Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.
An essential model for creating affordable and compact cities, transit-oriented development (TOD) is the theme of Nossa Cidade this month. So far, we’ve cover the seven principles of TOD and the economic benefits that TOD produces.
Today, we will explore how Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV – “My House My Life” in English)—Brazil’s affordable housing program—is transforming current patterns of urbanization in the country. MCMV has been responsible for a third of all low-income housing projects in Brazil in 2013 and is helping bridge the way we think about housing and TOD.
Putting MCMV in Context
Launched in 2009 by Brazil’s federal government, the MCMV has developed nearly 2.2 million housing units (UH) in five years, with an additional 3.9 million planned. The program is currently in its second phase and a third phase this year is in development with guaranteed funding.
This is the largest affordable housing initiative in the history of Brazil. In addition to reducing the deficit of the country’s low-incoming housing stock, MCMV aims to foster a stronger economy by funding local construction and giving people control over their housing.
Integrating Housing and Transit Planning
In addition to a roof over their heads, people need access to jobs and services in order to live well. MCMV is an opportunity for both. First of all, the program enables home ownership. Second, well-planned TOD can facilitate access to opportunities throughout the greater city.
However, the challenge is ensuring that the land where these homes will be developed is located close to the city center and well-served by public transit. Making this happen requires dealing with numerous political and economic barriers.
But it is possible. The city of Rio Grande designated empty land in the Junction neighborhood as an area of possible interest for MCMV—in order to avoid real estate speculation. The land was donated by the Federal Government to the city and it is an area that is already well-endowed with public services, infrastructure, and access to transport. The vision is to make the neighborhood home to 1,300 low-income families, where they can maintain their social relationships and have access to services, jobs, education, and health resources throughout the city. The project has been supported by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities in Brazil and will be a model of TOD in the country. See the map below:
Unfortunately, Rio Grande is an exception and not yet the rule. In many Brazilian cities, most development occurs in rapidly expanding residential areas with poor infrastructure, urban services, and transport. Disconnected and distant housing is a burden to both residents and local government. Residents must travel longer distances to access jobs, services, and housing. Local governments face higher costs of infrastructure development and service maintenance—like waste management and public utilities.
Mexico’s Ghost Towns
Five million homes have been abandoned throughout Mexico, but not because there is a shortage of housing. Entire neighborhoods have emptied out because residents could not continue to live isolated from the city. A decade of building at low cost on the periphery of Mexican cities has culminated in an exodus of hundreds of thousands of families who suffered from a lack of urban services, poor building maintenance, and poor access to transport. Now these deserted areas are isolated and insecure places
According to the Mexican newspaper Magis, stories like this are common on the peripheries of metropolitan areas throughout the country. Between 2001 and 2011, real estate boomed and developers took advantage of loose housing policies, constructing sprawled housing units that were increasingly distant from jobs and basic services in the city.
A Compact and Vibrant Future
A “3D” model of urbanization—distant, dispersed, and disconnected—has been the status quo long before MCMV began. The 3D model is the result of both poor urban planning at the local level and market forces and speculation. Cities need to plan properly for growth, and the MCMV program is a great opportunity for Brazil to foster a more equitable urban future and with a high quality of life for all.