lands of the Prefecture or the State government, but also with lands secured by the associations. Pressure applied by the Movement forced the public authority to expropriate lands to make the program viable. Pressure also achieved approval by the So Paulo Legislative Assembly of a law to authorize the State government to finance land purchase by the associations.
The Prefecture had a more adequate land policy, expropriating smaller and better-located plots, but later with the suspension of the program in the Maluf/Pitta administrations, lands were almost all occupied in disorderly fashions. From now on, with the City Statute instrument federal law sanctioned by President Lula municipal interventions in land use have radically changed, allowing a much more aggressive policy for lands designated to social projects.

Housing: The self-managed mutiro proposal of the Housing Movements Union obtained excellent results at both the municipal and state levels in terms of unit size, project and construction quality, and cost (between 35 and 50% cheaper than units produced by construction firms). With R$40,000 (US$15,000), the movement currently builds three units, while the construction companies build only two. The movements housing is also much more adequate to the needs and preferences of the inhabitants, because projects are discussed between the technical support teams and future residents.

Infrastructure and services: The majority of the projects have or are in the process of guaranteeing basic infrastructure (water, drainage, electricity, sewage systems, pavement) provided by the public authority. The UMM is currently struggling for a policy to take advantage of the infrastructure in downtown So Paulo, which is in a process of abandonment.

Facilities: All of the projects have designated institutional areas for public facilities (childcare centers, schools, health clinics). Nevertheless, their implementation is taking a lot of time and requires intense work by the Movement, given that, unlike in Uruguay, there is no finance for such elements linked to the housing finance, and defense of the different types of facilities requires a long process of negotiations in different state or local ministries.

Public spaces: Open public spaces are designated for parking (required for one-third of housing units), childrens play areas, organic gardens, etc. During the construction process, the UMM and the technical team work to generate a culture of enjoying and maintaining such spaces in a collective way.

Social and cultural aspects:

  • Levels and fields covered by social participation: low-income population, movements, groups-of-origin, homeless persons in general.
  • Organizational strengthening: the self-managed programs strengthen the general movements and the base associations or organizations, reinforcing the collective and the community aspects as well as these groups social responsibility.
  • Degree of autonomy achieved: total autonomy of the movements with respect to the public authority, but working in coordination with the same.
  • Negotiation with other actors: the programs link four actors: 1) the base organizations, 2) the local or regional movements, 3) the technical advisory teams, and 4) the public authority at its different levels.
  • Womens role: gender equity, decisive presence of women in the leadership of the movements and in the mutiro work. Spaces are also created for gender workshops during the construction process.

Consideration of cultural traits and practices: community practices are implemented during the entire process which respect and optimize the groups cultural characteristics, adopting mystics and dynamics which motivate the collective energy of the mutiro.

Economic strengthening of the participants and/or ecological sustainability:

  • Generation of productive spaces: the program generates productive spaces at the complex and neighborhood scales, and within the housing itself used later as workplace.
  • Income generation through the habitat production process: the mutiro reduces the finance necessary for construction through the labor contribution and fundamentally through management of the resources, thus generating reduced loan requirements.
  • Jobs are also created during the process, including for mutiro members, who also receive training in civil construction which they can later put to professional use.
  • Micro-business generation: the mutiro process also favors the creation of micro-enterprises or cooperatives in different areas.
  • Income and savings-generating activities linked to the sustainable management of the resources: the mutiro members living in their new homes begin to work together with the Prefecture in waste recycling.

Contribution to urban development:

  • The case has been linked to urban planning processes, with the UMM pressuring for a participative Master Plan at the Prefecture level. Together with the State government, the UMM is also pressuring in favor of the use of well-located areas in the city and allowing adequate mobility for future residents.
  • The neighborhood and the urban image have been revalued, thanks to the positive urbanistic and architectural results which reflect on the area in which they are located.
  • The projects have contributed to the patrimonial and environmental rescue of the area, having respected the citys historical heritage and environment.
  • Public spaces and daily human interaction in the city have been revalued. The movement attempts to influence as much as possible in the areas in which its projects are implemented.

Process and level of integration of the diverse components:

  • The more-organized mutiroes have fulfilled integrating roles in the city sectors in which they are located.

5.- Main instruments used


  • Organizational criteria and form: the Housing Movements Union is a network of regional and sector movements organized by groups-of-origin, that struggles to obtain self-managed projects financed by the State or by the Prefecture.
  • Formation and training: the regional movements and the UMM have permanent processes in each phases of the housing struggle.
  • Participative process: Movement members pass through all the stages of pressure, negotiation, and execution of projects, actively and consciously participating in the same. This participation is taken into account when the families choose their housing units at the end of the construction process.
  • Information and communication: carried out through periodic meetings, workshops, assemblies, plenary sessions, and through use of the internet and newspapers.


  • Mutiro members contribute monthly to the association and the Movement, but they have no possibility to accumulate savings.
  • The primary resources come from the public authority (State or Prefecture).
  • Resources are also obtained from international cooperation for specific projects.


  • Legal classification adopted: Regulatory Instruction of the Municipal Housing Council/ State Law 9.142/95, popularly known as the Mutiro Law, which requires the executive authority to invest a minimum of 10% of housing resources in self-managed programs.
  • Agreements and contracts: established between the associations and the technical teams and between the associations and the Prefecture or CDHU.

Administrative and management:

  • Board of representatives of the Municipal Housing Ministry (provisional) and the Municipal Housing Council (definitive).
  • There is no Council at the State level, but the UMM is working since 1995 for approval of the same within the state congress.

Promotion and dissemination:

  • Internet, newspapers, television and the print press (reports and interviews), and information newsletters distributed by the movements.

6.- Achievements and main lessons learned

Primary impacts:
– in the lives of the participants
– in the community
– in the environmental and urban surroundings
– in public policies and regulations
– in democratic management of the city
– in gender equity

7.- Key words

Brazil, So Paulo, mutiro, self-management, mutual aid, housing program.

8.- Sources

Internal information sources.

9.- Contacts

Unin de los Movimientos de Vivienda (Unio dos Movimentos de Moradia UMM)
Calle Camarajibe, 52- Barra Funda
01154-030- So Paulo-SP- Brazil
Tel/Fax: (55-11) 3825-5725