The right to housing is a guaranteed human right in Brazil’s constitution; however, people living in informal settlements, known as favelas, constantly face many barriers in the fulfillment of this guarantee. Although citizens have the right to legalize ownership of the land on which they reside, many obstacles exist within this process. In response to these obstacles, Habitat for Humanity Brazil is working to improve secure land tenure for families living in favelas to ensure that they do not have to relocate, and also to make sure that conditions are adequate and safe.
Habitat Brazil focuses its advocacy efforts in the state of Pernambuco, located in the Northeastern region of Brazil. Due to the national context, such as the arrival of the new government, Habitat Brazil, has been focusing its advocacy efforts in the state of Pernambuco for the past two years. But Habitat Brazil has had advocacy efforts on national, state and municipal levels. Habitat Brazil is coordinating members of the National Forum for Urban Reform, which conducts advocacy on a national level, and in other councils and forums on local levels. The current barriers to slum upgrading initiatives are high because the Brazilian government is not prioritizing slum upgrading, resulting in scarce resources and funds to improve the conditions for families living in favelas. Due to lack of resources and funds to regularize land tenure, families live in constant fear of eviction, as they do not have recognized rights to the land they reside on—even though they may have been living there for decades.
In response to this, Habitat Brazil advocates for housing in more central areas and also advocates to prevent eviction, and developed a study on living conditions by compiling a large amount of land tenure cases. The study shows that in some instances families live in fear of losing their land which they depend on to survive, and in many cases can wait up to 20 years for their case to be resolved because a proposed policy has not yet been considered by the government or because it depends on the view of the judge who is discerning the case. Using the collection of land tenure cases from the study and by partnering with public ministries, Habitat Brazil conducted a workshop that involved members of the judiciary. These members included judges, defenders and prosecutors who work directly with land tenure cases. Even the president of the justice system of Pernambuco participated.
Through this collaborative effort Habitat Brazil went from having four favorable decisions, such as the right to continue living on the land and giving them tenure of that particular plot, to having over 150 favorable decisions within two years. A major success from this is that the judiciary system of Pernambuco now recognizes that these land issues do exist, where it did not in the past. It is now formally recognized by the local government that housing rights need to be guaranteed, informal settlers are a part of the state and have the right to adequate housing.
Because of this recognition, families are not forcefully removed at the same rate from their homes like they were before. Families have a sense of security that their houses will not be taken away without an advocacy rebuttal. This sense of empowerment and pride encourages communities to work collectively towards securing land tenure, as it is more effective when communities advocate for themselves in greater numbers. Nonetheless, forceful evictions still remain a big problem for the inhabitants.
Habitat Brazil also advocates to ensure that in the case there is public intervention, the family will have the right to fair financial compensation for their property. When a family does not have the deed to their land, they often receive such little compensation that they are unable to relocate elsewhere.
Reflecting on the challenges of these barriers, Habitat Brazil utilized three strategic methods to increase secure land tenure. Firstly, collaborating with the public ministry was a fundamental part of its advocacy efforts. Secondly, Habitat Brazil found great success in advocating and basing policy solutions on data, such as from the land tenure case studies, because it is difficult for others to dispute the current conditions of the informal settlements within the state of Pernambuco when there is hard evidence. Presenting this hard evidence was an essential step in the process so that governing bodies recognize that the right to land should be extended to all. Thirdly, working in coalition brought greater results to create the biggest impact.
Habitat Brazil has increased land tenure for many and influenced policy related to housing rights. In the future, Habitat Brazil wishes to broaden alliances and actions to other regions of Brazil and will continue to map land conflicts in hopes of finding even more solutions, create policies and resolve land conflicts to improve access to land for housing.