São Paulo – Access to land

In what conditions youth live and access land in São Paulo?

São Paulo is a city where civil society has been organizing itself the most after the start of the Brazilian re-democratization and where many important national social movements were born, such as the national movement for urban reform (AVRITZER, 2008). However, the population still suffers from great social and territorial inequalities. Cities are the home of 11,244,369 people, of which 25.83% are youth, in an area of 1,521 km² –99.1% urban and 0.9% rural (IBGE, 2010). A huge space with a municipal human development index (IDHM) considered “very high” –0,805– (UNDP, 2013), and the biggest municipal GDP in Brazil (IBGE, 2015), indicators that cover up very problematic contexts. The situation in the peripheries is quite different from the scenario outlined by the average data of these economic and social indicators; they are regions of high social vulnerability. This scenario is even more worrying when we observe, as shown in the map below, that young people are mostly concentrated on these regions [1].

Young people from 15 to 19 years old in total population

Map youth SP

Source: Map of Social Vulnerability in São Paulo, 2000

The peripheries of São Paulo are regions that coexist with various types of lack of access. For example, regarding cultural and sports facilities, there are 236 public cultural facilities in the 96 districts of the city and in 24 of these districts (many of which are located in the peripheries) there is no facility, while 6 other districts (all centrally located) concentrate 83 facilities –28 in a single district. In the case of sports facilities, inequality increases. There are 56 districts with no facility and a single district concentrating 31 of the 459 available facilities for public use. The issue of mobility is also a problem. Data shows that the average time spent on commuting in to the city is two hours and, of course, the ones who take longer live in the peripheries. (REDE NOSSA SÃO PAULO, 2013).

In other words, in São Paulo, youth are an important part of the population in areas that face greater social vulnerability. This is also revealed by a study made by the Centre for Metropolitan Studies (CEM-CEBRAP) from the University of São Paulo in partnership with the Department of Social Work of São Paulo (SAS-PMSP), which resulted in a Social Vulnerability Map of the City of São Paulo. This study divides the population into some groups, constructed on the basis of their socio-economic precariousness and the percentage of young families (family life cycle). The map below shows the variation of this index in space and youth as part of the most vulnerable groups.

Social Vulnerability Map – Census sectors of São Paulo, 2004

Youth map 2

Source: CEM-CEBRAP, 2004

Specifically regarding the housing issue, the city has 10.8% of its households (386,188) in slums and is currently facing a context of property speculation and housing shortage (Municipal Housing Secretariat, 2011).

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Housing appreciation in São Paulo was 197.4% between January 2008 and January 2014 for purchase and 95.9% in the same period for rental (Fipe/Zap Index, 2014). Meanwhile, between January 2008 and December 2013 IPCA inflation was 38.9% (Index Fipe/Zap, 2014), which shows how much greater is the appreciation of property in relation to inflation. [2]

Consequently, these data are reflected in the level of satisfaction of the population with the city. The IRBEM (Reference Indicators of Well-Being in the Municipality) reveals dissatisfaction with city aesthetics, social inequality, youth’s reality, social values, housing, transparency and participation.

Below are the detailing of the categories surveyed and their average valuations, determined from a scale of 0 to 10 (IRBEM 2013).

City aesthetics – average 5.0

Appearance of the city;
Appearance of your neighborhood;
Conservation of historical monuments;
Conservation public spaces.

Social Inequality – average 3.8

Equal access to education;
Equal access to employment opportunities;
Equal access to health services;
Equal access to housing;
Equal access to justice;
Income distribution.

Youth – average of 4.8

Access to technical education and university;
First job opportunity to youth;
Degree of access to information for young people in preventing drug use;
Programs for the prevention of pregnancy in adolescence;
How much schools are attractive to youth;
Cultural centers and youth centers in neighborhoods;
Police treatment towards youth.

Social values – average 4.5

Solidarity: group spirit and respect for others and for life among people in the city;
Culture of peace and violence refusal among people in the city;
Citizenship: citizen participation in city life, exercising rights and duties;
Shared responsibilities, collective consciousness among people in the city;
Ethical behavior: honest and beneficent human conduct among people in the city.

Housing – average 4.5

Quality of your housing;
Supply and quality of sewage in your housing;
Amount of subway stations in your neighborhood;
Public policies that allow housing purchase;
Public policies for re-urbanization of slums;
Offer of housing plans for all salary ranges;
Solutions for housing in risk areas.

Transparency and Participation – average 3.5

Compulsory voting;
Spaces for political participation;
Degree of knowledge of popular media;
Access to useful information by phone and internet;
Information access in the Internet portal of the Municipality;
Form of participation in the choice of district administrators;
Popular participation in councils of district administration;
Monitoring of the actions of elected politicians;
Transparency of public expenditures and investments;
Corruption punishment;
Honesty of governors.

Youth access to land in São Paulo

Box 3 engThe second perception, also strongly present, is that access to land means access to public space, and only after deepening the discussion, that it means the right to the city. Thus, we can conclude that the holistic vision to access to land talked about previously is still not prevalent.According to the conversations carried out for the project with representatives of the government, social movements and youth of São Paulo, when it comes to access to land, the most recurrent perception is the association of the topic with the rural context or, when it comes to the urban environment, with housing and property ownership.

All perceptions mentioned, housing and property, public space and right to the city, are connected to the process of urbanization of the city itself.

Representatives of social movements say that the housing issue is central because it affects other services such as education, work and purchase of consumer goods. Without housing there is “lack of address” to access other services. They also say, having a house, and therefore an address, in the minds of many of the homeless families, is a symbol of dignity and a “prerequisite” for other rights.

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On the government side, the theme is also very present in terms of policies and challenges.

The housing issue is centered at the Municipal Housing Secretariat (SMH), but due to its importance and the existing demand by the population, other departments coordinate and incorporate housing policies to contribute to the achievement of specific objectives such as empowerment of women and racial equality.

However, SMH points out that, as mentioned before, the high demand for land is the major challenge for the implementation of housing policies. For the acquisition of land for housing projects, there is not only competition with the private sector, but also the need to liaise with the interests of other secretariats that require land for their own services.

Moreover, many of the lands examined are discarded by registration problems, contamination, among other problems, and several other, already occupied, need regularization.

The Municipal Urban Development Secretariat (SMDU) also adds some factors that makes up the challenge, which include: the high cost of expropriation, operational difficulties with the bureaucratic structure of the Municipality, need of technical labor for evaluation which is not always available and the uncertainty in relation to the process because it is not possible to predict the final cost of the property whose value is disputed by the owner and measured via court order.

The argument of housing movements mainly emphasize the property speculation as the major problem for access to land in São Paulo. Because of the intensive exploitation of land and buildings, many families end up selling their houses and moving increasingly to the periphery of the city. Others, cannot buy or keep their houses in the neighborhoods in which they live or want to live.

This also impacts existing policies. The Minha Casa Minha Vida, the main Brazilian federal government housing program, sometimes cannot be implemented in the city of São Paulo precisely because of the cost of land. Because of the prohibitive land prices it is impossible to build housing units according to maximum price set by the program.

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Thus, two possible paths are seen as essential guidelines to improve the housing context of the city:

1) Increase infrastructure and job opportunities in the peripheries;

2) Increase the population density of the expanded center, meaning, in places where infrastructure already exists. And with that, seek the balance of occupation and the containment of the excessive appreciation of areas.

Finally, housing movements highlight another difficulty for the creation and implementation of housing policies, which is the fact that housing is not fully understood as a right by society. Housing is currently understood as a consumer good; “I finance it, I buy it”.

As this is the current idea and like most people expect to access their homes, they encounter many barriers confronting opinions that other services such as health and education are priority.

In regards to youth, both government and housing movements consider housing to be mostly a matter that concerns only “adults” or “parents”. Similar perception is also affirmed by the recent UH-Habitat report: What land means for youth (UN-Habitat, 2014).

Some factors can be attributed to this.

Although the decision around housing –purchase, rental or family property– is considered an individual decision, it is often done in consultation with the family or in some cases even with the community.A part of that, this choice changes over time, depending on factors such as employment, marriage or cohabitation, children, and others (UN-Habitat, 2014).

Due to their life stage, most young people cannot afford to buy a property, however the access to it is not based just in financial conditions.

Social factors also influence the availability and possibility of housing to young people, for instance, prejudice influence, be it generational, racial, gender based, aiming other.

Rental guarantees for young people are often higher than for adults, owners give preference to the elders and/or families with children associating young people with disorder, lack of trust and so on. (UN-Habitat, 2014) At the same time, it is difficult for young people to access credit and there is no focus for youth in housing policies. The SMH, for example, stands from the goal of meeting all municipal demand, despite that it has a list of priority groups which are families, women head of household, elderly, people with disabilities and people living on the streets.

Another important factor is that the housing public policy in Brazil is designed from the income point of view and not age groups, regardless of the fact that youth is one of the groups with more difficulty to access housing, as shown by the data presented before. According to Maria Piedade Morais, Coordinator for the Urban Sector Studies at the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA):

“You have to diversify the housing policy of the country that has always been grounded in home ownership. In fact, people don´t need to buy a house. If you are a young person, for example, and do not know where you will work in the future, you do not necessarily need to buy a house, you need to have a place to live.[3]” (MORAES, 2008)

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According to the IPEA, the factors that lead young people to live or not with their parents are:

Among dependents

  • Place of residence: living in a metropolitan area or a large city increases the likelihood of dependency – which is the reflection of a more expensive housing market;
  • Type of housing: young people tend to stay longer living with their parents when their parents own the property where they live;
  • Education: the higher the education of a young person, the greater the likelihood of he/she continuing as a dependent.

Among the independents

  • Social situation: young people that are married and employed are more likely to form a new household;
  • Gender: women are more likely to leave the parental home, often aiming to establish a possible relationship;
  • Rent: formal rents are the main choice of the independent youth;
  • Age: as they get older, young people are more likely to be independent.  However, after a certain age just the opposite occurs –possibly a situation of “conformity”, the lack of alternatives or assistance from young to their elderly parents (IPEA, 2012). [4]

Such perspectives demonstrate that the perception that housing is not a subject that concerns young people is incorrect. The difference in focus occurs because of their stage of life, which makes young people focus in other priorities, such as study, work and leisure.

And it is leisure, linked to public space, which arises when one extends the discussion on youth access to land.

Access to public space becomes central due to the sociocultural meaning that land has to young people. The relationship of youth with the land is linked with their search for identity, community and cultural expression (UN-Habitat, 2014). In this sense, occupy public space is understood as essential to identity formation and expression of youth.

Both municipal government and civil society movements understand that today there is an undermining of the “public” sense of coexistence and the expansion of the culture of fear and that, therefore, it needs work to reopen and redefine the public space, as well as to recover the feeling of belonging to the city. This mainly occurs through failure and unequal spaces and public facilities, increasing expansion of private living spaces –malls, gated communities etc.–bureaucratization of the forms of access to existing public space and violence.

For private spaces there is an aggravating factor: the prejudice. The youth from the periphery often comes across “borders” implicitly established in locations that, because of economic growth, starts to loose its “exclusivity” of occupation from the classes with greater purchasing power –like malls, airports etc.

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On the other hand, according to Marco Antonio Silva, advisor to the Municipal Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality, with the growth of the city, the deficiency of the public transport system and prejudice, the youth of the peripheries began to seek new ways to have fun, which led them to create a more direct relationship with the places where they live. Thus, movements such as “100% Jardim Irene”, “Guaianazes in veins”, “Love Cidade Tiradentes”, and others, were born.

In relation to violence, according to the municipal coordinator of youth, Gabriel Medina, the constraint is aggravated by the various forms of control, repression and criminalization of youth, a period of very controlled life, observed and safeguarded. Exacerbated control, and often militarized, based on the perception that “young people is a problem” puts limits on the access young people have to public spaces, participation and citizenship.

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In the realm of public policy, access to public space is also central to municipal management and is based mainly on re-qualifying spaces at the peripheries and on the promotion of the right to the city.

Examples of policies fostering access to the city that has great impact on youth

Finally, the right, and consequently the access to the city, is the approach that has been growing within the current government and among civil society movements. For that reason, in 2013, it was created the Coordination of the Right to the City within the Municipal Secretariat of Human Rights and Citizenship. The intent of this coordination is to give territorial responses to specific questions. Therefore, it seeks the territorial dimension of the various areas –youth, labor, drugs, migrants, etc.

Box 9 eng v2It is worth noting that the Coordination was born out of the process of developing municipal youth policies, which are structured around three policy elements: prevention of mortality of black youth, qualification of labor and education and the connection of cultures and modalities of use of the city. It was from the reflection around the need to better integrate these elements that it was understood that in order to achieve the desired objectives, it was necessary to think of the city as a whole.

Among civil society it is also possible to note the expansion of awareness about the right to the city. Besides the National Urban Reform Movement (MNRU) and the National Urban Reform Forum (FNRU), which are the main thematic movements, we can increasingly learn about new movements with specific agendas, justifying and explaining their demands as part of the promotion of the right and access to the city.

It is from all these perceptions on how to address the access to land and to the territory that the path to the discussion about participation is open.

Box 10 eng v2


[1] Although there is no updated data and currently the city be going through an aging process, the pattern of population distribution in the territory in relation to young people follows the same.

[2] Statement originally made at:http://cidadesparaquem.org/blog/2013/8/18/um-plano-diretor-pode-mudar-a-cidade

[3] Declaration originally given on: http://memoria.ebc.com.br/agenciabrasil/noticia/2008-10-21/para-ipea-politica-habitacional-precisa-ultrapassar-logica-da-casa-propria

[4] Data published by Gazeta do Povo, available at: www.gazetadopovo.com.br/m/conteudo.phtml?id=1241219&tit=Falta-de-dinheiro-mantem-jovens-na-casa-dos-pais