In this regard Pindell advises, "The city is a place in which diverse groups, distinguished by income, race, or other characteristics, engage in a competition for space. For some, efforts within the competition are focused on excluding certain populations. Suburban communities incorporate to separate themselves from cities; some individuals live within the protections of gated communities, and some localities engage in zoning practices designed to limit housing opportunities for low-income individuals" (p. 436). To help overcome these constraints to low-income housing developments, the World Bank recommends that to improve public investment (which affects productivity and therefore Brazil's economic performance), the government of Brazil should reform local master planning and subdivision regulations, building codes and zoning ordinances in an effort to increase the supply of land available for low-income housing projects (Brazil: Equitable, competitive, sustainable, contributions for debate, 2003). While the debate over how best to resolve the problems related to the provision of low-income housing continue in Brazil, a significantly different approach has been adopted in China in recent years that has only made the problem worse for many urban dwellers, and these issues are discussed further below.
Low-Income Housing Initiatives in China
Unlike the squatters in Brazil who enjoy the advantage of legislative initiatives that have been intended to help them acquire legal title to the lands they occupy, a harsher regimen has been used in China to address unauthorized residents of public and private lands in recent years. According to the United Nations' (UN) report, "Housing the poor in urban economies" (2009), "In Asia, rapid economic growth resulted in growing numbers of evictions of urban poor from their neighborhoods and in their relocation to peripheral areas, far from centers of employment and where they cannot benefit from new economic opportunities" (p. 2). Although the rate of evictions was stemmed somewhat by the Asian financial crisis and the resulting collapse of the real estate sector, the UN also cites the lack of interest on the part of the countries such as China's national and local governments in addressing the problem of low-income housing in substantive ways (Housing the urban poor in urban economies, 2009). By any measure, China is a land of contrasts and perhaps no where is this more evident that in the country's priorities for construction. Prior to the Asian monetary crisis in the late 1990s, Shanghai was experiencing both the most massive construction boom in history, with more than one thousand skyscrapers being built with almost 500 more scheduled for completion by the 21st century (Ramo, 1999). Following the economic crisis that struck many of the nations of Asia, though, Shanghai was also affected in severe ways. According to Ramo, "Side by side with double-digit economic growth are (according to some estimates) 70% vacancy rates, real estate prices that have slid 50% since 1995, and, ironically, a housing shortage" (p. 64). This shortage of low-income housing in Shanghai was the direct result of many of the housing projects that were part of the building boom during the 1990s being targeted at the growing upper-middle class in China to the exclusion of the city's less affluent. While the national government in China took steps to help the more affluent residents of Shanghai acquire access to these expensive housing units, virtually nothing was done to help address the need for low-income housing. In this regard, Ramo emphasizes that:
Officials passed China's first mortgage-financing laws and have agreed to grant 'blue passes' (the much coveted documents that determine where Chinese citizens can live) to anyone willing and able to buy an expensive apartment. They even began to restructure bank-lending rules to encourage companies to relocate to Shanghai. But even as these regulations began to fall into place, another theme emerged: Workers trying to move to Shanghai could not find anywhere to live. (p. 65)
In response to this growing need for low-income housing, the Chinese government has since taken steps to privatize the real estate industry in an effort to stimulate private investment in low-income housing projects as well as increased assistance from NGOs such as the World Bank (Ramo, 1999) and the Asian Development Bank (Kuroda, 2005). Yet another initiative that has proven effective in recent years...
According to the UN's report "Shelter, infrastructure and neighborhood regeneration, "In 1987, 1,347 families in Da Xing county had no housing or were housed in extremely poor conditions. The estimated cost of providing housing for these families was 25 million Chinese yuan while the County could only spend 0.5 million Chinese yuan" (p. 4). Because there were inadequate resources available to provide low-income housing for these citizens in a wholesale fashion, an alternative was developed which proved highly effective. In this regard, the UN's report goes on to note, "The families were organized into a cooperative, one of the first in China, with individuals bearing 65% of total investment and 35% provided by work units (employers). To date, Xin Xing Cooperative has invested a total of 180 million Chinese yuan, built 318,000 m2 of dwelling space and housed 5132 families. The program is being replicated by six branches of the cooperative in other towns and villages" (Shelter, infrastructure and regeneration, 1996, p. 5). In sum, it is clear that China's rush to industrialization has been met with a corresponding need for low-income housing as a national priority, but the political will is not as evident as that in Brazil for achieving this goal and the residents of China have been compelled to take matters into their own hands to develop the low-income housing they need today rather than 10 or 20 years from now. There are some other similarities and differences between China and Brazil as well that will undoubtedly impact future efforts to develop low-income housing in these two countries, and these issues are discussed further below.
According to the United Nation's global report on human settlement, although the problem of providing low-income housing is a global one, it is particularly pronounced in Latin America and Asia, with Brazil and China leading the way in population growth that will undoubtedly further exacerbate in the problem in years to come. Moreover, the United Nations' global report on human settlements emphasizes that some of the world's largest urban concentrations are already located in Brazil and China as shown in Table 1 and Figure 1 below.
Populations of Large Urban Centers in Brazil and China (in millions of residents)
Figure 1. Populations of Large Urban Centers in Brazil and China (in millions of residents)
While Brazil has one of the largest urban concentrations, it is clear that China is also faced with a growing urban agglomeration of its people. In addition, Brazil's per capita gross domestic product is almost 60% greater than China's, while China's population is almost seven times as great as that of Brazil. A comparison of the total populations and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for Brazil and China is provided in Table 2 and Figures 2 and 3 below.
Comparison of Population Levels and Per Capita GDP for Brazil and China
Per Capita GDP
Figure 2. Comparison of Population Levels for Brazil and China
Figure 3. Comparison of Per Capita GDP Levels for Brazil and China
Source for data in Table 2 and Figures 2 and 3 above: CIA world factbook, 2009
Taken together, the foregoing statistics suggest that while both Brazil and China are faced with some of the same types of significant problems, China in particular is going to require a great deal more effort in identify ways to provide its country's citizens with the low-income housing it desperately needs.
The research showed that affordable housing is one of the fundamental stepping stones to other economic development in emerging nations such as Brazil and China, and both of these countries have experienced their fair share of shortages of adequate housing for their less affluent citizens. The research also showed that while both Brazil and China are well situated to become major players in an increasingly globalized marketplace in the future, Brazil appears to have been more successful in addressing the problem of providing low-income housing for in its major urban centers through legislative initiatives including amendments to the country's constitution that provide a framework in which squatters can gain legitimate title to their property which will encourage further investment on the part of the private sector and the resident alike. In sharp contrast, though, the research showed that China has been less effective at the national level in making the provision of low-income housing at priority and notwithstanding…
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