Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

by Helia Nacif Xavier and Fernanda Magalhães


The history of Rio’s slums is a long story of industrial and infrastructure development, high fertility rates and urbanization that persistently led to the displacement of the urban poor. Segregation initially took place in and along the urban periphery, reinforced during the late 1920s by Rio’s first urban plan. The 1930s and 1950s saw mass construction of cheap housing in the suburbs, away from the city and its infrastructure. From the 1950s onwards, the suburbs became so crowded that only swamps, mangrove areas, steep hills and riverbanks were left for occupation. Lack of affordable housing and of a suitable mass transportation system promotes the further spread of favelas all over Rio and the eastern parts, in particular. The 1960s saw massive slum clearance, notably for speculative construction. By the 1970s, 13 per cent of the city population lived in slums. The 1980s saw not much change other than the promotion of self-construction and improvement that would hopefully lead to regularization. Despite the development of a new municipal housing policy during the 1990s, the magnitude and complexity of the issues faced are so enormous that slum issues continue to increase, as does the socio-spatial segregation of Rio’s poor.

Sub-normal settlements (aglomerado subnormal) are settlements with the following characteristics:

Residential settlement with more than 50 inhabitants.

Houses of precarious materials or raw appearance due to lack of external finishes.

Houses built without legal permit on land owned by someone else or whose status is unknown.

Houses built in areas deprived of official street names and numbering, lacking infrastructure and services.

Four types of slums are identified:

Favelas: these are highly consolidated residential selfconstruction on invaded public and private land and without infrastructure. These exist in large numbers
all over Rio.

Loteamentons: these comprise illegal subdivisions of land not in compliance with planning rules and infrastructure. They are considered irregular if submitted for regularization by the planning authorities and clandestine if they have not. They are located mainly in the eastern part of Rio.

Invasoes: these consist of irregular occupation of public or private land still in the process of consolidation. They are frequently located on riverbanks, swamps or hills or in residual public areas, such as under viaducts and along roads throughout Rio.

Cortiços: these comprise social housing formed by one or more buildings located on a single plot, or shared rooms in a single building. The rooms are rented or sublet without contract. The dwellers share bathrooms, kitchen and sometimes even electrical appliances. Houses lack ventilation and lighting, they are frequently overcrowded, and one room may house many people while accommodating multiple uses. Services are deficient, and they are mainly located in the city centre.

Throughout the city, different types of illegality are often mixed, and it is difficult, in many cases, to recognizeboundaries. There is no specific data on slum tenure. However, most slums are illegal, leaving the inhabitants without secure tenure. In practice, however, eviction is a low risk and a lively real-estate sector operates within slums. There is no visible end to growth.

A number of significant slum programmes are currently operating. The Programa Favela-Bairro follows the basic approach of urbanizing favelas and, at the same time, promotes social programmes of health and education. It does not cover the construction of housing units – unless in cases of resettling – and it is focused on the improvement of the social inclusion of neighbourhoods.

The recently launched Programa de Arrendamento Residencial (PAR) reserved about US$1.1 billion for new dwellings in the metropolitan regions of Brazil. It supports public and public–private partnerships. Its key feature is the establishment of a 180-month rental contract, with an acquisition option, without interest.

State governments also have programmes of housing finance and urbanization. At the local government level, two types of private–public partnership can be discerned:

Mobilization of municipal and community resources: this encompasses local authority efforts to mobilize resources for low-income housing, and the use of small individual savings channelled through cooperatives and associations.

Special funds: these are created by local authorities with resources coming from (i) the municipal budget; (ii) urban instruments; (iii) national and state funds; (iv) payments and refunds of housing loans; and (v) mortgages given to housing projects.

Despite being innovative, programmes have been difficult to implement given:

excessive and time-consuming administrative requirements;

the exclusion of many potential candidates;

lack of banks at the municipal level to speed up the process of resource mobilization; and

difficulties for developers to use alternative technologies for sanitation, paving and housing.

The Favela-Bairro programme perhaps constitutes a best practice example in housing policy. Its innovative aspect is the introduction of social projects within the urbanization programme. By promoting articulation between several sectors of the municipal administration, it has managed to go forward in the required procedures for land ownership – one of the main demands of the populationliving in subnormal settlements. The continuity of the programme will allow the improvement of some managerial aspects and structures, consolidating the key idea of integration between areas of social exclusion and the formal boroughs of the city – a segregation that is characteristic of the city at present.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.

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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh