Lisbon, Portugal

Rehabilitation of Living Quarters: Engaging Poor Residents in the Process

A Case from the North: Lisbon, stuff Portugal

The experience of Lisbon demonstrates that it is possible to rehabilitate deteriorating living quarters in historical city centres without excluding poor populations in the process.

The two methods most frequently used by municipalities to renovate a neighbourhood are to demolish existing housing, cialis in order to make room for new housing, or to undertake expensive work to increase the tourist or commercial value of the area. Both methods neglect the interests of marginalized populations by pushing them to the periphery. That is why the municipality of Lisbon opted for a third way in not seeking a radical transformation, but instead by limiting its own intervention to the strict minimum necessary to render the decaying zones inhabitable.

By making it a priority that housing in historical town centres remain for the benefit of the poor populations, it was possible to improve the quality of life for these people while simultaneously respecting the identity of neighbourhoods and combating social exclusion.

  1. Rehabilitation borne of popular willAfter having for a long time sheltered the majority of Lisbon’s population, the central neighbourhoods, aged and deprived of modern comforts, were progressively deserted by the wealthy and left for immigrants. Strongly entrenched in these areas, and benefiting from modest rents, these new inhabitants nonetheless also gradually lost their younger and more affluent members.The increasing degradation of these districts and the inaction of its private landowners finally solicited protest from its elderly and marginalised residents, who were subject to precarious conditions (overcrowding, no running water, in kitchens or washrooms, etc.). The municipality of Lisbon took action, making sure to avoid speculative forces that would have led to the eviction of the poor.
  2. Minimal intervention, concerted and pragmatic
    • An intervention reduced to its strict minimum for the reduction of rent increases and a response to the maximum number of cases:It consists of limiting rehabilitation operations to the work necessary to assure conditions of minimum comfort (non-leaking pipes, solid construction, sanitation, etc.), and to preserve as much as possible the existing building, using a method that is economic, authentic, and environmentally sound. The work thus had to be performed according to techniques used in the original construction, which was maintained to preserve the buildings’ authenticity.It is interesting to note that, due to deficiencies in architectural know-how at the time of the buildings’ construction, many mistakes were made. Having discovered this, the rehabilitation project now serves as a laboratory and training centre in the field of old building construction.This method of intervention thus prevented the excessive value-added increase of the existing housing stock that would have resulted in the eviction of residents by market forces.
      Similarly, it permitted the municipality to save money by avoiding the costs that would have been generated by the construction of new housing (estimated at 200-300% greater).
    • The establishment of a dialogue with the population:Although the population initiated the process of reconstruction, it was at first necessary to gain its confidence, as people thought they would inevitably be forced to leave their houses.A method of decentralised management promoting popular participation was utilized. It was supported a by:
      – district management organisations placed in direct contact with the population and its problems,
      – concrete input of residents via workshops designed to facilitate the dialogue(which ideally contained a maximum of 25 people for a district of 6,000 – 7,000 inhabitants)
      – the submission of projects to families, and the presentation of a number of options for district assemblies.
      It is thus that the elaborated plans for urbanisation were negotiated with inhabitants, so that they could be best adapted to the neighbourhoods’ needs. These plans were not finalised by technicians until after three years of on-the-ground inquisition, at which point plans were submitted to and discussed with the population. Care was also taken to harmonise the elaboration of plans with the construction permit applications made by the private sector.
    • Operations directed in a pragmatic and flexible manner so as to respond to the most urgent needs and to adapt to each working site.Because the intervention was simply meant to resolve existing problems, bureaucracy was reduced and diagrams put to the side, and the renovation planning done with flexibility, taking into account the many obstacles that can arise at the start of the project. It is useful to note that the interventions were initially concentrated in one or two districts, so as to avoid a dilution of resources and to obtain a sample experience that could be drawn on when expanding the rehabilitation into additional areas.
  3. Instruments for rehabilitationThe majority of the tools used were not of themselves very original, and can be found in many industrialised countries; rather, it is their combination that is of interest.
    • The technical and human means
      1. A Director’s Plan specified:
        – The renovation zones and their management rules,
        – The urbanisation plans of districts,
        – A system of control for buildings permitted to call for their own restoration
        – The construction permits for urban management.
      2. The creation of a Municipal Direction of Rehabilitation, composed of:
        – A central department to oversee independent support service departments (departments of urban affairs, information, finance…)
        – A decentralised and multidisciplinary department of technical workshops composed of experts (architects, engineers, legal professionals) present in each district where the intervention would take place and endowed with jurisdiction over municipal services. The department of included a total of 270 people
      3. The personnel for the implementation of these operations were made available by the municipality.
      4. Flexible intervention techniques were used in order to adapt to the specific context of work on the older buildings. Because the building techniques utilized to construct these buildings is no longer in use, the real state of a building’s structure cannot be determined until after work on it begins.
      5. A temporary relocation program was established for residents of the most dangerous and unsanitary buildings. The municipality had to secure the consent of local authorities for the use of available housing close to the various buildings in advance.
    • The legal and financial tools
      1. For rented housing:
        – A national program to assist landowners who rent housing that has deteriorated due to the lack of maintenance: to compensate for the inadequate means of some private landowners, grants were awarded in proportion to the needs of given proprietors.
        – If necessary, the use of a simplified expropriation procedure: this authorises the municipality to expropriate buildings in zones that the government declares rehabilitation sites, based on a report by experts. This report consists of an inventory of fixtures intended to legally fix the landowner’s compensation, in case friendly negotiations fail. This measure also affords protection to the tenant, threatened with eviction and without recourse, if the building collapses while he is still in it.
      2. For vacant housing:
        – The declaration of a rehabilitation zone permits the city priority acquisition of vacant housing, and thus control over the housing market, thanks to a pre-emptive right to the sale of buildings in zones so designated.
        – Assistance from the national government amounting to 50% of the cost of the purchase and rehabilitation of vacant buildings in declared rehabilitation zones, that is both designated for the city’s benefit and can be complemented by a ten-year loan covering 50% of the remaining costs.
      3. For all housing:
      4. – In certain cases, sources of complementary finance can be found from partners other than the national government and landowners, particularly in cases of specific buildings such as monuments. For example, the tourism sector subsidised roofing and exterior renovation on the residential part of a castle.
  4. From the rehabilitation of housing to an entire urban project: Initially limited to housing in advanced stages to deterioration, encouraged by the input of the residents, the rehabilitation program was expanded to include public spaces, infrastructure, and equipment, so as to give life back to these neighbourhoods.These projects, integrated on the district level, take a more involved approach to the sites, and enlarge the existing network to act in concert with other partners capable of investing in the area’s economic and cultural development. This approach is what put in place a centre for popular festivals, an auditorium, a guitar school, a theatre, etc. The effects of the development of these projects were most notably connected to rising employment and urban space management (traffic, parking, footpaths, etc.).
  5. The results: In ten years, more than ½ of the first identified 26, 000 housing units were rehabilitated. Of the total cost of 110 million Euros ($115 million), 42% was financed by the municipality (which redistributed its funding to avoid an increase in its budget), 40% by landowners and 18% by the national government. The average cost of rehabilitation per unit of housing was estimated at 17,375 Euros ($18,000), less than half the cost of new housing on the periphery of town.In addition, the fact that residents were encouraged and supported to stay in their own neighbourhoods allowed them to preserve their autonomy, and avoided the sort of exclusion and marginalisation experienced by those relocated to the outskirts of town.Finally, the improvement of the living environment served as a positive catalyst for the private sector, whose investments prompted the return of other social classes and permitted their integration. Thanks to the engagement of the original population, who continue to preserve the local culture, the return of more affluent groups did not result in the gentrification of the city centre.
  6. Conclusions and recommendations: This experience illustrates that it is possible to rehabilitate historic town centres, which are often old and are occupied by more modest residents, without turning them into large, lifeless museum.Beyond the advantages that it presents to inhabitants, the path taken by Lisbon demonstrates that it is equally in the interest of municipalities to preserve their heritage, to value the identity of their town centre, and to reinforce residents’ social cohesion.Places for the expression of popular spirit, these areas have much to gain from the preservation of their living quarters and existing social networks, factors of cohesion and integration.To attain these results, it is necessary to combine the following elements:
    • A strong political will
    • The establishment, in accord with residents, of an intervention zone that is relatively homogenous and initially limited in size
    • An inventory of available legal and financial tools
    • A concern to advancing things, even with little available means, while assuming the risks inherent in these operations (particularly that plans are made with respect to new construction regulations and are inapplicable to old buildings)

We would like to thank M. Felipe Lopes and M. Mikhael de Thyse for having communicated all necessary information for this case study.

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Felipe Lopes
ex-Directeur de la Réhabilitation à Lisbonne
phone/fax : +351 213 55 69 02