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Potential of community land trusts in Rio’s favelas discussed at Lincoln Institute

Catalytic Communities’ Theresa Williamson was welcomed to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy by Martim O. Smolka, director of the Program on Latin America and the Caribbean, on Nov. 16, 2017. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Lincoln Institute has for many years helped establish a network for best practices in the establishment of community land trusts, and Williamson delivered a lecture on how CLTs may help protect Rio de Janeiro’s informal settlement communities from gentrification.

Rio is home to some 1,000 favela communities, most of which are located on public lands. New laws allowing the privatization of federal property may open the floodgates for favela communities to claim full land rights, according to Williamson.

From a Lincoln Institute blog post:

Over more than a century, Williamson said, community-orchestrated development unregulated by government has been the norm, but this organic urban growth has been more sustainable and resilient than is commonly recognized, with strong social and economic networks that thrive through flexibility and innovation. Many residents have jobs that pay a decent wage, and there has been less stigma associated with living there. “The vast majority of favela residents consider themselves happy and are proud to live there,” Williamson said. Because they are unregulated, the largely self-built areas “have developed each in an entirely unique way, resulting in both highly functional and vibrant communities.” Many favelas have become quite consolidated; by some accounts, favelas as a whole comprise the bulk of Rio de Janeiro’s affordable housing.[…]

The trick will be to help secure legal rights for favela residents that would allow them to remain in their homes — without tipping them into the formal and highly speculative real estate market. The community land trust model, where land is collectively owned to keep prices down, offers community control and potentially permanent affordability, Williamson said.

The full slideshow used in the presentation is available here.

Williamson, a Brazilian-American city planner, has been executive director of Catalytic Communities since founding the favela advocacy organization in Rio de Janeiro in 2000. She is an outspoken and respected activist and speaker on Rio de Janeiro’s favelas working to ensure they are recognized for their heritage status and their residents fully served as equal citizens. She is editor-in-chief of RioOnWatch, CatComm’s internationally recognized sustainable urbanism watchdog news site and favela news service regarded for its work in informing and influencing international journalists covering the Olympics, and local debates on housing in Rio. Williamson earned her B.A. in Biological Anthropology from Swarthmore College and her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

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