Social Housing is Central in Implementing the New Urban Agenda in Brazil

Claudio Acioly, Head Capacity Building at UN-Habitat; Guenther Wehenpohl, GIZ; Andre Marinho, National Superintendent of Property at CAIXA; Vanderley John, Brazilian Council for Sustainable Construction; Henriette Arantes, National Secretary of Housing; Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities; and Simon Jatene, Governor of Pará. Photo by: Bruno Felin / WRI Brazil Sustainable Cities.

What will make 2.5 billion people worldwide choose to live in cities over the next two decades? Urban conglomerates have become attractive simply because they can offer access to core urban services and the chance to thrive. One of the main challenges of Habitat III is to turn cities into inclusive and democratic places. Urbanized countries like Brazil need to gather efforts to reduce not only poverty but social inequality and spatial segregation, problems reflected in the long distances people commute every day, the absence of public services in the suburbs and the lower quality of life for part of the population.

The right to decent housing was established in Brazil by the Federal Constitution of 1988, in a constitutional amendment in 2000 and was one of the main agendas of the country during Habitat III. However, the housing shortage in Brazil is still higher than six million homes. And a good house is not only a shelter, but a minimum condition so people can be healthy, work and have a good quality of life. The next contracts will have other requirements”.

One of the main success indicators of inclusive cities, aligned with the goals proposed by New Urban Agenda, is accessible housing within the central area of a city, with access to core services. This was one of the topics emphasized by Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, in a panel organized by Brazil’s Ministry of Cities in Quito. “I believe Brazil has a tremendous opportunity to make its cities more sustainable through its social housing program,” said Ani.

Minha Casa, Minha Vida Program, the Brazilian government’s most robust effort to face the housing challenge, has delivered more than five million houses since 2009 and another 1.45 million are being built. In 2003, Brazil approved a performance standard that establishes minimum requirements of security and comfort in residential properties. This measure led to some advances in the quality of homes, according to Henriqueta Arantes, National Housing Secretary. However, to meet the goals set by the New Urban Agenda and reach a sustainable development, the way we plan and deliver new housing is a fundamental point.

To implement the New Urban Agenda, Henriqueta believes that real estate, alone, won’t be able to meet these goals. “In our vision, there needs to be more transparency in information, so everybody can know, trust and take part in the decision making process regarding the future of cities. This is essential to create more sustainable cities,” asserted Henriqueta. Another issue the Secretary brought to light is the need to constantly review housing policies, once every two years, or even annually. André Marinho, CAIXA’s National Superintendent of Housing, said the interruption of the program has high costs to society and that the synergy among local and national stakeholders is important to speed up the program in an emergency scenario.

Besides the quality of housing, one of the necessary actions to enhance the Minha Casa, Minha Vida Program is to improve the location of the housing units. Ani Dasgupta believes the Brazilian program has the power  to make Brazilian cities more sustainable. In order to do that, it’s necessary to connect investments in transport infrastructure with the housing program: “If one travels 25 kilometers every day to go work, either by car or by bus…this is directly related to the environmental impact of a city.”

Henriqueta declared that this reality must change from now on: “There used to be, but there won’t be anymore, a need for production that allowed large housing complexes to be built further than necessary from central areas. Today we are trying to correct these mistakes by building housing units with access to transport, schools and health in order to improve families’ quality of life.”

Vanderley John, Counselor of Brazilian Council of Sustainable Construction; Simão Jatene, Governor of the State of Pará (Brazil); Claudio Acioly, Head of Capacity Building of UN-Habitat; and Guenther Wehenpohl,  PDP Coordinator of GIZ also participated on the panel.

Originally published in Portuguese on WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

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