Understanding the Housing Deficit

What is the Problem?

There is a 7.8 million housing unit deficit as of 2017.1
Who it affects: 1 in 5 urban households have inadequate housing.2
As of 2014, 84% of the housing deficit is shouldered by extremely low-income households (defined as less than 3 minimum wages, or approximately 2900 reais/month or 1,090 USD/month).3

Why is Housing Important?

Housing is both a basic need and a human right, and is constitutionally protected in Brazil.

Housing is important for health, education, and economic mobility. 

Inadequate housing may lack access to clean water or proper sanitation, increasing the risk of disease, and poor health outcomes. Overcrowding in homes further increases the likelihood of disease transmission within households. 

Poor living conditions negatively impact educational attainment. Inadequate electrical, water, and sanitation infrastructure reduce the time that children have to study. Overcrowding also contributes to a distracting environment. 

Unaffordable housing forces people to choose between a roof over their heads or food on their tables

Providing housing for people who experience homelessness increases stability, autonomy, and participation in job training or school. It also decreases hospitalization use and emergency room visits, with an estimated cost savings of $31,545 over the course of two years.4, 5

“The movement changes your life by giving you networks and showing you other possibilities, by helping other people… They help one another. Opportunity and connection. I have a home but will continue to help others find housing. I wish people knew [about this].”

Diana de Souza Mascarenhas

Why Does this Problem Happen?

Despite being a constitutional right, our society still treats housing as a commodity. Thanks to speculation on property and land, 7.9 million dwellings of inadequate living conditions lie vacant as of 2015. This exceeds the size of the housing deficit. 

Private market developers cannot provide for high-quality low-income housing due to their profit motive. Although the government can subsidize private developers to produce low-income housing, this tends to be poorly constructed in order to minimize costs and maximize returns for investors. 

The most infamous example of this is in Mexico. HOMEX and other private developers “reaped enormous profits” by producing faulty, inadequate, decaying homes for low-income households through a program costing the government over $100 billion. Low-income homeowners were left responsible to pay for crumbling, deteriorating homes without adequate water, sewage, or electrical access, homes they were ultimately forced to abandon due to extremely poor living conditions.

Inconsistent housing policies have made it extremely challenging for third sector entities with proven track records to connect with governmental funding and scale up their solutions to the size of the problem. Past housing policies like MCMV-E made huge impacts on housing, though they were short-lived and did not provide sufficient access to funding. 

We can start solving the housing problem immediately by supporting a bill that would provide stable funding and support for housing produced outside of the private market. 

Realistically, mitigating a deficit this large is going to take time. Regardless of who sits in the president’s chair, we need this machine to keep running.

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[1]. Douglas Gavras, “Déficit habitacional é recorde no País,” O Estado de S. Paulo, January 6, 2019,
[2]. Fundação João Pinheiro: Diretoria de Estatística e Informações, “Déficit Habitacional no Brasil 2015,”
(2018): 73, https://novosite.fjp.mg.gov.br/deficit-habitacional-no-brasil/.
[3]. Guilherme Antônio Correa Cunha, “Déficit Habitacional: o Tamanho da Desigualdade Social no Brasil,” Boletim
Economia Empírica 1, no. 1 (2020): 61.
[4]. Andrew J Baxter, Emily J Tweed, Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi, Hilary Thomson, “Effects of Housing First Approaches
on Health and Well-Being of Adults who are Homeless or at Risk of Homelessness: Systematic Review and Meta-
Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials,” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 73 (2019): 379-387.
[5]. “Housing First,” National Alliance to End Homelessness, last modified April 20, 2016,
[6]. Richard Marosi, “Mexico Promised Affordable Housing for All. Instead it Created Many Rapidly Decaying Slums,”
Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-mexico-housing/.