War of places

the colonization of land and housing in the era of finance

Raquel Rolnik

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“A devastating indictment, based on incomparable first-hand testimony from around the world, of the incapacity of our current political and economic system to provide decent shelter in a decent living environment for the majority of the world’s citizens. Raquel Rolnik was the UN special rapporteur for housing for 6 years and  from that work (she got) an incredible fund of global experience on housing issues worldwide, now transalted into a book. I think it  a fantastic text, that brings together an incredible array of personal testimony from all over the world in a theoretical context that is excellently articulated and interwoven within the text.” David Harvey

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Real estate in general and housing in particular have been one of the most powerful new frontiers of financial capital expansion during the last decades. The belief that markets could regulate the allocation of urban land and housing as the most rational means of resource distribution, combined with experiments with ‘creative’ financial products related to it, has resulted in public policies that have abandoned the conceptual meaning of housing as a social good and of the city as a public artifact. Housing and urban policies have shifted from being part of the commonalities a society agrees to share or to provide to those with fewer resources, a means to distribute wealth, into a means to accumulate individual wealth and to generate financial gains. This process implied in massive dispossession of territories and the creation of “place-less” urban poor as well as increased levels of segregation in the cities.

Taking the 1990s as a starting point, and the current financial crisis as its first great international collapse, the thesis offers a global panorama of the paradigm shift towards the colonization of urban land and housing by global finance. The first part describes the financialization of housing in different national contexts, trying to point out the diferente versions of the policies adopted. The second part focuses the mechanisms by which the tenure forms of the urban majorities become more insecure, opening ground to the hegemony of individual freehold as the one and only model. Both parts take examples from the cities in the global North as well as in the global South. The third part examines the same process addressed in the previous parts, but focusing specifically in the Brazilian case.