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The Communidades Program, Fortaleza

Keywords: Poverty Eradication
Community participation & Urban Governance


The Communidades Programme is being implemented in the Metropolitan Region of Fortaleza, a city of 2.5 million inhabitants with over 400 "favelas" which house 540,720 inhabitants, 157,212 of whom work in the informal sector. Furthermore, it is estimated that 40% of the population is illiterate.

The Programme involves three components: Housing, Job Creation and Revenue Generation, and Training, and the creation of a broad-based and participatory institutional framework for urban governance. The concept behind the "Communidades" approach is to strengthen civil society and citizenship by providing access to affordable housing, jobs and training.

The programme consists of 8 micro urban development projects involving a partnership arrangement between State Government of Ceara, the municipalities of Eus bio, Maracanau, Pacatuba and Maranguape, the Federal Institute of Technology of Ceara (ETFCE), citizen's associations in the four municipalities, the GRET - a NGO - and the Communidades network which includes over 25 institutions, primarily universities and consultants.

Based on the PILP project which was implemented in the town of Fortaleza in 1987 (see The "Mutirao 50 " project) which built 52 units of affordable self-help housing, the present intiative represents a scaling up effort in four other municipalities. Since the inception of the programme in 1990-91, a total of 500 jobs have been created and 1000 units of affordable housing have been built.

The programme initially established, in 1991, an inter-institutional council for decision-making regarding programme implementation. However, it was not until 1993 that the structure of the Council was finalised and finally approved by the Governor of the State of Ceara in 1994. Since 1995, the Council membership has been expanded and regular monthly meetings are held with the active participation of all stakeholders of the programme.


In 1990, the State Government of Ceara asked the GRET and other partners to replicate the "Mutirao 50" project. This resulted in the start up of the "Communidades" Programme involving the following key components and processes:

1. The implementation of integrated urban development projects at the neighbourhood level in each of the 5 municipalities. Each project is comprised of an affordable housing project for approximately 150 families, basic infrastructure and services, the creation of public space, commercial centres, mico-industrial production facilities for job creation and training. Each housing unit costs approximately US$1,000 per unit, not including the technical assistance component, and is affordable to families earning less than $200 per month. Each job created represents an investment of approximately US$ 1,000.

2. The "building of bridges" between partners that normally do not work together: State and local government, community groups, training and educational institutions, and non-governmental organisations are partners in the programme and contribute to various components of the programme.

3. Ensuring a lasting impact of the programme through the documentation and dissemination of information to local authorities, state governments, community-based organisations and activist groups. This function is carried out by the "Cidades" which maintains a depository of 3000 documents, 80 journals, 200 video films and 4000 photos. This information covers key aspects of housing and urban development, job creation and revenue generation, social work and animation, environmental protection and basic infrastructure and services. It contains both local, national and international experiences and is disseminated to all interested community groups, technical staff and other key groups of actors. It provides and up-to-date source of information which can be used for training, education, policy development and awareness-building.

4. The empowerment of people and their communities through direct participation in decision-making. This participation is carried out through the signing of social contracts between the partners of the programme spelling out the respective roles and responsibilities of each partner and institution. Fifteen such "contracts" have been formalised for the Communidades programme.

5. The estbalishment of an Integration Council to coordinate decision-making. This council is organised by the State Secretariat for Planning and is convened once a month with the equal participation of all actors involved. The Council is made up of the following representatives and seats:

State Government - 4 seats
Municipalities - 4 seats
Technical Training School: 1 seat
Associations - 4 seats
International consultant - 1 seat without right to vote

The objectives of the monthly meeting of the Council are:

a/ Establish guidelines and procedures for the programme
b/ Coordinate and integrate the actions of the various contributing institutions
c/ Allocation of resources of the programme and sollicitation of external assistance
d/ Conflict resolution.

6. The creation of a Reference and Training Centre: vocational training as well as degree courses are offered in social processes and action, urban geography, urban planning, community leadership by a network of institutions.

7. An 'incubation" function: an integral part of the programme which is designed to explore, test and transfer innovative approaches in building technology, financing, social action and institutional capacity-building and management between and amongst state and local governments and key groups of actors.

The programme and the estbalishment of the Integration Council has resulted in a new form of governance involving horizontal decision-making, replacing the conventional top-down approach of settlement planning and development. The decisions of the Council are transparent and are taken in a democratic manner, with each partner holding one vote. Its decisions are rendered public, thus rendering the Council accountable for its actions and follow-up. The Council's decisions are not only reflected in the budgets of the participating municipalities but also result in transfers of funds from the State Government. This institutional set up is supplemented by 15 social contracts signed between various partners in programme development and implementation.


1000 housing units built in five municipalities since 1991 at an average cost of US$1,000

500 jobs created in five municipalities at an average investment of US$1,000 since 1991

15 social contracts signed between key groups of actors

A coordinating mechanism for participatory decision-making estbalished.


The sustainability of the impact of the programme lies in the institutional arrangements which have been created and estbalished by the programme. These include the signing of social contracts between key groups of actors, the establishment of a Council of Integration for participatory decision-making, and the active involvement and networking between CIDADES, technical schools and institutes, vocational training centres and universities.


    GRET Urbano Brazil
    Rua Ildefonso Albano 935 - Aldeota
    CEP 60.115-000
    (55-85) 226 1701

    Former project coordinator
    Mr. Yves Cabannes
    C/O PNUD
    265 Mariscal Foch
    Quito, Ecuador


    State Government of Ceara, Brazil
    Secretariat of Planning and Coordination
    Av. Ministro Jose Americo S/NO
    Cambeba Messejana
    CEP 60.830-060
    (55-85) 274 1444


    Groupe de Recherche et d'Echanges Technologiques (GRET)

    Citizen's associations of Cidade Nova, Boa Esperan a, Planalto Benjamin

    The Communidades network (25 organisations)

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