Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Road to Rio: Equal Access to Urban Land & Shelter


November 20, 2009

This event was organized by Blair Ruble, the director of the Comparative Urban Studies Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Additional presenters were Mohamed El-Sioufi of UN-HABITAT, Steve Asare Akuffo of Ghana’s Housing Finance Association and Milton Funes, CHF International’s Director in Honduras. Janice Perlman of Meg-Cities Project described her research on Favela’s in Rio de Janeiro, which was the most applicable for the preparation of the World Urban Forum (WUF5) planned for March 22-26, 2010.

Perlman made three main points. She described the Right to the City motto; urban land and shelter issues in Rio; and the equal/unequal access of the city for the poor. Her study evaluates people’s well-being living in the favelas in Rio. She interviewed a sample of 700 people (of which 300 are family members from her 1968-69 dissertation research).

The idea of the Right to the City comes from the 1988 Rio Constitution which mandated participation in local planning. Yet, in Perlman’s view, after a few years, only the elite had access to the whole city. The idea of the conference theme has roots in many economic and political interests. For example, the military forced people out of the slums into housing or simply burnt them down from 1970-73. Over 100,000 people were displaced and many people’s livelihoods destroyed.

Therefore in 1969 there was “loss of home” (through the ratification of the slums) but in 2001 there was “loss of life” (due to the drug dealers and erratic crossfire). One in five family members reported being involved in some sort of lethal violence. The idea of land tenure has become a non-issue (from de-facto to de-jure) because people do not want to own homes in the slums. The property is unwanted and real estate prices are low.

In regards to land tenure, currently 70% of favela residents do not have titles. In some improving neighborhoods approximately 30% rent, 30% own, 30% squat. There is not much incentive to buy or borrow with the title because most people (46%) have access to credit through the banks. Additionally, Perlman found that most of the people, children and grandchildren have access to more consumer goods. This has made the slums to be more dangerous with increased crime because more people have computers, cell phones, refrigerators, and other domestic goods.

Unfortunately, this has not increased the income gap from people born into the favelas. They have a hard time to find jobs because of their addresses. Some rent or borrow people’s addresses when applying for jobs. Additionally the schools are fairly poor and bad. Born into a favela is a larger disadvantage than being black or being poor.

Perlman ended her talk describing how the Brazilian government is working on planning the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. She suggested that the city is building concrete walls around the favelas. Additionally, the government plans to bring the peace keeping forces currently serving in Haiti to protect the visitors from the favela dwellers.

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