ANDRE ALBUQUERQUE

Brazil,

André has created an innovative mediation process that peaceably resolves land conflicts in major Brazilian cities, while also promoting local development and empowering low-income communities. Terra Nova’s actions produce reasonably prompt resolutions of longstanding conflicts and satisfy all parties involved: squatters can finally acquire formal titles for the land they live on, landowners are compensated for their property losses, and the government is given an alternative to costly and ineffective judicial processes that very rarely produce timely, satisfactory results.

This profile below was prepared when Andre Albuquerque was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.

INTRODUCTION

André has created an innovative mediation process that peaceably resolves land conflicts in major Brazilian cities, while also promoting local development and empowering low-income communities. Terra Nova’s actions produce reasonably prompt resolutions of longstanding conflicts and satisfy all parties involved: squatters can finally acquire formal titles for the land they live on, landowners are compensated for their property losses, and the government is given an alternative to costly and ineffective judicial processes that very rarely produce timely, satisfactory results.




THE NEW IDEA

André created Terra Nova in 2001 to solve conflicts and promote peace between landowners and squatter communities engaging these communities and the public sector in the local development. Part of Terra Nova’s work focuses on empowering these groups to assume responsibility for paying for their newly acquired land titles upon the resolution of disputes. Terra Nova helps individuals do this by offering loans that are paid back over several years through small monthly installments. Meanwhile, landowners are paid upfront by Terra Nova for their properties.

André allocates 20 percent of mortgage payments by loan recipients to a fund that promotes socio-economic and environment-friendly development within the participating communities. The distribution of those funds to local projects is decided on collectively by community associations with the help of Terra Nova. As a result of his work, communities previously regarded as invaders and third class citizens are now recognized as legitimate landowners with private property rights.

To accomplish this, André uses law and local governance strategies. Terra Nova works closely with landowners, squatters, and government authorities to settle conflicts long deadlocked in the courts through mediation, so agreements can be reached and accepted by all involved parties. As a result, landowners receive fair compensation for their property losses, and informally settled communities are finally given the chance to acquire land titles that improves their economic security. The mediation process also allows government bodies to eschew costly and protracted land expropriation methods and use public funds more effectively to address municipal development needs.

Eight years after its inception, Terra Nova now operates in five states in Brazil, as well as in the Federal District, and reaches 28 communities and some 30,000 families. Currently, André is working to expand its operations to include cases involving families forcibly displaced due to infrastructural construction projects. With support from the World Bank, André plans to spread his operations to every state in Brazil by 2010. Within ten years, he hopes to have replicated Terra Nova’s methodology in several other developing countries.




THE PROBLEM

Brazilian cities have struggled for decades with the emergence of thousands of illegal settlements, and the rapid growth of urban centers has only exacerbated precarious landownership situations. To make matters worse, poverty, high unemployment rates, and inadequate access to credit has made housing unaffordable and inaccessible for the poorer segments of Brazilian society.

A study conducted by the Federal Ministry of Cities in 2000 indicated that there were then some 12.4 million people living in 3.2 million precarious housing units in Brazil. Squatters illegally occupy both publicly and privately owned land in approximately equal proportions, and illegal settlements are present in nearly all Brazilian cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants. The residents of these informal settlements live without access to the most basic public services, including sanitation, utilities, and mail.

Government initiatives to settle land ownership disputes generally rely on costly and protracted land expropriation processes to distribute property titles to residents of informally settled communities. However, these attempts have uniformly failed. Since the demand for land regularization is extremely high, the government is often unable to sustain the process financially, resulting in worsened conflicts between landowners and squatters. Additionally, most governmental initiatives to address the problem do little or nothing to further processes of urban planning and economic development in squatter communities.

Unfortunately, the judicial procedures that are generally used to resolve land ownership disputes have been highly ineffective. Lawyers, judges and government bodies involved in the settlement of conflicts do not always listen to the interests of people in informally settled communities who cannot afford legal assistance. Also, the lack of effective negotiations processes and reinforcement of power imbalances have often had adverse effects on the value of housing stock.

Most current land title regularization processes fail to satisfy the needs of landowners, governments, and squatter communities alike. Government initiatives and dawn out judicial procedures provide landowners with little hope of seeing their property rights violations resolved in a reasonable period of time. Moreover, the government continues to spend large amounts of public funds on land title regularization processes that yield insufficient results and rarely address the needs of squatter communities.




THE STRATEGY

André has created an innovative mediation process that peaceably resolves land conflicts in major Brazilian cities, while also promoting local development and empowering low-income communities. Terra Nova’s actions produce reasonably prompt resolutions of longstanding conflicts and satisfy all parties involved: squatters can finally acquire formal titles for the land they live on, landowners are compensated for their property losses, and the government is given an alternative to costly and ineffective judicial processes that very rarely produce timely, satisfactory results.

Terra Nova adopts an integrated approach to resolving land title disputes. Not only does it enable reasonably prompt and just resolution of disputes, but it also sets in motion participative community and urban planning processes that effectively address squatter communities’ needs. Terra Nova’s activities begin with a study, which is usually undertaken in collaboration with relevant government bodies, to establish zoning plans, road layouts, and sewage systems for the areas in question (when it agrees to help resolve a specific landownership conflict, or a cluster of such conflicts). Terra Nova then sets up community-led research groups, assemblies and public hearings that bring families together and foster the creation of community associations (where they don’t already exist). These associations become the (informal) local governance bodies that represent the squatter communities during the negotiations with landowners and government authorities. Specific conditions that need to be agreed upon in the mediation process and the value of the property are determined through these negotiations. In most instances, the negotiations continue over a period of six months to one year before a resolution is reached, as opposed to government-led processes that can take as long as two or three decades.

Once an agreement is reached, Terra Nova facilitates and assists the community’s increasing involvement in planning processes. Responsibility for that stage of the undertaking is assigned to a technical commission consisting of one social worker from Terra Nova, one municipal government official, and two community representatives. Beyond assuring that local development processes continue to be conducted in a bottom up fashion, the technical commission is also charged with forging lasting contacts between community members and municipal authorities.

The land ownership regularization process that André has pioneered through Terra Nova has brought several benefits to the communities and families it has served. Newly regularized properties typically have a market value at least 30 percent higher than that of similar properties for which title disputes remain unresolved. As a result, new landowners can more readily gain access to credit and take other measures to ensure their family’s financial security. Communities involved in Terra Nova’s initiative also experience attendant improvements in their housing stocks and in community infrastructure as well, and community members become active participants in charting their communities’ development. Additionally, by giving disadvantaged people in low-income communities the chance to resolve grievances through their own actions, André is also helping instill a new sense of dignity, self-worth and empowerment.

André is currently developing a number of strategies to replicate Terra Nova’s activities beyond urban centers. In April 2008, Terra Nova tested its mediation model in a rural region of the state of Rondônia, where it worked with squatter families forcibly displaced by a construction project undertaken by the Usina Hidroelétrica Santo Antônio. Families were compensated for their loss of land and resettled on new properties, where they received ownership rights. André is also developing a ground-breaking initiative that will make the land regularization process in urban and rural areas an attractive opportunity for corporate social responsibility investment.




THE PERSON

Since André was a teenager, he has sought to make a difference in the lives of his fellow Brazilians. As a young man, he had the reputation of being a conflict mediator by nature, and he has since explored his interests in social justice issues by taking part in the Fundação Cidade da Paz (City of Peace Foundation), where he worked with important social leaders and helped citizen organizations address major social issues.

André received his law degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Parana in 1991, and in 1998 he completed an advanced study program in urban and environmental management. Shortly thereafter, he began working for the Housing Secretariat in Pinhais’ City Hall, in the metropolitan area of Curitiba. During that time, the mayor of Pinhais had committed the municipal government to the mediation of conflicts between landowners and squatter communities with the hope of settling long-deadlocked disputes and improving squatter communities. André played a central role in developing that initiative, and it was there he discovered his true passion.

After the subsequent mayor put an end to the project he was working on in 2001, André left his job at City Hall and created Terra Nova to continue his mediation work between landowners and squatters. The first judicial decisions regularizing land titles were approved shortly thereafter, and Terra Nova eventually expanded its operations to other municipalities in the state of Paraná.

Since his establishment of Terra Nova, André has received widespread accolades for his work. In 2005, Terra Nova won the René Habitat Award, which is granted to projects that seek to improve housing conditions. The following year, the Legislative Assembly of the State of Paraná presented André with the Entrepreneurial Person of the Year Award. Most recently, Terra Nova was included among ten finalists for the Building and Social Housing Foundation and United Nations’ World Habitat Award.