Thesis: Low Income Housing

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Low Income Housing Initiatives in Brazil and China

Two giant countries that are well poised to become major players in an increasingly globalized marketplace in the future are China and Brazil. Both of these countries enjoy vast natural resources and workforces that are ready, willing and able to help fuel continued economic growth into the 21st century. Despite these advantages and a growing middle class, both of these countries continue to experience significant disparities in income levels that have adversely affected the poorer people and their access to suitable housing. This paper provides an examination concerning the impact of low-income housing on two different countries, Brazil and China, including a comparison of what measures the respective governments of Brazil and China are taking, as well as initiatives sponsored by nongovernmental organizations and individual entrepreneurs. A discussion concerning the complexity of social change impediments as well as the involvement of social workers, activists, diplomats, or others involved with the situation in these two countries is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

While there are some profound cross-cultural differences among the peoples of the world, everyone shares many common values and needs, including having enough to eat, decent clothes to wear, a desire for their children to enjoy more advantages, and a safe and affordable place to live. In this regard, Byrne and Diamond (2007) emphasize that around the world, "Housing provides a necessary foundation for physical and social life. It provides shelter, security, recreation, and wealth. It plays a central role in the health and well-being of its occupants and also supports their employment and educational endeavors. Among the poor, there is a severe shortage of adequate, affordable housing" (p. 527). Because any type of housing requires property, though, the debate concerning how to increase the levels of low-income housing in developing nations is far more complex than many people might realize. For instance, Pindell (2006) emphasizes that, "Increasing poor people's access to property and shelter in urban settings raises difficult questions over how to define property and, likewise, how to communicate who is entitled to legal property protections" (p. 435). Moreover, the problem of providing low-income housing is truly staggering, with approximately a half a billion urban dwellers alone being homeless or living in inadequate housing around the world today (UN global report on human settlements, 2009). Complex problems such as this one demand complex solutions and they also require time in order to address them in a comprehensive fashion. As the United Nation's global report on human settlements emphasizes, "Good governance is needed for sustainable urban development. It requires stronger roles for citizen groups, community organizations and NGOs" (p. 4). For people who are without adequate housing, though, time is of course of the essence and they have little interest in the abstracts involved but are rather more concerned about the pragmatic realities they must deal with on a day-to-day basis to provide adequate housing for themselves and their families. In this environment, identifying what has been successful and effective -- and then doing more of it -- represents a timely and valuable enterprise and these issues are discussed further below as they apply to efforts to improve access to low-income housing in Brazil and China.

Low Income Housing Initiatives in Brazil

In countries such as the United States, there are laws on the books that allow for the condemnation of private property when it is deemed to be in the public's best interests. In this context, condemnation refers to this forcible acquisition rather than the need to demolish existing structures, although this may be part of the process of eminent domain. According to Black's Law Dictionary (1991), the term "eminent domain" means, "The power to take private property for public use by the state, municipalities, and private persons or corporations authorized to exercise functions of public character" (p. 523). In Brazil, the concept of eminent domain has been embraced by an international movement known as the "right to the city" and the government of Brazil's has included some of the principles of this movement in new constitutional provisions and federal legislative actions in recent years (Pindell, 2006). According to Pindell "The right to the city incorporates two novel concepts: the social function of property and the social function of the city. The social function of property subordinates individual rights of property to social demands" (p. 435). The social demands for low-income housing in Brazil and the need for innovative approaches to providing it are mirrored throughout Latin America. In this regard, Clarke and Howard (2006) emphasize that, "The informal and formal trajectories of housing markets in Latin America have notably diverged over the last fifty years. While the large cities have became more formal in employment over time, housing rapidly became dependent on informal solutions, such as squatter settlements that included well over half the households in the major cities" (p. 106). The legislative initiatives implemented by the Brazilian government in recent years have been specifically targeted at improving access to low-income housing for urban residents. In this regard, Pindell notes that, "In Brazil, the social function of the city is applied by national statute to generally prioritize city residents' rights of participation and occupation. One of the most significant changes contained in the City Statute involves the conversion of illegal or informal property claims to legal property rights in some instances" (p. 435). The impact of this legislation has been to make previously spurious claims to urban property legitimate and thereby encourage further low-income housing developmental efforts by the Brazilian government, as well as self-help efforts by the residents themselves and individual investors alike (Pindell, 2006).

Many of the current communities of squatters in urban regions of Brazil would appear to have established some type of legal claim to the lands they occupy. Many of these areas have been in place for many decades and are very large; the residents of these impoverished regions, though, known as "favelados" have not possess the property rights needed to acquire legal title to the property because they are regarded as being unauthorized invaders of public or private land (Pindell, 2006). These trends are reflected in major urban areas throughout Brazil as well. For instance, Clarke and Howard note that, "Urban infrastructures were placed under mounting stress, as populations increased by natural increase and migration, most notably since the 1960s; newcomers simply could not afford to get into the owner-occupied sector of the housing market, and squatting on vacant (often government) land was a rational alternative to rental" (p. 106). In response to these trends, the Brazilian government has taken steps to help squatters in impoverished areas gain legal title to their property to encourage individual and commercial development initiatives.

This process has taken place in other regions of Latin America to be sure, but Brazil is a good example of what can be accomplished when low income housing is made a priority at the national level. According to Clarke and Howard (2006), though, simply granting legitimate title to squatters so they will own the property they occupy is just a first step to providing for the long-term needs of these people. For instance, the authors add that, "The informal housing sector grew at the expense of the formal; but the up-grading of squatted property, coupled to the granting (usually based on government intervention) of land titles, pointed to an essentially optimistic -- but not uncontested -- solution to the issue" (p. 107). Nevertheless, the process has to begin somewhere and in Brazil, the process began with basic amendments to the country's constitution. According to Pindell, "It is, therefore, significant that the legislation implementing the 1988 Brazilian Constitution significantly expanded the rights of favelados. The incorporation of informal property claims within the legal property system is not without conflicts, and the extra-legal dimension of these communities leaves them vulnerable to manipulation by proponents and opponents alike" (p. 436). One community of squatters, for instance, known as Estrutural, is situated on top of a water basin that has been contaminated by the community's effluent discharges; the favelados in this community are in a particularly untenable position much akin to being between a rock and a hard place: "While the residents of Estrutural praise a local politician, Jose Edmar, for defending the occupation of their homes, the government accuses him of encouraging the illegal occupation of the land to cultivate a loyal political base to cover other fraudulent activity. At the same time, environmentalists decry the contamination of an important water resource" (Pindell, 2006, p. 436).

Despite these efforts to improve the ability of squatters in Brazil to gain access to property and better low-income housing, much more remains to be done to overcome longstanding regulatory and social mores that have sought to keep low-income housing from certain areas of the urban environment. Because land is a finite resource even in enormous countries such as Brazil and China, and the old adage "there… [END OF PREVIEW]

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