The Intra-city Residential Mobility of Migrant Workers: A Literature Review

College of Resource Environment and Tourism, Capital Normal University, Beijing, China



This chapter is a review of the theoretical and empirical literature about the dislocation and (re)settling of low-income migrant workers. It uses Weberian and Marxian theories to explain the socio-spatial mobility of disadvantaged groups as part of the ‘circuits of capital’, and stresses Henri Lefebvre’s slogan of the ‘Right to the City’ and David Harvey’s discourse on the ‘Accumulation by Dispossession’. Nevertheless, the theories of advanced capitalist societies cannot be directly applied to China, it being a typical transitional economy. The chapter further reviews the studies on China’s urbanization and urban issues, and then specifies the housing inequality issues facing migrant workers which require better analysis using critical geography. Additionally, existing empirical studies on low-income migrant workers’ housing and mobility in Chinese cities, Latin America, and India are reviewed and compared.

2.1 Introduction

2.1.1 Background

Demand and supply of labour can be seen to be the basic driving forces behind population mobility, and the discrepancies in economic opportunities between the origin and destination are crucial to triggering citizen’s mobility. In the geographical studies on this topic, attention is paid to the temporal-spatial features of the migratory phenomenon (Lucas 1993). This covers many different types of internal migration, such as permanent migration and circulatory migration, as well as State-planned migration and free mobility (Chan 2008; Fan 2007, 2011). The ‘rights’ to choose namely, whether to stay, move, or to settle down, lie at the centre of the mobility issues. The mobility of people, including rural-to-urban migration and intra-city residential mobility, has been intensively studied and thoroughly reviewed, especially in the context of developing countries experiencing a high speed of urbanization and city growth (Simmons 1977, 1981). In China, the pro-market reforms, introduced since the 1980s, have changed the controlled and organized population mobility pattern to an increasingly free pattern. According to the neo-classical Lewis-Fei-Ranis Model1 and Harris-Todaro Model, internal migration (including rural-to-urban migration) supports economic growth by redirecting surplus rural labour to fuel growing modern industries in the cities (Lewis 1954; Ranis and Fei 1961; Harris and Todaro 1970).

The Chinese hukou system (the household registration system) was implemented in order to prohibit the spontaneous rural-to-urban migration in Mao’s era, and then also to regulate city growth in the post-Mao era, as such, demonstrating the role of the State in controlling population mobility (Chan 2009). This explains why the Lefebvrian notion of ‘Right to the City’ is posed (Lefebvre 1991, 1996). This chapter reviews both the neo-classical and the regulated rural-urban mobility patterns, through exploring the literature on China’s urbanization and mobility issues. In China, the change of migration forms since the early 1980s is developmental in nature, and is the result of the great transformation of both its national socio-cultural identity and state-society relations (Lucas 1993). During the earlier years of reforms, the population was permitted to pursue three possible developmental trajectories: (a) permanent rural-urban migration and settling in the host cities; (b) circulatory rural-urban migration; and (c) segments of the youth population being sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution (Yue et al. 2010; Fan 2007). Among these, the rural-to-urban migration flow has been most significant and persistent. The rapid population urbanization in China, since the 1980s, has fuelled a high demand of housing and public services in city areas and created a socio-economic situation differing from that in the world’s advanced economies, as is evident when studying the intra-city mobility phenomena.

At the city level, Deng’s reforms, at the same time, also activated a high level of residential mobility. He and Wu (2005a: 204), in Fig. 2.1, conceptualized different mobility patterns and, in particular, three groups of relocation options among residents with different social backgrounds:


Fig. 2.1
Affected residents’ changing housing status after redevelopment (Source: He and Wu 2005a: 204)

  • Better-off residents who had other alternatives fled their old dilapidated neighbourhoods

  • Low- and middle-income people who moved to modern flats after receiving in-kind or monetary compensation following redevelopment of their residential areas

  • Low-income groups who were forced to accept small compensation and less attractive resettlement locations.

Their conceptual model of intra-city mobility has shown identical features in other case studies conducted in Beijing, Shanghai and Yunnan (Shin 2009; Huang 2005; He and Wu 2007; Zhang 2010). In this chapter, more efforts will be made to explore the (re)development-induced involuntary mobilities and rehousing issues of Beijing’s low-income groups including migrant workers.

2.1.2 Organization of Literature Review

This literature review seeks to answer the following questions relating to mobility: (a) which groups it is that move; (b) the causes of the mobility; (c) how and where they move to; and (d) the implications of mobility and its impact on the urban socio-spatial setting in ‘settling down’ in certain places (Li and Tu 2011). Three groups of mobility are accorded particular attention in contemporary China: (a) the low-income inner-city residents moving to new places, whether due to urban renewal or not; (b) the local farmers whose lands have been expropriated for urban use; and (c) the rural migrants migrating to work in the host cities, since the early 1980s.

The literature review will cover the following aspects listed below. It will provide a clear background and support the analysis of low-income migrant workers’ housing and mobility in transitional cities in China, in terms of the following aspects:

  • Intra-city residential mobility in advanced economies

  • Mobility of rural migrants and their urban ‘informalities’ in Third World cities

  • Circulatory migration and housing problems of migrant workers in urban China during the transitional era since the early 1980s

  • Weber, Harvey and Lefebvre’s theories on the causes and effects of the socio-spatial mobility and the ‘Right to the City’.

2.2 Intra-city Residential Mobility in Advanced Economies

Intra-city residential mobility and housing choices have been continuingly popular research topics since the 1970s. Intra-city mobility is defined as the movement of households and individuals across socio-spatial boundaries, such as neighbourhoods, workplaces or school districts (Li and Tu 2011). Substantial literature on these topics has produced numerous diverse models in order to explain and predict patterns of intra-city residential mobility. The push-pull model, as a multi-stage decision process, and the vacancy chain model are introduced in Sect. 2.2. Next, Sect. 2.3 reviews Turner’s ecological model, as well as the Harris-Todaro migration model on rural migrants in Third World cities.

2.2.1 Push-Pull Model

Alonso’s (1964) land-use model focused on the locational equilibrium of housing supply and demand, as well as the households’ trade-off between transportation and land cost (Clark and Van 1987). Since the 1970s, researchers have begun to view housing as a package of services and a complex of variously related commodities—housing at different locations has the differentiated availability of public goods and differential access to workplace and other desired destinations. Rosen (1974) developed the hedonic theory of housing markets to reveal the effect of locational and environmental attributes in utility-maximizing consumption as well as changes in real estate pricing. Alonso’s (1964) locational equilibrium model and Rosen’s (1974) hedonic theory are widely used to predict the location choice of the voluntary mobility and the forced movers (Wheaton 1977; Galster 1977; Anas 1982). In the case of contemporary China, the development-induced relocation is typical of involuntary mobility within which the movers have few options in sites or units (Shin 2009; Fang and Zhang 2003).

Clark and Onaka (1983) classified the reasons for moving into three categories, namely the adjustment moves, induced moves, and forced moves (listed in Table 2.1). The adjustment and induced moves are voluntary; the forced moves are involuntary. Adjustment moves are actions taken to satisfy one’s housing and locational preferences. Induced moves are the adaptations of households or individuals to life-cycle changes (such as changes in household size and employment status). The forced moves could be, among others, the result of home destruction or eviction that is totally beyond the control of the households (Clark and Onaka 1983). The push-pull model as a multi-stage relocation process is introduced to give a clearer explanation of the mobility decision-making process that is applicable in both the voluntary and forced moving cases. Firstly, the households/individuals make the decision to move out, and then make the choice of community and dwelling type, location, and acquisition mode (Clark and Onaka 1985).

Table 2.1
Voluntary and involuntary mobility in household relocation

Types of mobility

Reasons for mobility

Voluntary mobility

Adjustment moves


 Space, quality and design, cost, tenure change


 Quality, physical environment, social composition, public services


 Workplace, shopping and school, family and friend

Induced moves


 Job change, retirement

Life cycle

 Household formation and dissolution, change in marital status, change in household size

Involuntary mobility

Forced moves


 Eviction, accidents and disasters


 Urban regeneration projects, major infrastructure developments, environmental hazards and disasters

Source: Clark and Onaka (1983)

Brown and Moore (1970) posited that the primary motivation (push forces) for relocation is dissatisfaction with the initially occupied units, which is measured through the survey on the ‘willingness to move’ and the perception of housing and amenities. Many empirical studies have proved that the push forces, as the difference between housing demands and initial housing status, are dependent on household and individual characteristics (age, educational attainment, income level and ethnicity, see Brummell 1979; Wolpert 1965).

The ‘push forces’ merely indicate the willingness to move. The actual intra-urban migration is conditional on the housing opportunities available and accessible to the movers. Apart from the budget constraints on housing choice, other constraints on the relocation and resettlement process are derived from market imperfections, governmental interventions, and a shortfall in the supply of desired housing. The voluntary movers have a free choice to stay at the initial sites; but the involuntary movers who have suffered from a forced loss of their housing unit are exposed to all kinds of resettlement constraints.

For this reason, the involuntary movements that follow renewal are worthy of more notice. Sun (2009) compiled a flow chart based on his literature review (dating from the 1960s and onward) to explain the main stages of relocation decision-making process. As shown in Fig. 2.2, the relocation process is sometimes affected or even frozen by some constraints, such as a lack of optional neighbourhoods or vacant housing units in the targeted neighbourhoods. It is hard to interpret the actual relocation process without understanding these constraints.


Fig. 2.2
Conceptual framework for decision-making in relocation (Compiled by Sun 2009)

2.2.2 Vacancy Chain Model

In studying the pathways to vacant housing units that are scarce resources, the ‘vacancy chain model’ was adopted to link the residential mobility and the availability of vacant housing on the market. The prerequisite of residential mobility is that there must first be an existing ‘vacant unit’. The vacant housing units may be scarce, and an unequal access may exist among different groups who are searching for vacant housing (White 1971; Viggo 2004; Emmi and Magnusson 1995; Chase 1991). Viggo (2004) introduced the ‘filtering mechanism’ that was a central concept in the ‘vacancy chain model’: the low-income group’s access into lower segment of housing ladder is made easier following the higher-income groups’ move into new construction.

In this sense, the pathways to a vacant housing unit for the low-income group are dependent on their higher-income counterparts; and the mobility process is largely a competition for scarce units. The ‘vacancy chain model’ informs us that new construction is important to trigger the ‘filtering mechanism’ that creates more vacant housing units for low-income groups. However, the actual effects of the ‘filtering mechanism’ are highly context-sensitive, varying from case to case (Irazabal 2009). In short, the extent to which the low-income groups can benefit from residential mobility depends on the structure and dynamics of housing supply.

Clark and Van (1987: 103) made a diagram to show how the above two research streams—housing studies and mobility studies—had increasingly aggregated with each other since the 1980s. The linked quantitative and econometric model deals with the social relations of housing choice and mobility as merely a statistical phenomenon. In contrast, critical geography has a big advantage in explaining the socio-political origins and implications of the data, especially the way in which forced mobility involves a substantial number of low-income residents. To be more specific, the origins of constraints on the relocation process (Fig. 2.2) should be a central element of the theoretical and empirical studies. The specific structural arrangements limiting the availability and accessibility of housing opportunities would tell us why, how, and the extent to which the disadvantaged groups including migrant workers have been affected when relocation happens.

2.3 Mobility of Rural Migrants and Their Urban Informalities in Third World Cities

2.3.1 Turner’s Ecological Model

John C. Turner (1968) advanced a theoretical model of intra-urban mobility that integrated rural-urban migration, intra-urban mobility, social mobility, and growth of low-income settlements. The migrants of Latin America are classified into three successive groups: (a) ‘bridge headers’ who are newly arrived migrants engaged in low paid jobs; (b) ‘consolidators’ who have some urban experience and are in better paid jobs; and (c) ‘status seekers’ at the upper layers of the low income group. Turner found that in Lima, upward social mobility (from a lower to a higher position in the social hierarchy) was linked closely to residential mobility from inner city slums to the suburbs, in search of secure tenure and better infrastructural services (Turner 1968; Portes 1972). In studying Lima’s rural-urban permanent migration, Turner (1967, 1968) made a distinction between inner-city slums and suburban self-improving squatter settlements. In Latin America, squatters are free to build housing and community facilities in the suburb in accordance with their own needs if their resources permit. Turner (1967) named such self-improvement in squatter settlements in the suburbs as low-income groups’ ‘Progressive Development’, set against the governmental ‘Instant Development’ that required minimum modern building and service standards.

Turner’s ecological model about migrants’ socio-spatial mobility in Latin American cities has attracted much attention. Hirse (1984) examined the validity of the model using the case of West Africa, where rural-urban migration tended to be temporary and the migrants did not strive to consolidate their stay in the host city. Hirse’s (1984) empirical studies discussed that the varying rural-urban migratory patterns (permanent and temporary) had led to varying perceptions of city life and various degrees of housing demands. In addition to the variation in resettlement intentions depending on rural-urban mobility modes, the different understanding and treatment of the slum population are another reason why the intra-city mobility experience varies from city to city.

On one hand, different cities take different actions such as clearing up, regulating, tolerating, legitimizing and making improvements to deal with slum housing, as reflected in wide selection of dissertations written by different authors (Alpana 2003; Kumar and Aggarwal 2003; Fan 2011; Peters and Skop 2007; Rojas 2002; Gorell 1990). On the other hand, the inhabitants also hold different attitudes towards slum housing. Some adamantly refuse to leave, while others view slum areas as a temporary place to be escaped as soon as their means permit (Portes 1972).

The above literature review points to a simple fact that the migrants’ intra-city mobility is far more complicated than that of local residents, because the migrants can secure merely a minimum of benefits when they initially arrived at the host city. It is proven that:

  • Upward occupational mobility is often associated with residential mobility that can offer opportunities for housing improvement

  • Downward social mobility often leads to housing exclusion and the move to peripheral locations

  • Slum housing plays a significant role in settling and serving low-income migrants in big cities in Latin America, India and other developing countries (Portes 1972; Pugh 2000; Turner 1967).

2.3.2 Harris-Todaro Migration Model

The Harris-Todaro Migration Model was developed in the 1970s to explain the migration decision that was based on expected income differentials between rural and urban areas, as shown in Fig. 2.3 (see Byerlee 1974; Harris and Todaro 1970; Todaro 1976, 1980). It provides rational behavioural explanations for the continued existence of rural-urban migration in spite of substantial overt urban unemployment (Harris and Todaro 1968). In the 1960s and 1970s, it was common in the developing countries for the rate of rural-urban migration to exceed that of urban job provision. Lacking job opportunities is believed to be a great threat that continues to exacerbate the already serious unemployment problems in the host cities (Todaro 1980).


Fig. 2.3
Framework for analysis of decisions made in migration (Source: Byerlee 1974; Todaro 1976, 1980)

The Harris-Todaro Migration Model also explains two common features in the migration patterns of low-skilled or unskilled rural migrants:

  • Immediately on their arrival at the host cities, the migrants seek the casual jobs and part-time employment in the urban sectors as long as their ‘expected’ gains from migration exceed the proceeds from farm work. It explains why a substantial number of migrants find themselves ‘trapped’ in the relatively unproductive and dead-end informal sectors in the cities (Guillermo et al. 2007; Portes et al. 1989; Porta and Shleifer 2008)

  • The problems of urban overcrowding, housing shortage and high informal employment have long afflicted low-income migrants in the developing countries. The rates of spontaneous rural-to-urban migration, however, would tend not to decline as long as there is a great incentive to move from the countryside to the city. It explains why the primary cities in developing countries are beset for years by ‘urban ills’ arising from migrant explosion (Lim 1987; Cohen 2006).

2.3.3 Urban Informalities and the Evolution of Slum Policies in Developing Countries

A city is a motor of economic growth and an arena for global competition. The city growth and urbanization process has witnessed increasing inequalities in wealth distribution, manifested in the sharply contrasting landscapes between the luxury ‘gated communities’ and slums (Wacquant 2007; Marcuse 1993). To a great extent, rural-urban migration involves not only spatial shift, but also social mobility through which rural migrants have claimed their ‘Right to the City’ including the right to affordable housing and decently paid jobs in the host cities (Harvey 2008).

‘Urban informality’ is a chronic and serious problem with the migrant explosion in the developing countries. It is argued that the informal sectors have positive effects on the income generation and housing supply for low-income migrants (Hart 1973; De Soto 2000; Portes et al. 1989). This part reviews the formation and evolution of ‘urban informality’ following rural-urban migration in India and Latin America.

In the past three decades, China has been among the fastest growing economies in the developing world, with a striking rate of rural-to-urban migration. Considering the great increase in urbanization level in China since the early 1980s, from less than 20–50 %, the primary cities in the Third World appear more comparable to big Chinese cities than those from post-socialist countries like Hungary and Poland. The case studies of São Paulo, Mexico City, and New Delhi would shed some light on the ways in which low-income migrants are sheltered in host cities following rural-urban migration. Although these cities vary in their specific social, political, and economic contexts (Dickens et al. 1985), they are faced with similar problems, including an influx of peasant workers, income polarization, a high poverty index, the failure of the public sector in meeting their basic housing needs, a prevalence of slums with inadequate sanitation, water, transport and health services, and the exclusion of slums from formal computation of urban economic performance (Kalarickal 2009; Davis 2006). In Brazil, Mexico and India, however, the cities have undergone political-democratic and social movements in recent years, which have supported the housing claims of the low-income migrants to a great extent (Earle 2011).

A wide corpus created by different nations has reported on the failure of the centralized ‘top-down’ government approach to housing low-income migrants, while the role of bottom-up progressive solutions consisting mostly of self-help or community-based cooperative housing has been proven effective (see Spence et al. 2009; Buckley and Kalarickal 2005; Pugh 2001). If the inelasticity of land supply and high planning standards have made housing prices in the formal market unaffordable, the public sector is found to be unable to provide sustainable financial support to meet the housing demands of low-income migrants who are driven to ‘urban informality’, afflicted with marginality, illegality and a shortage of services and opportunities for upward social mobility. The marginalized status of low-income migrants might partly be a consequence of policy makers attaching too much weight to economic growth, while neglecting inclusive policies and social functions of affordable housing (Byrne and Diamond 2007). Compared to the top-down measures, the bottom-up housing solutions have proven themselves to be more applicable and feasible in the Third World.

In São Paulo, Mexico City, and New Delhi, over half of their urban population is sheltered in self-help or cooperative-built housing, a high portion of which is built on unwarranted land in informal settlements (Davis 2006). Many researchers have strongly argued for government assistance to help the poor and encouraged aid in a participatory and progressive manner rather than undertaking arbitrary eradication or clearance (Turner 1967; Smith and Wang 2007; Gilbert 1996). Besides, the research on ‘informalities’ has stressed the importance of access to land and tenure security in slum housing consolidation (Kombe and Kreibich 2000; Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002). In the three cases below, the literature review will show that the slums have acted as an affordable shelter for low-income migrant workers, and also a harbour of refuge for middle-income groups during the economic depression. Besides, the housing rights movements are believed to be a significant part of the democratic process claiming their rights in the city. Housing for the Poor in São Paulo, Brazil


In 2010, Brazil had a population of 191 million people of whom 87 % lived in urban areas (National Census 2010). The urbanization level in Brazil increased from 36 % in 1950 to 87 % in 2010, following rural-to-urban migration caused by rural poverty, farmland monopoly, and the lure of urban life. Between the 1950s and 1980s, Brazil experienced a speedy industrialization period and the annual growth rate of industrial production reached approximately 9 %, as a result of liberal policies. Since the early 1990s, the traditional industrial production in São Paulo has flowed to other less developed regions, and the higher-end service-based economy has become predominant. During this industrial transformation period, the informal sectors for employment and housing were vibrant in Brazil as a result of rapid urbanization and an extremely unequal distribution of income (Souza 2009). Income inequality in Brazil is reportedly quite high, shown as having a large base in a pyramid with a high and narrow tower. In 2001, the richest 10 % of the population earned 18 times more than the poorest 40 % of the population, and the richest 1 % controlled more than half of the total share market, liquid assets of companies, productive land and industrial plants (Camila and Kishore 2009; Cattani 2007).

São Paulo is the largest city in South America and the most industrialized Brazilian city. Metropolitan São Paulo (RMSP: Região Metropolitana de São Paulo) consists of 39 municipalities, and is the financial and economic centre of Brazil with a population of 20 million in 2010 (National Census 2010). Internal labour migration has played a part in the increase of population in São Paulo, thereby increasing the need for housing. The formal housing sector is not accessible to low- and middle-income residents in São Paulo for two reasons. Firstly, the fixed floor area ratio determined a price bonus for larger units. The developers in the housing market in São Paulo had an incentive to produce larger units for higher profits (Lall et al. 2009). On one hand, large units were excessively supplied, remained largely vacant, and were purchased mainly by investors. On the other hand, even the middle-income groups tended to move toward the periphery for more affordable houses. Secondly, formal rental units were scarce since the approval of the Renters Law of 1942, which discouraged investments in rental units by freezing rents below inflation during the 1970s and 1980s (Holston 1991).

As a result, informal housing became prevalent among the low- and middle- income families in São Paulo. According to the census of Metropolitan São Paulo, from 1991 to 2000 the total number of housing units grew by 446,024, within which formal housing accounted for 231,639 or 51.9 % of the increase in housing supply. This showed that the self-construction in regular or irregular settlements played a significant role in sheltering urban residents. In 2000, it was estimated that 26 % of all the households in São Paulo were living in the slums, irregular subdivisions, governmental housing needing improvements, tenements, or were homeless (Lall et al. 2009). These slum dwellers included more than half a million low-income households (18.5 % of the total), and 0.2 million middle-income households (7.4 % of the total). The middle-income households represented 35.5 % of households living in irregular subdivisions, although they were expected to be served by the formal market (ibid).

Patterns and Locations of Slums

There are three forms of informal housing for urban low-income residents in Brazil: favelas (squatter settlements), loteamentos (irregular land subdivisions), and cortiços (informal rental rooms situated in the centrally located and deteriorated tenements). It is estimated that, in 2000, half of the population of the municipality of São Paulo lived in informal housing (5.5 million people): including 3.0 million in loteamentos in the periphery of the city, 1.9 million in favelas and 0.6 million in cortiços in the central areas (Kowarick 2004). The historic duality between the centre and periphery has persisted in São Paulo, with the majority of wealthy families concentrated in central areas, and the low-income residents in the periphery (loteamentos) or in the squatter settlements (favelas), without access to infrastructure, basic services or property rights (UN-HABITAT 2010). Some of the residents occupied settlements far from their workplace, bringing heavy burdens to the urban traffic in São Paulo.

Favelas originated with land invasion by individual households or by an organized group of households which generally took place in the central locations of metropolitan areas. The features of high-density of favelas include a barrier to the provision of infrastructure or public services, which causes the favelas to be unable to integrate into the formal city through regularization or infrastructure programs (ibid). In the municipality of São Paulo, although favelas grew fast in the 1970s and 1980s and 1.9 million people (19.8 % of population) lived in favelas in the 1990s, the prevalent housing solution for the poor was the loteamentos, which were located on the fringes of the city. Some of the loteamentos developed in rural areas where urban development was not permitted, lacking basic infrastructure such as access to piped water, sewage, pavements and electricity. Loteamentos act as absorbers of migrant flow and dislocated households following urban renewals when the expansion of metropolitan areas takes place. Low-income families pay for the plots over a period of 5–10 years, starting with an improvised shack, and then improving it year by year. In some cases, loteamentos were regularized and included into formal development through municipal programs. Similar to favelas, cortiços are situated in the central area. In the 1970s, the population living in cortiços were six times of those in favelas in São Paulo; but in the 1990s, the population in favelas surpassed that in cortiços (Kowarick 2004; UN-HABITAT 2010).

Change of Government Attitudes Towards Slums

The slums in São Paulo have served not only as shelters for low- and middle-income residents, but also as a juncture to link the city with its hinterland since the shanty towns are an essential part of the rural texture for rural migrants (Kalarickal 2009). Thus, the favelas, loteamentos, and cortiços have played a prominent role in the process of urbanization, assisting the migrants in adapting to city life. The prevailing slums in São Paulo reveal the nature of industrialization in Brazil in the last half century. As Gorell (1990: 129) has discovered:

Explosive population growth, particularly after 1945, has appeared as a by-product of the wealth and industrial activity concentrated in the city, while the shanty town population has increased as dramatic proof of the failure to disperse that wealth evenly.

The rich and poor were separated by wealth and power during the industrialization and modernization period in Brazil, marked by spatial duality between the centre and the periphery with the poor concentrated in the periphery or in squatter settlements. In Brazil, the urban popular movements first emerged during the 1970s to demand improvements in their living conditions.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the government tried to expand the supply of affordable formal housing, and prevent the growth of informal settlements through legislation. The two measures were not successful in stopping loteamentos. Instead, an explosion in the growth of favelas resulted from the 1980s onwards. Since the 1980s, economic recession and inflation have incurred not only the collapse of the housing finance system, but also a decrease in real household income. All these factors have contributed to the growth of slums, despite efforts to stop it through legislation and planning.

Being greatly inspired by Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the ‘Right to the City’, Brazilian social movements posed the normative framework for social movements in the 1980s, to argue for the ‘collective consumption’ rights including the rights to housing and city planning through the democratization of decision-making process and the legalisation of informal settlements (Edésio 2007). It is the persistent socio-political mobilization that has helped activities realize to a great extent the Lefebvrian notion of the ‘Right to the City’ in both political and legal terms, such as:

  • To discard the historical forms of socio-political exclusion that keeps the vast majority of the population away from the decision-making process; and

  • To overturn the long-standing civil law tradition, which interpreted land merely as a commodity in favour of landlord’s interests while limiting the social use values of land and thus a more inclusive public order in the city.

The movement’s demands were perceived as great efforts in addressing the long-lasting social inequalities (Nelson and Karina 2010). As argued by Edésio (2007), the Brazilian social movements claiming the ‘Right to the City’ have two pillars, namely, the right to habitation and the right to participation. In the beginning of urban reforms, the struggle was focused on the slum issues, and later expanded towards the innovative idea of ‘cities for all’.

In the 1980s, the policy makers realized that the slums cannot be eradicated or replaced, but needed to be regularized. In 1988, the Brazilian government approved a new Constitution to initiate the electorate democracy. In 2001, after 30 years in the making, Brazil established its City Statute to define the social function to property right, and thus supported the regularization of the informal settlements after enshrining in the constitution the following rights to the city—the right to participation in urban planning, and the rights to housing and capturing the surplus value of land. In a word, Brazilian urban reforms led to a series of changes in urban politics, including a more democratic and participatory way of city governance, the guarantee of a decent home for all, and the superiority of the social function of land over both individual and state interests. Following this, the government began to make efforts to ensure rights for households living in slums, and make regulations more flexible to guarantee the housing rights of the poor (Imparato and Ruster 2003; Lloyd-Sherlock 1997). Housing for the Poor in Mexico City, Mexico


Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in Mexico and dominates the national economy. The Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA) had a population of 21.2 million in 2010, accounting for 18 % of the national population and generating 35 % of national GDP (National Census 2010; Dickson et al. 2012). Since 1950 the population growth in Mexico City has speeded up, due to a high birth rate in the city and rural migration from other provinces which was pushed by the lack of arable land and land deterioration (Sanchez 2008). During the 1950s to the 1970s, the average annual growth rate of the population reached 4.2 %. Since the 1980s, the population growth has slowed down, mainly due to the government’s population control policy (ibid). Nowadays about 70 % of Mexico City’s household heads are originally from rural areas; and the rest are either the sons or daughters of rural migrants, or the inhabitants of small towns in the southern residential area of the city (Haapala 2002).

Since the late 1980s, Mexico has moved to an export-oriented development model. In contrast to other cities where manufacturing employment has increased, Mexico City has since lost industrial jobs rapidly, while the service sector grew. This industrial transformation has led to a polarizing labour market: employment in high-value services has expanded, and low-pay jobs in the social service occupations have increased, too. The deterioration of the labour market for the urban poor led to declining earnings and unstable employment in the 2000s. The low earnings and unstable labour trajectories became widespread as a result of the informality or underemployment (OECD 2004). On the contrary, since the 1990s, the labour conditions for the middle- and upper-rank workers as well as well-educated workers have improved (Sanchez 2008). The social inequalities are rising as a result of changes in state policies and occupational structures in the last two decades (Hoffman and Centeno 2003). It is believed that the poverty level in Mexico City a decade ago was much worse than the official reports stated. In 2000, 27.6 % of households did not earn enough to pay for food, and 35.3 % could not afford food, education and healthcare (Sanchez 2008).

Patterns and Locations of Slums

Low-income residents have two main ways to shelter themselves in Mexico City, in the social housing projects and informal housing settlements. The social housing projects have benefited only a few poor people because of their high concentration in the periphery where land is cheaper but infrastructure and transportation are poor (Sanchez 2008). It is believed that poor planning is a major reason for the failure of social housing projects because the needs and difficulties of the poor are poorly understood by planners. Elias and Travis (2008) suggested that a participatory design should be introduced to make joint decisions with the poor. Since the 1980s, Mexico’s increasing involvement in the global economy has demanded a smaller degree of state intervention in its society and economy. The state withdrew its role from social housing, and encouraged the private sector to provide low-cost housing, with financial support from the government. The housing finance system became an important vehicle of the formal housing sector; but in the mid-1990s, the financial crisis led to capital flight and mortgage defaults in Mexico, once again dealing a blow to the housing sector (Paavo 2009, 2011).

Mexico City has thrived overall on the informal economy, and its most populated areas are dominated by irregular settlements. In order to obtain credits from the government, the residents must first own the land on which they wish to build. The land is usually very expensive due to government regulations, and only upper- and middle-class people can afford to buy land to build houses in proper settlements. As a result, 80 % of the inhabitants of Mexico City are unable to afford decent houses constructed on formally approved land plots. Low-income people prefer to rent illegal housing located on illegally occupied land, or build their own shelter in the outer city. There is a popular Mexican saying ‘better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission’ (Hunt 2005).

The general economic setting of Mexico City’s slums is characterized by extreme poverty (Tejirian and Gugler 1997). Housing built on the urban edge is substandard, roads are unpaved, electricity hookups are illegal, water supply, and sanitation and waste collection are not sufficient (DESIPAPD 1995). Some informal settlements lack all the basic services. Residents might benefit gradually from slum upgrading, in terms of access to infrastructure, transportation, public health services and education (Rojas 2002). Due to uncertainty, insecurity and lack of money, poor people have to live in very poor informal houses. A typical slum dwelling consists of a small single room, containing one or two beds shared by the family members. The houses are normally made of cardboards, metal sheets or other reusable waste materials.

The residential segregation and neighbourhood boundaries in Mexico City are a spatial manifestation of income polarization and class demarcations. Historically, urban growth patterns and economic instability contributed to a good degree of social mixing in large extensions of the city. In the late 1980s and 1990s, although wealthy areas were easily identifiable, it was common to find poor settlements built near them, or neighbourhoods shared by low- or middle-income households (Peters and Skop 2007; Sanchez 2008). In the 2000s, the growing income and occupational polarization incurred socio-economic residential segregation (Portes and Roberts 2005). Thus, the low-income groups were pushed to more inferior locations and amenities in the periphery of the city.

Change of Government Attitudes Towards Slums

Despite tough measures taken in the past, the Mexican state generally tolerates irregular settlements, eventually providing them with basic public services and legalizing these illegal properties. During economic downturns, the ‘perverse integration’ approach might be used to integrate low- and middle-income groups, getting them to share residential neighbourhoods (Portes 1989). Ironically, this approach might not reflect the upward social mobility of the poor, but more as a strategy for the middle-class to cope with an economic recession (Sanchez 2008).

From a broad perspective, city growth and urbanization have perpetuated social inequality in Mexico City. As the government has not made much progress in resolving the inequalities of urban development, the poor have developed an increasing tendency to claim their rights through political alliances (Sheinbaum 2007). Many poor people have joined political groups to buy land at affordable prices; in turn, the political groups received support from the poor especially when Voting Day was approaching (Sanchez 2008). With the support from political groups, the low-income groups intensively used their social networks and political organizations to improve access to housing, neighbourhood infrastructure, and employment (Escobar and Gonzalez 1995). This explains why social and urban movements are making a great impact in Mexico City, through which the poor have a voice to demand for and protect their rights.

The housing rights and legalisation of low-income residential developments were gained through housing movements. The rise in the urban movement in Mexico City in the 1970s and 1980s was the response addressed by activists excluded from political representation (Hellman 1994). These activists organized an Assembly of Neighbourhoods (AB) after 1985 earthquake. They argued that social housing had been neglected when Mexico appealed for foreign investors. Their goal included forcing the government to take up responsibility in guaranteeing affordable housing to all citizens. Then, AB turned itself into a political force to push for the democratization of urban housing laws, to ensure a stable flow of housing credits to the working poor, to protect against illegal evictions, to facilitate the local participation in housing process, and to provide basic services. Some scholars saw the Mexican housing movement as a progressive development which challenged the traditional relationship between the State and citizens, at least in relation to power and decision making (Castillo 2000). Housing for the Poor in New Delhi, India


From 1951 to 2010, the population in New Delhi increased more than eight times from 1.7 to 16 million (National Census 2010). The per capita income in New Delhi is double that of the national average, due to a high concentration of secondary and high-value tertiary activities in the capital city. Even though the poverty rate was reported to be under 10 % in New Delhi, the majority of the people, including the middle- and higher-income groups, cannot afford the formal housing due to land speculation and a shortage of government investments in low-income housing (Alpana 2003). The municipal housing was priced so high that 80 % of it was occupied by the middle class (International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights 2008). It was reported by the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) that in 2008 only one quarter of the population in New Delhi lived in planned and authorized colonies (NCTD Planning Dept. 2008). There are two sources of residents living in the squatter huts: rural migrants and their children, and the urban poor who are unable to secure property in planned settlements in the capital city.

The slum population has expanded rapidly in New Delhi since the 1950s, when employment opportunities in New Delhi attracted migrants from all over the country (Singh 2010). Acting as a magnetic pole, New Delhi’s slum conditions have deteriorated (see Kumar and Aggarwal 2003). In 1977, the number of slum households in New Delhi was 20,000 and it increased to 91,000 in 1981 and 0.48 million in 1991. By the end of 2010, it is estimated that over three million people live in slums in New Delhi, as compared with 2.3 million in 2001 (Singh 2010). There are at least two reasons for the dramatic increase in the slum dwellers:

  • Large cities like New Delhi and Mumbai have attracted most migrants with their unprecedented rates of urbanization; and

  • The failure of the government to provide affordable housing to the ever increasing numbers of urban poor (Reuters 2007).

Patterns and Locations of Slums

The unplanned areas in New Delhi include: (a) the slums and JhuggiJhonpris clusters; (b) resettlement colonies; (c) unauthorized colonies; and (d) urban villages.

Slums and JhuggiJhonpris Clusters

There are 728 informal squatter settlements or slums scattered throughout the city of New Delhi. The urban land is mainly owned by the government and intended for public, community, and government use. However, the government land was easily encroached on by marginal groups or unregistered land developers, if they were not planned or used, or protected well. Almost all the slum dwellings are encroachments on government land (Singh 2010). Squatter settlements are found throughout the city, especially on the vacant land along railway lines, roads, drains, river embankments and around resettlement colonies. The residents living in JhuggiJhonpris clusters who have no access to basic services are reluctant to upgrade living conditions by themselves (Kundu 2004). An average dwelling for six to eight people measures only 6 ft by 8 ft. Many slums have no latrine facilities, or have only one serving 27 households. One water pump is used by 1000 people on average (Singh 2010). There are several reasons for the awful living conditions in New Delhi’s slums. On one hand, the government ruled that the slums were ‘illegal’, and thus would not waste time or manpower on them. The illegality and informality of the slums have always been used to justify the means of clearance. On the other hand, most of the slums are unauthorized or illegal encroachments on state land, thus there are hardly any dwellers to invest on their houses without security of tenure.

Resettlement Colonies

Resettlement colonies are built by the government agencies for people who have been relocated from squatter settlements and slums, primarily located in the inner city area, following redevelopment initiated in the early 1960s. Resettlement colonies are mostly located in the urban periphery, with low standards and few facilities or services (Kundu 1996, 2002, 2004).

Unauthorized Colonies

Three million people live in 1,700 unauthorized colonies in New Delhi through a series of processes such as land occupation, unregulated growth of urban fringes, and under-provision of affordable housing. The infrastructure in these colonies is marginally better than in the slums. In 1977, for example 600 unauthorized colonies were regularized by the government (Kundu 2004). But new unauthorized colonies would emerge in new locations.

Urban Villages

Due to lax regulations and controls, rural land plots have been used for unauthorized development to form urban villages comprising a mix of different land uses: residential, commercial, industrial and others. There are 165 urban villages in New Delhi (Kundu 2004). These villages have fairly similar compact and high-density built-up forms, and narrow circulation spaces.

Indian Government’s Attitude Towards Slums: Between Tolerance and Eviction

The prevalence of slums and informal housing in New Delhi reflects the informality in urban development and inequality in society. New Delhi has a mixture of high-tech industrial development and mushrooming informal sectors (Kumar and Aggarwal 2003). Like most other developing countries, the growth of the formal sectors in India is slow, and the casual labour has become increasingly prevalent. A high proportion of slum dwellers are highly illiterate and unable to find gainful jobs but pursue informal economic activities as cheap labour. The surveys conducted by Sider (2008) and Gupta and Arup (2002) on New Delhi revealed that both the housing and jobs of the urban poor relied on the unauthorized colonies and slums. These urban poor lived close to their workplace and paid little for transport.

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue