Tag Archives: Brazil

Learning from Sao Paulo? – Interview with Thiago Barbizan

Thiago Barbizan is an architect and urban planner presently working as an Advisor to the Secretary of Housing for the Municipality of São Paulo. At the “Housing for All – Mobilizing the Resources” session on 6th October at the Metropolis World Congress held in Hyderabad, he spoke about the innovative housing policies being implemented in Sao Paulo. His presentation was inspiring but also raised some questions in our minds so we decided to speak to him in greater detail about it. He kindly agreed and we met up with him on 8th October. The following is a transcript of that conversation.


Indivar : In your presentation at the “Housing for All – Mobilizing the Resources” session you spoke of the mechanisms by which the Prefeitura de Sao Paulo is financing social housing and you spoke specifically of the Minha Casa, Minha Vida program. We were very interested in the work you were doing because we felt it addressed, in innovative ways, some of the problems being faced in the Indian context too. That’s what we wanted to discuss with you. We also had some questions pertaining specifically to financing social housing and creating an effective institutional framework. In India, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Housing and Development Corporation (HUDCO) was made the nodal point for housing finance. However, beginning with the late 1980s, when new economic policies were taking shape, HUDCO’s involvement in housing finance has gradually reduced. It was supplemented by a new National Housing Bank(NHB) which operated much more like a conventional bank and restricted the room for manoeuvre for various actors in social housing provision, mainly state or city governments. Based on our readings of HUDCO’s reports we found two major factors for this withdrawal. Firstly, HUDCO’s capacity was highly limited by the inadequate equity support it received from the government. Secondly, and very interestingly, HUDCO’s endeavour to sustain a high credit rating ruled out the possibility of financing housing for the poor wherein there is a greater risk of loan default. The first question we wished to ask you therefore is how is this problem managed in the context of Sao Paulo or Brazil?

Thiago : In Brazil, we went through a similar process. In my presentation I showed briefly the history. In the 70s we used to have a National Housing Bank too [which operated similarly to HUDCO]. It was the institution that was responsible for social housing. This was stopped during the 80s when we were under a dictatorship. That was the larger context for the changes. When the NHB was closed its responsibilities were transferred to the Ministry of Finance. But you are right – it is important to get the institutional framework right. Now, in Brazil, we have a Ministry of Cities to oversee the development of cities. Whenever a city has a project, it could be metro or social housing it goes through this ministry of cities. The Ministry of Cities also regulates finance. The institutions specifically responsible for the provision of finance are either one of the two government owned banks, Banco do Brasil and Caixa Economica Federal. These institutions themselves are regulated by the Ministry of Finance. A city can go and apply for credit for social housing under Minha Casa Minha Vida. If you have a higher income, you can apply individually to build a house.


Indivar : Is there some mechanism or institutional framework by which social housing finance is provided while ensuring a stable credit rating? Don’t the Brazilian banks face similar problems like HUDCO?

Thiago : We have something called the Cities Statute. The legal framework for governing the cities comes from both the constitution and cities statute. All cities have to follow this framework. The city statute has many instruments. Since 2004, one of these instruments is the masterplan. The masterplan has a provision for creating what are known as special interest zones to foster social housing. In this context, the public banks are not so autonomous. Banks have to follow the regulations from the ministry of cities. If it is classified as social housing, there are many decrees and legislations for you to apply and finance for that. Interest rates cannot be too high or too low – normally they are around 7 percent per year.

We have created detailed maps of all the zones. In the Special Interest Zones you can only build social housing. It is by law and there are different categories of these zones namely ZEIS 1; ZEIS 2; ZEIS 3; and ZEIS 4). ZEIS 1- where slums and popular irregular land settlements; ZEIS 2 – empty or underused areas for promotion of social housing, ZEIS 3 – areas with slums or tenement housing in central neighborhoods, ZEIS 4 – empty land adequate for housing but in environmentally protected areas.

If the ZEIS, a developer can only build social housing. He will not get a permit for anything else.

Since last year we went to revision of the master plan. There are three different maps which are very important for our work:

  1. The old ZEIS map of 964 areas.
  2. We have now increased the ZEIS from 964 areas to 2546 areas. This was a participatory process with social movements related to housing and also with councillors and to map the new ZEIS around the city. As you can see the majority of the ZEIS are in the periphery of the city. More housing in town. This is a very important tool. So you create a bank of land on which you can permit housing.
  3. Map of slums – Illegal allotments, tenement houses and favelas. With so many favelas we needed to prioritise to see which favela had to be dealt with first. We created a prioritisation system. Risk area, Infrastructure, social vulnerability and health conditions. Through that we created a list of priority areas which are colour-coded, the highest priority are lighter orange areas and on to the darker ones. 2024 has been designated as the year by which this work will have to be completed.

On this website: habisp.inf.br – you will find documents in PDFs of the municipal housing plan. It explains how the ZEIS works. How it was possible to create this in Brazil. How it enabled us to come up with some strategy like this.


Indivar : How was the participatory mapping carried out? Were specific actors invited or some other mechanism like this? 

Thiago : To revise the master plan, you need to have public hearings and workshops and crowd-sourcing. We have a website – where you can read the law and put in comments. If you disagreed with something, you could write and people have the option of liking what you wrote. So that way, for someone reviewing this activity, the number of likes becomes a useful indicator.


Indivar : What kind of titles are given out? Are they free-hold titles or lease-hold titles?

Thiago : Houses in favelas,  tenement houses and illegal allotments do not get clear freehold titles. They get leasehold rights and of course the leases are extendable.


Indivar : Can these titles be traded or mortgaged?

Thiago : The law does not recognize third party transfers of these leases. But a lot of informal trading does happen. It’s a big problem. We have a land regularisation programme within the department. If the land ownership is not clear, this department deals with it. It goes on till they give the title. If families occupy this piece of land, in five years they can request the ownership using picture evidence or maps.


Indivar : In India, the latest housing scheme has also been promising the regularization of titles by providing formal lease-hold titles. But the broader rationale is in the vein of Hernando de Soto whereby the title could be used as an asset that can be mortgaged. This is not happening in Brazil? The thrust is merely security of tenure?

Thiago : Yes, they cannot be mortgaged. But certain transfers are possible. As its a leasehold, they cannot trade, but they can pass it along to their children. It is usually given out in the name of the woman.


Indivar : If there is a plot of land that was earlier secured under one particular title, but has now been divided into smaller fragments. Possibly very small fragments. How is the title-deed drawn out?

Thiago : The area could be very small and be occupied by even 20 people. But each of those 20 will be given a title.


The following are useful links regarding municipal housing policy in Brazil:
Municipal Housing Plan: The Sao Paulo Experience Volume 1
From Plan to Project: New Neighbourhoods and Social Housing in Sao Paulo Volume 2
Municipal Housing Plan 2009-2024 City of Sao Paulo