Brazilian Regularization of Title in Light of Moradia, Compared to the United States’ Understandings of Homeownership and Homelessness
39 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2013
Date Written: March 13, 2013
This Essay considers the cultural resonances of regularization of title (regularização) for homeownership in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. It compares those resonances to the cultural meaning of homeownership in the United States. Brazil’s approach is informed by an understanding of moradia, a right to dwell someplace, that is a far cry from its typical English translation as a right to housing. Brazil also draws on constitutional provisions and a long Latin American tradition concerning the social function of property, as well as a general theoretical understanding of the right to the city and of cidadania, a certain kind of citizenship. All of these frames construct homeownership as a gateway to interconnection and full participation in the life of the city. This is distinctly different from the individualistic cast of the prevailing understanding of homeownership in the United States, as personal success and the achievement of wealth, status, and a private castle.
The Essay also considers the standard United States construction of homelessness, which again tends to frame the issue in terms of individual responsibility or blame or of the role of institutional structures as they affect individuals, and typically fails to recognize the effect of having no property on relationships and interconnectedness and ultimately citizenship. The Essay advances five reason for the differences between Brazilian and United States understandings of homeownership. These include very different histories concerning the distribution of public lands; the absence in United States property jurisprudence of anything like the notion of a social function of property; the physical invisibility of informal communities in the United States; United States jurisprudence’s rejection of vague, aspirational human rights claims as law; and an insistence in United States jurisprudence on legal monism and an abstract, universalizing account of property ownership that valorizes one-size-fits-all law rather than case-by-case accounts of how land and dwellings are managed by various local communities.
Finally, the Essay observes a recent groundswell of United States scholarship that debunks “A own Blackacre” as an adequate account of the ownership of land and homes, insisting on a more race- and class-informed account as to both the history of homeownership and possible solutions for providing secure dwelling for the poor. The Essay recommends a convergence of studies of informal communities worldwide with a more nuanced, race- and class-informed understanding of homeownership.
Keywords: regularization of title, moradia, right to housing, social function of property, property, right to the city, Brazil, homeownership, home, homelessness, favela, citizenship, colonia, tent city, squatter, de soto, informal housing, affordable housing, legal monism, legal pluralism, rio de janeiro
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