A day in the fight for urban reform
Urban social movements and the National Urban Reform Forum are calling once again for the annual mobilization of the population. In 2005, over 5000 people took to the streets in a march organized in the city of Brasilia, and 2006 saw the first edition of the Day of the Struggle for Urban Reform. Today, in 2007, the time has come for renewed action.
All organizations and social movements, whose objectives are to bring justice and democracy to the cities, are being called to organize regional demonstrations on October 1st and 2nd to mark the second edition of the National Day of the Struggle for Urban Reform and the Right to the City.
October 1st, World Habitat Day, is an international event in that on that day, the whole world turns its attention to the issue of housing rights. Brazilian social movements and organizations are asking for World Habitat Day, which is traditionally celebrated on the first Monday of October, to be officially declared as Brazil’s National Urban Reform Day. There is already an initiative pushing this proposal in the National Congress.
One of the main issues to be raised at the 2007 event is the call for greater social involvement in town management. Today, in several Brazilian towns, the people are fighting for the appointment of local councilors, whose role would be to discuss public policy and oversee town management.
On the national level, urban policies are approved within a city’s national council. However, for many reasons, the effectiveness of these boards remains far too limited. The day of demonstrations will be a perfect platform from which to demand that regulations for these authorities be put in place or, if they already exist, that new participative organizations with guaranteed efficiency be introduced.
This year, the key point of the National Urban Reform Day concerns the Program for the Acceleration of Growth (PAC). This program, brainchild of the federal government, was put in place to carry out different types of public works. The majority of the resources given to PAC are for construction within urban zones but it should be noted that these projects are decided upon through discussions between the potential beneficiaries and the civil society of each district.
It is essential that the choice of projects and the allocation of resources become the subject of debate within councils. If not, we run the risk of seeing, yet again, a situation which is all too common when it comes to important public investments: the lack of any real improvement to the living conditions of the poor, but an opportunity, yet again, for political and economic gain for private entrepreneurs, company directors or the private sector.
Further, the National Urban Reform Day is calling for the reduction of the unacceptable Brazilian housing deficit through the introduction of concrete popular housing projects. The number of people in search of housing in Brazil is estimated at 7 million. Regardless of the impact, any public policy aiming to improve this shameful situation should give priority to families with an income of less than five minimum wage salaries. Thanks to a legal dossier created by popular urban movements, a National Social Housing Fund, whose resources are destined to reduce the deficit, is already in place. This is all the more important considering that there are many unoccupied public (owned by the federal, regional or local government) and private buildings whose primary function - to provide accommodation - is not being fulfilled.
On the financial side of things, organizations are calling for more resources and more funding. But their demands go even further: they no longer wish to see housing construction controlled solely by the business sector and the government. Brazil is host to many experiments in community housing associations and popular housing construction co-operatives, based on a self-management model. These organizations could, and should, have access to PAC funding in order to provide housing in accordance with their economical ethics. As far as the unoccupied buildings are concerned, they are a perfect example of property whose societal function is not respected. Working on this principle, urban social movements regularly occupy these buildings to avoid sleeping on the street. It is essential that these buildings lead the way to urban reform through their immediate transformation into popular housing; defined by the government’s public policy and carried out by these various organizations.
During these occupations, it is common that the buildings, be they public or private, are quickly evacuated by local law enforcement, allowing the property to be reclaimed. With the support of a police force which rushes to its duty with a promptness rarely seen elsewhere, this reclaiming translates as violent evictions.
In the face of such a reality, one of the key points of this day’s event is the creation of a national policy to prevent evictions. For this, the only thing to do is to rethink the philosophy and reactions of a judicial power which, when it comes to the occupation of an empty building, considers first the disrespect and violation of the right to property, but never once considers the disrespect of the right to housing. Such a change would involve regional governments agreeing to come together to address and improve this issue of police behavior. It is clear that the most important part of the reform is the necessity of building quality popular housing.
And so Brazil will debate on October 1st and 2nd. There will be thousands of initiatives in different towns and cities, in regional urban reform forums, and in many social movements. A huge public demonstration is expected in Brasilia. At the heart of this enormous mobilization we find the four main Brazilian social urban movements: the Central dos Movimentos Populares (Popular Movements Confederation), the Movimento Nacional de Luta pela Moradia (National Housing Fight Movement), the União Nacional de Moradia Popular (National Popular Housing Union) and the Confederação Nacional das Associações de Moradores (National Confederation of Inhabitant Associations). Parallel to these bodies is the National Urban Reform Forum, a widespread and varied organization of which FASE is the secretary. As for the figures, billions of people will be united in this, the fight for the construction of democratic, fair and sustainable cities for all.