By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Brazil's plan to provide property title deeds to people who don't formally own their homes will backfire, leading to higher land prices that will force out poor residents, the head of a leading architecture organization said.
In December, Brazil's Ministry of Cities launched a plan to formally register properties. Officials said the initiative will help tens of millions of working-class people obtain loans to start businesses by using their homes as collateral.
But the federal government did not consult with urban planners or municipal officials before launching the new property titling plan, said Pedro da Luz Moreira, President of the Institute of Architects of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
"This plan will lead to land speculation and the forced removal of residents in poor areas," Moreira told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"People were not consulted about this." he said. "We already had a good law (for property regularization) before and we didn't need this one."
The architects' institute is one of more than 80 groups, including land rights campaigners, environmentalists and urban planners who have come out against the initiative.
Officials with the Ministry of Cities who are implementing the plan - passed via an executive order - say the program will help to kick-start economic growth in the recession-hit country.
"We have changed the federal legislation and created instruments that simplify and advance the actions of urban land regularization," a spokesman for the Ministry of Cities wrote in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Across Brazil around 14 million people "live irregularly" in unregistered homes while about 100 million Brazilians - both rich and poor - lack full property rights, the official said.
Property registration is expected to expand the tax base by bringing more residents and home-based businesses into the formal economy, he said.
More than 20 percent of Brazilians in large cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo live in favelas - informal communities that often lack basic infrastructure and property title deeds.
The new government plan replaces a 2009 initiative which combined property regularization with investments in sanitation and electricity in Brazil's low-income favelas, said Moreira.
The new plan, in contrast, only focuses on providing property titles without providing money for infrastructure or other crucial investments, he said.
Facing a budget deficit, Brazil's government has slashed spending and officials say there simply isn't money for the kinds of infrastructure investments made during a previous boom.
Registering properties is something the government can do to stimulate growth and bring citizens into the formal economy, federal officials say.
Cash-strapped municipal governments are responsible for implementing the plan and they are not happy about it, Moreira said. Brazil's Congress could stop the plan if it votes against it in the next month, he added.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault @chrisarsenaul, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)