Urbanization issues are inseparable from and increasingly significant for human rights and development.

‘Cooperative Production of Low-Cost Housing – Socio-Technological Innovation for the Provision of Housing for Low-Income Populations’ was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation for investigating practices of affordable housing production -historical and contemporary- in order to detect the transformative potential of urban development that grounds itself in community organizations and the formation of cooperatives.

I was part of a team of researchers led by Prof. Angélil at the Deparment of Architecture at ETH Zürich, extensively reviewing distinct political eras of social housing production in Brazil  —and because housing markets and housing finance are deeply affected by capital markets, fluctuations in the world economy, and broad changes in global society— the role of international institutions including the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and the New Development Bank.

Above ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ (MCMV) from Minha Casa—Nossa Cidade: Innovating Mass Housing for Social Change in Brazil (2014)


The ‘Minha Casa Minha Vida’ program (MCMV) is one of the world’s largest social housing programs. Launched by the Brazilian federal government in 2009, the program set out, on the one hand, to address the housing shortage most acute for low-to-middle-income families, and on the other, as an anti-cyclical policy in the climate of international financial crisis. Though the program has been successful in terms of quantitative output and was instrumental in staving off deep impact of the 2008 global financial crisis on the Brazilian economy, the spatial quality and social equity engendered by resulting housing developments are widely perceived as lacking in terms of resilience and alignment with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However a small portion of the MCMV program develops cooperative housing in association with residents. And informal extensions, for improved living quality, are common.


With the objective to establish viable models for future cooperative housing production, the collaboration brought together researchers in Switzerland and Brazil. It identified key players, institutional protocols and technological frameworks necessary for fostering innovative approaches within the low-income housing sector. Against the backdrop of the world’s largest social housing program MCMV and the development of cooperative housing in Switzerland, Germany, Japan and Ethiopia, the research traced connections across historical and regional contexts. It analysed the political, social and economic conditions that enable innovation in cooperative low-income housing production with the aim to improve architectural and urban design quality as a whole.

Case studies from different regional contexts —ranging from developing through emerging to developed countries— served for the analysis of various constellations between institutional and private stakeholders, with particular attention paid to housing provision that co-produced and/or co-managed by communities and self-organizing entities. Accordingly, the project investigated the influence of institutional frameworks (national and transnational) on local building practice. 

Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, the research and advisory dialogue assembled knowledge from the fields of architecture, urban planning, sociology, and political economy. In drawing on the experience of selected case studies, the project goal was to provide organizational models for advancing innovation incontext-specific cooperative housing production, as well as for its transfer and scaling across regional boundaries.


Distinct political eras of social housing production in Brazil and the role of international institutions were explored for their structural and agential dimensions and ensuing spatial manifestations. Eras of social housing production in Brazil were described and revealed a continuous and contradictory rescaling of momentum, showing that the rolling back and rolling out of interventionism in the country’s housing policies cannot be dissociated.


The Military period              
The Collor period            
The Itamar period               
The Cardoso period            
The Cardoso period II         
The Lula period                  
The Lula period II             
The Roussef period             
The Temer period                 
1964 – 1986

1990 – 1992

1993 – 1994

1995 – 1998

1999 – 2002

2003 – 2006

2007 – 2010

2011 – 2016

2016 – present   at time of writing


Only partial insight can be obtained in studying housing programs and policies by looking at the general conditions and their constituents in the federal or state context alone. Therefor my work also focused on frameworks crafted by international institutions for supporting housing development in the global South - looking at the respective roles of the United Nations, World Bank, IMF and New Development Bank. Housing markets and housing finance are deeply affected by capital markets, fluctuations in the world economy, and broad changes in global society. The way that housing is practiced in its operational dimensions also depends upon the theoretical and professional principles that globally prevail: they set the terms for development, etched in policy. Policy, the underpinnings of urban infrastructure, is in turn reflected in the operational modes and spatial outcomes of housing programs and urban development projects.   


For decades, international institutions have cooperated at the supranational level to repair damages brought on by World War II, stabilize financial markets and, thereby, build peace. Operating internationally on the basis of repair and prevention, together with national governments, international institutions have come to play a significant role in structuring housing development for low-income populations in the global South. Since the emergence of these institutions, there has been need to base policy interventions upon a framework of principles and theories for development.

The United Nations and the Bretton Woods international financial institutions —the World Bank and International Monetary Fund— long enabled and most relevant for understanding how the international policy environment has, over time, affected the structure of Brazilian urban development projects and policies. The United Nations, World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and New Development Bank were analysed in terms of their origin, purpose in international development, influential power, and the evolution of their approach in relation to housing and urban development projects.  


Place-based issues were not considered relevant in the UN until the 1960s and only in the 1970s did member states begin to recognize spatial agglomerations as “an instrument of socio-economic development”. Consideration of human settlements and, later, urbanization has gradually received more attention with the growing recognition of phenomena exposed by the scholarship, the media, and experience, heightened by the Habitat conferences in 1976, 1996 and 2016.

The phenomena:

·       Globalization affecting national economies around the world, the concentration of wealth producing deep inequality.

·       Urbanization and the explosion of informal settlements with severe shortages of housing and urban services. 

·       Environmental awareness expressed in terms of recognition of planetary limits; later the risks caused to biodiversity and by          global warming and land consumption rates greatly exceeding population growth rates.

In this context of newly and increasingly recognized phenomena, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) received its mandate from the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable urban agglomerations. Within the UN system, UN-Habitat is the platform for matters of urbanization and human settlements, place-based concerns. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, it has a budget of just less than $500 million and operates in more than 62 countries.

Today there are six branches that UN-Habitat channels its activities through: Housing and Slum Upgrading, Research and Capacity Development, Urban Legislation Land and Governance, Urban Basic Services, Urban Economy and Urban Planning and Design.

UN-Habitat issues a flagship publication every two years, the World Cities Report and its activities sponsor local, regional, and global conveingings for the exchange of information, capacity building, and advocacy. Although UN-Habitat’s work intersects with several other UN bodies, UN-Habitat is a relatively small and under-resourced agency. To extend its influence it sometimes collaborates with other international institutions including the World Health Organization and the World Bank. 


Since 1972, the World Bank has had a large impact on the theory and practice of low-income housing in developing countries. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the World Banks’s approach to housing and urban development has been to fit within the political economy of neoliberalism, arguing that state roles should be facilitating, not fundamental. Wider ‘whole sector’ policy reform marks the most recent agenda. In World Bank literature its activities in housing are refered to as ‘shelter’ and shelter lending’.

In Brazil there have been three distinct waves of orientation in shelter lending. The third, most recent, phase of World Bank lending has been taken to deploying ‘Magnum’ shelter loans.  This approach came to be taken as practice has shown housing to be a sector of WB involvement in which policies and programs require institutional strengthening, credit, subsides, basic services, property rights and land development in order to be effective. In the two earlier phases of World Bank shelter lending, the focus was on only 1-3 of these issues. ‘Magnum’ loans address a comprehensive housing agenda, attempting to better integrate all housing issues. To supplement Brazilian efforts in its low-income housing strategy and the ability of the low-income population to acquire assets, and serviced or servable land, Housing Sector Programmatic Development Policy Loans (PDPL) have been developed. The PDPLs focus on housing sector reform under the broad umbrella of economic growth and poverty alleviation. Within this third phase of WB urban lending technical assistance loans are also being deployed to support the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the government reform program supported by the PDPL.

While the World Bank is probably the world’s foremost development agency, focusing on the long term “some call it the best, some call it the worst, but no one escapes its influence”. World Bank functions are carried out alongside those of the IMF.


The IMF influence on the production of housing for low-income populations in the global South is somewhat more abstract than that of the World Bank.

The IMF is headquartered in Washington DC and governed by its major shareholders. It acts primarily as a supervisory lending institution that coordinates the efforts of its member countries to achieve greater cooperation in the formulation of economic policies for making funds flow internationally. Among its member countries it helps to maintain exchange rate stability and structured exchange relations. Each member state contributes a quota subscription, a form of deposit to the IMF for its lending operations. The quota is the basis for determining member state’s voting power within the organization. Initial quotas of the original members were determined at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944. Quota allocations were based on the size of the economy, measured by national income and external trade volume. Quotas determine voting power in the IMF, proportionate to the set financing provided by its members. An extraordinary 85 percent majority of votes is needed in order to make changes to this allotment of financing and, thus, a country’s power within the IMF.

The IMF has used its power to help reform whole-sector housing development in the interest of constituting a desirable set of economic policy reforms to stimulate development. By the mid-80s, this process had begun and meant drawing saving and investing processes closer to housing. It also implied the reform and enlargement of housing capital markets, and extending government roles in taking the necessary steps to place capital on the agenda for reform. Since 1999 the IMF has moved towards legislative and institution-building efforts by borrowers to increase accountability, transparency, the rule of law, and participation. In sum, a trend towards governance-related conditionality.

Crucially, the IMF and the World Bank have been heavily criticized for their part in driving a market-zealous housing sector and promoting the ‘Washington Consensus’ by providing loans that came on strict conditions —conditionality— that enforce market solutions as the only remedy for a country’s productive development. “Fund type” fiscal conditionalities were introduced through structural adjustment lending that began in 1980. Coordination of IMF policies with the WB on their loan programs and policies intensified in 1988, on the basis that long-term growth would follow with coordinated effort on three to five year corrective stabilization in Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries. Accordingly, IMF favored anti-inflation (austerity) packages were included in World Bank lending conditionality.

At the time the IMF and World Bank were created Brazil and the other BRIC nations were impoverished. With the exception of Russia, they were not world powers.



For decades, countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa have sought increased voting rights within the Bretton Woods IFI’s. As their economies have grown, so has their collective will to exert more power within IFI governance. They would like to pay for a greater quota of IMF power, but are effectively blocked from doing so: IMF voting power is proportional to the financing set at the time of membership, for Brazil voting power is locked in at 2.3% of total IMF voting power. At a July 2014 summit in Fortaleza, Brazil the five BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa— signed a declaration establishing a bank that will compete with WB and IMF bodies, offering up the financial resources to support it.

With slow growth in the global North relative to emerging economies of the global South and generally ill-favored conditions attached to cooperation with the Bretton Woods institutions —through their clauses of conditionality— new actors in international development with large financial reserves have been on the rise in recent years. A new Brazil and China-led financial institution, the New Development Bank, is one among several newly established south-south IFIs including the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and the New Silk Road Fund. With an eye to the vast investments required in the countries of the global South, increasingly solidified steps towards the functionality of emerging south-south lenders are accumulating and pilot projects are underway. Although the New Development Bank is still in its incubation phase, it seems that it will play a significant role in the future of housing programs and urban development projects in Brazil and much of the global South.

However since there has been scepticism about the capacity of the BRIC members to deliver on the proposal due to broad differences in strategic interests but also the institutional capacity to deliver on those interests.

Though economic incentives for expanding infrastructure incentives in the BRICS countries help explain the rationale behind their cooperation and formulation of their own development bank, on their own they provide little insight on how this cooperation will be conducted in terms of diverging strategic interests and the formulation of multilateral cooperation. At the time of writing it was too soon to attest to the mode of theory and practice that will prevail. Still, the BRICS have translated their ideational concept into an initial fund of $50 billion with each member holding an equal share of power. To deal with future financial crisis a currency reserve agreement has also been reached, allocating $100 billion.

As the final step in my research, strategic forecasting models were used for speculating on explorative scenarios, normative scenarios and action-oriented scenarios for