In From House to Home: Social Control and Emancipation in Portuguese Public Housing, 1926–76, Nelson Mota considers public housing policies in Portugal under the dictatorship that ruled there from 1926 to 1974 and during the two years that followed the democratic revolution of April 1974. He reviews key legislative initiatives and projects to show how the dictatorship's policies effectively commodified housing, exerted government control over the working class, and largely excluded the urban poor from the housing market. By contrast, programs developed under the postrevolutionary Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local, or SAAL, promoted self-help initiatives that aimed to improve housing conditions for Portugal's poorest citizens, thus securing their economic and social independence and their right to occupy urban space. During the “SAAL spring,” Mota concludes, building homes became more important than selling houses.
In Western Europe, the state played a key role in the production of housing from the end of World War I until the neoliberal turn of the late 1970s.1 Throughout this period, government-supported housing was seen as important, both for stabilizing social groups and for consolidating the capitalist economy, especially after World War II.2 In central and northern Europe, state intervention was crucial for preventing, or at least slowing, the commodification of housing.3 Conversely, in Portugal and other southern European countries, public housing was either systematically downplayed or used to promote middle-class urbanization at the cost of working-class deurbanization.4 While the public housing sector in central and northern European countries grew rapidly under welfare state policies, the housing systems that prevailed in southern Europe were those designed to promote individual homeownership.5 This southern model grew out of policies that stressed the economic, or commodity, value of housing rather than its social value, and it resulted in significant transformations of the built environment.6
In this article, I examine the evolution of state housing policies and projects in Portugal over five decades. First, I trace the evolution of public housing policies implemented by the dictatorship that ruled Portugal between the late 1920s and 1974. I then focus on the brief period from 1974 through 1976, when the Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local (SAAL; Service for Local Ambulatory Support) program challenged the former dictatorship's policies and worked to secure housing as a basic right for citizens of all classes, not simply a commodity to be traded by speculators. Under the dictatorship, national housing policy shifted between the interwar and post–World War II periods, first advocating state-supported, private, owner-occupied houses set in small-scale “pastoral” neighborhoods and later promoting larger urban and suburban rental projects, often funded and built by private interests. After the democratic revolution of 1974, public housing policies arising from grassroots movements briefly prevailed. SAAL played a vital role as the agent of the new grassroots paradigm, challenging the institutional practices inherited from the dictatorial regime, championing the urban poor's right to the city, and actively working to decommodify the nation's housing system. Ultimately, however, many of the dictatorship's social and political ideas returned to undermine the housing policies of the new postrevolutionary government, paving the way for private-sector interests and promoting once again the commodification of housing in Portugal.
Housing and the Estado Novo's Pastoral Project
On 28 May 1926, a group of young military officers overthrew the short-lived liberal government of the Portuguese First Republic, which had been founded in 1910. Following several years of political and economic instability, the coup was supported by the majority of Portugal's population and endorsed by a heterogeneous combination of conservative republicans, monarchists, and revolutionary nationalists.7 After a couple of eventful months, however, that fragile coalition was shattered and right-wing forces prevailed, leading to the rise of a military dictatorship led by General Óscar Carmona (1869–1951). In a key political move, Carmona and his allies swiftly changed the administrative structure of the state, shifting the balance of power from dispersed local authorities to the newly centralized national government.8 Carmona's rule, however, was itself relatively short-lived and marked by economic crises and political instability. In April 1933, the government published a new constitution in an effort to subdue the country's growing social unrest and redefine the ideological framework of the dictatorship installed seven years earlier. This marked the birth of the so-called Estado Novo, or New State, whose main figure was António Salazar (1889–1970).
The new Portuguese constitution of 1933 established a system of tightly centralized state control, or corporatism, which severely limited the authority of local and municipal governments and labor unions. Corporatism was the essential feature of the Estado Novo. Among other things, it prescribed close monitoring of workers' organizations to preserve social order and discipline, even to the point of taking repressive actions. The new corporatist system rigorously controlled all of the country's economic activities, aiming to secure consensus and stability in all matters related to the national economy.9 Members of the working class were now represented politically by new state-sanctioned industrial and professional organizations. As historians António Costa Pinto and Maria Inácia Rezola put it, with the 1933 constitution “the idea of universal suffrage was replaced by a vision of the corporatist representation of the family, the city and town councils, as well as the professions.”10 Historian César Oliveira notes that “the same corporative structure that obliterated the individual to integrate him into organic aggregations became the backbone of the state itself and all the nation's political and administrative structures.”11
As part of a larger program of social and economic management, Salazar's Estado Novo promoted urban development policies informed by both Catholic dogma and popular myths of a rural, or pastoral, world.12 From its outset until after World War II, the regime downplayed the country's industrialization and urbanization in favor of this pastoral vision.13 This had a direct effect on housing policies. Just months after the approval of the Estado Novo constitution, the regime created the Casas Económicas (Affordable Houses) program through Decree-Law 23052 (approved on 23 September 1933).14 The goal of this program was straightforward, and very telling. Its aim was to develop “family houses, with backyards.”15 Casas Económicas design guidelines and regulations promoted the nuclear family as the basic social unit.16 The intention was, in part, to suppress a broader, and less easily controllable, collectivization of community life while facilitating the formation of small, stable, homogeneous groups of homeowners operating under strictly determined traditional gender roles. Plots were to be between 100 and 200 square meters; buildings should be one or two floors high and anticipate “probable future growth”; houses would be grouped in clusters of twenty-five to one hundred units. The possibility of expanding a house to accommodate a family's growth, along with such features as backyard kitchen gardens, resonated with the regime's interest in stabilizing the role of women within the domestic realm. In 1938, five years after its initiation, the government expressed its satisfaction with the Casas Económicas program in the preamble of a new decree implementing affordable neighborhoods in Lisbon. This stated that the program offered the government “reassurance that the best social, economic, technical and moral conditions were created in our solution for the problem of affordable housing.”17
Neighborhoods built under Casas Económicas rarely exceeded two hundred units, and even in the largest and most urban—Lisbon's Bairro da Encarnação (Encarnação Neighborhood) of 1940–46—a pastoral atmosphere prevailed.18 Designed by Paulino Montez, Bairro da Encarnação featured clusters of single-family houses organized in village-like groups, set around a public space aligned with a hilltop church that overlooked the complex (Figure 1). Montez's sophisticated urban layout was exceptional in the context of the program, however. All the other neighborhoods developed under the Casas Económicas program were smaller and employed simpler layouts, most of them involving a straightforward accommodation of the dwelling units to site topography. Casas Económicas neighborhoods were built mostly in suburban areas to avoid the high costs of central-city land. The peripheral location of these neighborhoods emphasized their distance and difference from the city's urban fabric and thus represented their purported embrace of the pastoral ideal. These characteristics can be seen in one of the first Casas Económicas neighborhoods, Bairro das Terras do Forno, built from 1933 to 1938 in Belém on the outskirts of Lisbon (Figure 2). Also known as Bairro Económico de Belém, this neighborhood was designed by Raul Lino—perhaps the most famous Portuguese architect of the era, whose work and writings were used by the regime to promote a “Romantic view of nationalism and building tradition.”19 With 204 houses designed to accommodate families of public service employees, this neighborhood exemplified the regime's goal of using social and spatial segregation as an instrument of political control.20
For Salazar's regime during the 1930s and early 1940s, the Casas Económicas program was instrumental in defending the family and thus preserving the existing social and moral order. Housing was regarded as an asset for the stabilization and consolidation of the family—the primary unit of Portuguese society. Further, as Pinto and Rezola observe, Salazar “was aware of the inevitability of modernization, but also acutely aware of the threat it represented.”21 His regime was well informed about different approaches to housing problems then being implemented elsewhere in Europe.22 Yet the 1938 decree-law that evaluated the Casas Económicas program stated that “what matters is solving our problem and not that of other countries; and that has to be done by us and for us.”23 This position aligned with the regime's motto: Deus, Pátria e Família (God, Fatherland, and Family). This motto figured prominently around the country, for instance, in the posters then exhibited in most government buildings, including elementary school classrooms (Figure 3).
Despite its careful design, the Casas Económicas program delivered only meager results and contributed little to increasing Portugal's affordable housing stock.24 From the 1930s through the mid-1940s, public housing production in Portugal was modest and directed mainly at professionals working for state agencies. Most of the urban poor were left out by a government that failed to develop consistent or thorough housing policies that would have benefited them.25
The regime's approach to housing during the interwar period had been influenced by Salazar's obsession with preserving traditional modes of social organization, mitigating social tensions, and preventing forms of collective organization that might threaten the government's corporatist system. In 1944, Salazar stressed the importance of independent homeownership for the preservation of Portuguese family values. He argued that “the intimacy of family life demands shelter, asks for isolation, in one word claims the house, the independent house, our house.” He bluntly rejected housing approaches that might trigger collectivity or class consciousness. “We are not interested in the big phalansteries,” he said, dismissing the large-scale housing projects then seen elsewhere in Europe. “For our independent custom, in favor of our moderate simplicity, we desire the small house, independent, lived in with full ownership by the family.”26 A decree-law published in 1946 celebrated this agenda, providing “social housing through the construction of neighborhoods with low-cost, happy and healthy houses, which allowed the formation of a rank of small owners, called to carry out a relevant role in the preservation of social order.”27 Salazar's views on housing here were aligned with the interests of the Catholic Church, particularly its embrace of the corporatist system and its antiliberal and anticommunist worldview.28 Yet this ideological alignment was about to be challenged.
In the aftermath of World War II, the shortage of affordable housing in Portugal grew worse, sparked by the movement of rural populations to the cities and by unfettered real estate speculation within those cities. The pastoral ideal advocated by Salazar was threatened by the sheer numbers of ill-housed families then invading the urban fringes and by the anger of middle-class families who were priced out of urban housing markets. Growth in real estate speculation inflated the cost of urban plots, which reduced the private sector's investment in housing. Consequently, rent prices rose sharply. This threatened the country's social stability and the “moderate simplicity” of the people Salazar had recently celebrated. Further, the low quality of existing housing stock only aggravated the situation. According to an official survey of conditions during the 1950s in Portuguese cities with more than twenty thousand inhabitants, only 79 percent of dwellings had electricity, just 75 percent had running water, and no more than 42 percent had toilets. In rural areas, the figures were much lower.29
In an effort to overcome these problems, the government began to adjust its approach. Law 2007, passed on 7 May 1945, created the system of Casas de Renda Económica (CRE; Affordable Rental Housing). This initiative was meant to encourage the provision of rental houses for the urban middle class. The law included clear guidelines for the design of housing to be developed under the CRE program. The maximum height of buildings was set at four floors, pointing to the regime's continued desire to avoid “big phalansteries” and preserve as much as possible its pastoral vision and the “moral dignity” of families. With CRE the regime also sought to create more effective financial mechanisms to support the development of public housing. Decree-Law 35611, published on 25 April 1946, created a new funding scheme to support the CRE program. The funds came from the capital provisions of various social welfare agencies, which at that time were running budgetary surpluses.30
Despite the regime's various legislative efforts, it by now relied heavily on private builders and real estate speculators when it came to providing urban housing. This reliance thwarted implementation of the CRE program, as the private sector resisted the regime's restrictive policies. Thus, on 7 April 1947, the government passed Decree-Law 36212, which aimed to “discipline” the real estate and construction sectors. The document's preamble acknowledged Portugal's housing problem and its implications for national economic security. The new decree-law gave the state greater control of the housing market and promoted the development of a state-run rental market. Responsibility for providing housing was now outsourced to the Federação das Caixas de Previdência–Habitação Económica (FCP-HE; Federation of Social Welfare Institutions–Affordable Housing). This organization served mainly public service employees and educated middle-class professionals—in other words, the same people who administered and had most benefited from the corporatist system established by the 1933 constitution.
Housing and the Reproduction of Labor Force
The caixas de previdência were social welfare institutions created by different professional sectors operating under the state's corporatist system. Their funds were accrued from monthly contributions made by employers and employees, and their main function was to provide social security to their members. Dozens of individual caixas de previdência were grouped together to form the state-supervised FCP-HE, created in 1947. At the outset of its activities, FCP-HE performed a bureaucratic role, commissioning housing from private architectural offices and managing projects developed under the aegis of the CRE program. Eventually its staff, responsibilities, and influence grew, and the organization helped shape the urban development of many midsize Portuguese cities.31
One project that influenced this development was the CRE/FCP-HE housing complex designed by Nuno Teotónio Pereira, working in partnership with Nuno Portas, for the provincial town of Vila do Conde.32 Initial plans for the complex, which was intended to accommodate sixty families, were produced in 1957; the buildings were completed in 1964 (Figure 4). With forms borrowed from recent Italian housing projects, especially Mario Ridolfi and Ludovico Quaroni's Tiburtino neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome (early 1950s), the Vila do Conde project represented an amalgamation of urban and rural modes.33 Two different dwelling types were developed in response to the site's topographic features. At the higher part of the site, terraced row houses were stacked on two levels, with independent access provided for each unit. At the lower part, the architects placed three T-shaped apartment blocks, each defined by two volumes articulated through a central open staircase. Despite the use of these small apartment “towers” (limited in height to four floors, as prescribed by law), the scheme still projected a pastoral atmosphere; the terraced row houses furthered this impression. The angular geometry of the buildings' composition, together with the independent access of each dwelling, emphasized their individuality and asserted the importance of the family as a basic social unit (Figure 5).
Despite the regime's efforts, it became clear by the late 1950s that CRE's output—like that of the earlier Casas Económicas program—was insufficient to meet the country's housing needs. Public-sector affordable housing schemes contributed less than 6 percent of the total housing units built in Portugal during the 1950s.34 Mindful of this limited output, the government expanded the CRE program, outsourcing projects to nongovernmental agencies and funding them with government loans and technical support. On 9 April 1958, the government passed Law 2092, which provided construction loans to local community centers (casas do povo), employees of private companies, and individual beneficiaries of welfare institutions.35 The new law sparked a substantial increase in home construction throughout the country, with particularly significant impact in smaller provincial cities. Yet it failed to address the housing shortages in the two main industrial centers, Lisbon and Porto. There, the lack of affordable housing wore increasingly on the working and middle classes.
As a result, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Salazar's regime developed three plans specifically focused on solutions for mass housing in these two cities: plans for the Olivais Sul and Chelas neighborhoods in Lisbon and the Plano de Melhoramentos do Porto (PMP; Porto Improvement Plan). The scale and urban implications of these plans introduced new challenges related to governance, design, and management. The plan for Olivais Sul, for example, contrasted sharply with the regime's earlier pastoral housing developments (Figure 6).36 During the 1960s, Olivais Sul was the most extensive housing scheme under construction in Portugal. Designed in 1959 to accommodate 34,000 inhabitants in an area of 186 hectares, it was developed by a group of architects working for Lisbon's Gabinete de Estudos de Urbanização (GEU; Office for Urbanization Studies) and coordinated by José Rafael Botelho and Carlos Duarte.37 The architects drew widely on European references for their models, borrowing forms and clustering strategies from Nordic neoempiricism, Italian neorealism, and projects developed by the London County Council. The master plan, developed by GEU, was inspired by the London County Council's Alton Estate, built on the outskirts of London in the late 1950s. For Olivais Sul, Bartolomeu Costa Cabral and Nuno Portas designed housing clusters in the so-called Cell C that drew on the work of the Swedish partnership Backström and Reinius (Figure 7). Also for Cell C, Vitor Figueiredo and Vasco Lobo designed a seven-floor housing block borrowed directly from Franco Albini's project for Case Incis al Quartiere Vialba, built in Milan in 1950–53.
After two decades of resistance to “big phalansteries,” the plans for Lisbon's Olivais Sul and Chelas neighborhoods and the housing schemes built under the auspices of Porto's Plano de Melhoramentos signaled a new paradigm, one that moved away from the pastoral model that had reigned in Portugal for nearly thirty years. Indeed, these new plans were a sign of the regime's political realignment during the late 1950s. Salazar realized the impossibility in the new Cold War era of maintaining the autarkic policy he had pursued since the 1940s. The regime's strategic new alliances and foreign policy were thus designed to secure its survival, which was dependent on the promotion of economic development and the prevention of social unrest.38 Salazar opened his country's economy to foreign investment, making Portugal one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), created in 1960. The influx of industrial investment in Portugal only increased the need for more public housing, particularly in the major urban centers of Lisbon and Porto. Housing thus became a key component of the regime's policy to promote Portugal's industrial development and its integration into international trade networks.39
The challenge, however, was enormous. In 1960, 2.3 million families were living in Portugal; between 460,000 and 600,000 of them are believed to have lacked adequate housing.40 Despite legislative efforts and housing programs in place since the 1930s, the regime's disparate and fragmented policies fell far short of meeting the country's housing needs. Throughout the 1960s, Portugal's economy, supported by the country's EFTA membership, grew dramatically, yet the housing problem kept worsening. During the second half of the 1960s the government attempted once again to find a solution for this problem, including for the first time a section dedicated to housing policy in its Plano Intercalar de Fomento (Midterm Development Plan) for 1965–67.41 Here, the government recognized the three fundamental “vices” affecting the housing sector: real estate speculation; developers' preference for high-end, or luxury, construction; and the sluggishness of the construction industry. The commodification of housing was seen as the key threat to the development of a public housing policy that would serve the needs of the working class and the urban poor.
In 1968, Marcelo Caetano (1906–80) replaced Salazar as president of the Council of Ministers.42 Caetano quickly recognized the importance of developing more efficient housing policies. On 28 May 1969, less than one year after his appointment, Caetano's cabinet published Decree-Law 49033, which established a new organization to tackle the housing problem: the Fundo de Fomento da Habitação (FFH; Fund for Housing Development). With the creation of FFH, all governmental agencies dealing with housing were placed under a single bureaucratic umbrella. The decree-law's preamble stated that the goals of FFH were twofold: to “stimulate the construction of public housing, tackling one of the most pressing national challenges,” and to promote the “systematic study of housing as a social problem, aiming at contributing to the improvement of our housing policy.”43
In line with these goals, the government sponsored a debate on the housing problem in Portugal. The Colóquio sobre as Políticas de Habitação (Colloquium on Housing Policies), held in Lisbon in July 1969, was organized to address the country's housing shortage and to search for new strategies to tackle it. The colloquium highlighted the fact that Portugal could not end its housing crisis solely by building more houses; rather, the problem required careful study and planning by state agencies.44 In line with these conclusions, FFH developed an ambitious series of planos integrados (integrated plans) to tackle housing problems in the most industrialized parts of the country. The first set of integrated plans focused on peripheral areas of the country's two largest cities (Zambujal, Almada, Setúbal, and Moita, near Lisbon; and Viso and Matosinhos, near Porto) and of three smaller towns with severe housing needs (Aveiro, Guimarães, and Funchal). The areas covered by these plans were vast when compared with those developed during the Salazar era.45
The Plano Integrado de Almada, begun in 1971, was one of the first examples of FFH's new approach to housing. Designed by a team of architects led by Vassalo Rosa, the Almada plan covered 1,300 hectares in Lisbon's industrial belt, on the south bank of the Tejo (Tagus) river near a bridge completed in 1966. The development was intended to accommodate sixty thousand residents, along with various facilities and amenities. Implementation was postponed, however, due to budgetary constraints and problems with land acquisition. Only a fraction of the original plan was completed, comprising an area of just 360 hectares.46 Rosa's plan concentrated on the circulation network that connected and articulated residential areas for about twenty thousand inhabitants, plus green spaces and public facilities. Teams of architects with experience in public housing, including some previously involved during the 1960s with FCP-HE, designed the various residential complexes. The first of these, nicknamed the Picapau Amarelo (yellow woodpecker) neighborhood on account of its color scheme, was designed in 1975 by Justino Morais (Figure 8).
As had earlier government efforts, FFH's integrated plans failed to deliver what they promised. In the early 1970s, Portugal's housing crisis persisted, prompting the rise of several clandestine settlements at the peripheries of larger cities. The integrated plans clashed with the interests of the private real estate sector, and FFH was unable to counter what was by then that sector's near monopoly of the housing market.47 FFH's mandate was also thwarted by budgetary constraints, as much of its funding was diverted to support the growing costs of the Colonial War, which the regime had been fighting since 1961 against the liberation movements in its three most important African colonies: Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. With war in Africa occupying the center of political debate in Portugal during the early 1970s, the country's housing problems took a backseat. The projects for the Almada Integrated Plan, to cite one example, would not be developed until the second half of the 1970s.48
In fact, the social, financial, and political consequences of the war soon became the gravest threat to the nation's stability. On 25 April 1974, political unrest finally triggered a military putsch that ended the regime that had ruled Portugal since 1926. This political shift shook the social and economic foundations shaped for five decades by the Estado Novo's rule. Housing policies were immediately affected, and for the first time in Portugal, grassroots organizations would play a central role in their formulation.
Housing and Grassroots Empowerment
The 25 April 1974 coup was led by a group of junior military officers. The Portuguese people swiftly backed the military putsch, storming the streets and celebrating the end of the longtime dictatorship (Figure 9). Images of smiling people surrounding military men with white and red carnations in their rifle barrels became icons of the bloodless revolution. The Revolution of the Carnations, as it was known, became “the seed of a whole social revolution.”49
In the aftermath of the revolution, sizable numbers of ill-housed people began squatting in vacant buildings in Lisbon and Porto.50 At the end of May 1974, a large group of people living in public housing owned by the municipality of Porto demonstrated in front of the city's town hall to protest the physical dilapidation and oppressive conditions of their dwellings. These were groundbreaking events for a society accustomed to dictatorial controls and the belief that private property must always be protected.51 The squatters and demonstrators were part of a spontaneous grassroots movement, one that challenged the status quo put in place under the longue durée of the dictatorship. However, for the leaders now in charge of the transition to democracy—the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA; Movement of the Armed Forces)—this kind of insurgent citizenship threatened the formation of a new democratically elected political order.52
Some of the grassroots efforts started within the state bureaucracy itself. In the aftermath of the 25 April coup, workers in governmental offices and agencies related to housing and social welfare (FFH staff in particular) put “pressure on the closed, bureaucratic, and technocratic structures in which the organization of the State works.”53 They proposed a decentralization of public administration and a new emphasis on collective interests. Such initiatives were in sharp contrast to five decades of policies characterized by centralism, elitism, and “assistencialism.”54
A wave of efforts to reform Portugal's housing policies soon followed, among which the Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local program was arguably the most notable.55 In the wake of the democratic revolution, the dreadful living conditions of the urban poor became undeniably apparent, as the failure of four decades of public housing policies under Salazar and Caetano was made evident. Architects Nuno Portas and Nuno Teotónio Pereira, prominent critics of the dictatorship's housing policies, had long argued against the state's centralized control of affordable housing production. Despite the presumptive “good intentions” behind FFH and the integrated plans, the government's actual achievements fell far short of the stated goals. For example, in 1974, the number of new dwellings created under the auspices of the integrated plans was zero, although the Third Development Plan (1968–73) had set a goal of twenty thousand new houses.56 Portas and Teotónio Pereira designed the SAAL program as a radically new and far more effective approach to delivering affordable housing.
In May 1974, the first provisional government, recognizing mounting social unrest in the wake of the revolution, quickly prepared a new program to deliver affordable housing to the urban poor.57 Portas, one of Portugal's most prominent social housing experts, was appointed secretary of state for housing and urban development in the new government.58 Having worked with Teotónio Pereira at Olivais Sul, Portas brought him in to assist. In a document written in June 1974 reorganizing FFH, Portas proposed a public housing policy that would serve all income levels and stress self-help initiatives—an innovation in Portuguese public housing policy.59 The goal of Portas's program was to help the poorest of the poor while stimulating the creation of social organizations and the development of “self-help solutions.” The people, rather than the state, would be in charge of the process; the state's contributions would be limited to facilitating access to land, building infrastructure, and providing technical assistance and funding.60
One month later, Teotónio Pereira highlighted the need for an individually tailored approach to public housing, in contrast to the more formulaic, all-encompassing ones that prevailed in Salazar's era. In 1969, Teotónio Pereira had criticized the government's centralized production of public housing via FFH. Now, he said, “the types of intervention cannot be defined beforehand. They will be the outcome … of the options and priorities defined by the residents themselves.” For Teotónio Pereira, the Brigadas de Construção (Construction Brigades)—small groups of government-funded experts (architects, engineers, sociologists, lawyers, social workers) who provided free technical assistance to neighborhood organizations—were key to the SAAL program and should be considered “the connection tool—though not the only one—between the population, on the one side, and the municipalities and the FFH on the other side.” Granting autonomy to the brigades would allow them to operate as interpreters of the people's will in their negotiations with governmental agencies. “The Brigades,” Teotónio Pereira wrote, “although supportive of the people, should not replace them or their representative organizations.”61 In other words, the brigades should limit their intervention to mainly technical aspects.
These ideas became law in the cabinet order passed by the provisional government on 6 August 1974, establishing SAAL. The order aimed at regulating, activating, and articulating the “spatial agency” of design experts, housing activists, politicians, and the ill-housed population.62 According to the order, which was signed by Nuno Portas and Minister of the Interior Manuel da Costa Brás, SAAL was designed “to support, through the municipalities, the initiative of the population living in poor conditions to stimulate their collaboration in the transformation of their own neighborhoods, investing their own latent assets, and possibly their money.” Another important aspect of the order concerned the ownership of the land to be used for SAAL operations: “It should be remembered that the main reason for this [housing] policy is based on the appropriation by the lower classes of the valuable locations where they currently live.”63 This appropriation, it was believed, would be essential to SAAL's success. It would also be very difficult, involving expropriative processes and difficult negotiations with real estate interests that had long thrived under the dictatorship.
“Dual Power” and the Right to the City
The new revolutionary momentum was sustained for nineteen months, from April 1974 to November 1975. During this period, local groups increasingly assumed the functions of the old centralized state bureaucracies. Urban social movements, including those fighting for better housing conditions, played a key role in the country's broader political emancipation. As the social historian Pedro Ramos Pinto argues, these movements “went from being a vehicle of political participation in the politics of the revolution to becoming for some a central tenet of the ‘real’ revolution itself, an essential part of an alternative to Soviet-style centralized socialism, so called ‘Popular Power’ socialism.”64 The social movements that emerged after the revolution, Ramos Pinto asserts, revealed “how far state-provided housing had come to be regarded as a fundamental social right, but also how much resentment had accumulated towards the regime and its agents [who were] perceived to be denying the people their entitlement.”65
After the fall of Salazar's centralized, corporatist regime, Portugal saw the rise of many new grassroots organizations, particularly workers' and residents' associations. The latter played a vital role in the development of the SAAL program and influenced political decision making at the local level—tasks that were presumably the purview of municipal governments. According to historian Raquel Varela, the residents' associations became a “parallel power to that of the municipalities.”66 In fact, the municipalities at this point were more actively involved in renewing the prerevolutionary status quo than in promoting social welfare. In this context, the residents' associations negotiated directly with the provisional government and the ruling MFA. This fostered a form of governance similar to that seen in Russia between the fall of Czar Nicholas II in February 1917 and the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. This form of governance, which Lenin described as “dual power,” was based on the coexistence of two cooperative but competing sources of power: a provisional government (a coalition of liberal politicians and moderate socialists) and the popularly led Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.67 A form of dual governance operated in Portugal during 1974 and 1975, providing the backdrop against which the SAAL program did its work.
This period of dual power in Portugal was short-lived. A failed coup d'état on 11 March 1975 was the first sign of a counterrevolution that would succeed later that year (on 25 November). In the meantime, however, the political atmosphere was convoluted and charged. The class struggle manifested in workers' demonstrations (Figure 10). Squatters' movements were pervasive, strikes proliferated, and companies were now being managed or comanaged by their employees. The provisional government started an extensive campaign of nationalizing banks and industrial conglomerates that had previously had tremendous power and little oversight. Agrarian reform advanced, and land was redistributed from quasi-feudal landowners to the farmers who worked it. Portugal was now seen internationally as a place with significant Cold War implications. On the cover of its 11 August 1975 issue, Time magazine featured the leaders of the Portuguese revolution (Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, Vasco Gonçalves, and Francisco da Costa Gomes) above the title “Red Threat in Portugal.” Private property, the primacy of which had been a linchpin of the dictatorship, was now being questioned by a new insurgent class. Public housing policies that had been thwarted by the former regime suddenly had a real chance to succeed. The SAAL program created the political conditions necessary to make adequate housing accessible to the urban poor, not just a privilege of the middle classes and selected public servants, as was the case during Salazar's time.68
The SAAL program had strong general support, but there were differing views about how best to implement it. In the Algarve, the SAAL brigades coordinated by architect José Veloso developed solutions designed to encourage self-help in the construction of new residential projects—mostly small communities intended for fishermen and their families. In Lisbon, by contrast, most members of the brigades were against self-help programs. The SAAL program in Lisbon was part of the existing municipal housing agency, and its brigades worked on large-scale neighborhood projects, mostly in peripheral urban areas. Unlike the clusters of single-family houses developed in the Algarve under Veloso, Lisbon's SAAL projects were predominantly multistory apartment blocks. Finally, in Porto, unlike in other cities, the urban poor lived mainly in central areas, on land of prime real estate value. Consequently, the SAAL operations there illustrate another approach, one with powerful implications for the relationship between social rights and housing policies.
Since the late 1950s, there had been constant pressure in Portuguese cities to relocate the urban poor to the periphery so as to make room for further real estate speculation. For the urban poor of Porto, this created a near-constant threat to their status as dwellers of the central city. Under SAAL, however, the urban poor's claims on the city gained significant ground.
SAAL's architectural operations in Porto were strongly influenced by the sociological and typomorphological characteristics of the proletarian ilha (island), a vernacular housing type that was ubiquitous in Porto throughout the twentieth century (Figure 11). The ilha is defined by one or more rows of small rental houses grouped behind a middle-class house, usually occupied by the ilha's owner. The ilha's individual units are connected by a narrow common courtyard and linked to the street through a passage under the main house, which provides their street frontage.69 Throughout the twentieth century, the ilhas were a matter of concern for Porto's politicians, architects, and social elites. Many surveys of the ilhas were undertaken as part of efforts to improve the poor living conditions of their inhabitants; in many cases the surveys resulted in mass evictions when substandard conditions were found. The relationship between governmental authorities and the ilhas was, as Marielle Gros observes, “the kingdom of all-or-nothing, of absenteeism or of the bulldozer.”70
By the 1960s, Porto's once-remote industrial periphery had been linked to the rest of the city. Real estate speculation caused land values in the areas at the city's edges to rise dramatically. Meanwhile, the economic importance of the ilhas as a source of cheap labor decreased, and those situated in prime locations became prey to powerful real estate interests. For local authorities and economic elites, the commodity value of the ilhas was now much higher than their use value. Porto's municipal government approved a slum-clearance process that included relocating the residents of the ilhas to public housing complexes built at the urban periphery. This process unfolded throughout the 1960s and early 1970s under the Plano de Melhoramentos do Porto. The preamble of the decree that instituted the PMP, Decree-Law 40616, published on 28 May 1956, stated that attempts to rehabilitate the ilhas were precarious, and that a generalized solution was unlikely to be found. Thus, it “confirmed the need to implement measures for the massive demolition of these neighborhoods, [which were] highly inappropriate for human inhabitation.”71
The PMP faced substantial popular resistance, however. Before the revolution, ilha residents had little choice but to accept government-mandated eviction and relocation to the new, peripheral housing complexes promoted by the PMP. But after the revolution, residents of the ilhas began to affirm their right to stay put. They asserted their “right to the place” and demanded that improvements be made to their dwellings, and they resisted efforts aimed at relocating them to public housing projects outside the city center.72 Residents of ilhas in the Antas neighborhood, for example, had survived the demolitions in the 1960s; in the early 1970s, they refused to move to the new neighborhoods built according to the PMP. After 1974, they received technical assistance from the SAAL-Antas Brigade, coordinated by Pedro Ramalho, which developed a plan to secure the dwellers' “right to the city.” The brigade surveyed existing ilhas and concluded that they were “part of a rich complex of social life.” Brigade leaders pointed out the benefits of the communitarian lifestyle made possible by the “corridor-island” type and argued forcefully for the ilhas' preservation.73 They rejected what they described as the ghetto-like character of many courtyard-corridors, however, and proposed new units for previously cleared adjacent areas. The new units they designed nonetheless displayed close formal and spatial similarities to traditional ilhas (Figure 12).
Elsewhere in Porto, the S. Victor SAAL brigade, coordinated by future Pritzker Prize recipient Álvaro Siza, undertook another public housing project inspired by the social and spatial patterns of the ilhas. Siza's brigade went further in defending the ilhas than had Ramalho's team. In an article published in 1976 in Lotus International, Siza insisted that the ilhas should become the basis for a new housing paradigm, “the basic element of the urban tissue.”74 Although often in bad physical condition and with poor sanitation, the ilhas were a model for community life, said Siza. It is worth noting that the community life Siza praised was a direct consequence of the ilhas' spatial segregation from much of the rest of the city. As the word suggests, and despite their central location, the ilhas in many cases were effectively islands of squalor and overcrowding in central Porto's urban fabric; the everyday lives of their inhabitants remained largely invisible to most, hidden behind the street fronts of middle-class houses. Siza acknowledged that many inhabitants of the ilhas disliked living in them and wanted out. “But to repudiate this image,” he wrote, “does not necessarily mean refusal of systems of adaptation and whatever is positive in that community life.”75 Siza saw the ilhas as a model, and through their example he sought to decommodify the larger public housing system, focusing on social value rather than mere economic value.76
Porto's SAAL brigades struggled to overcome the bureaucratic inertia and political influence of a corrupt capitalist system nurtured during five decades of dictatorship. The plans put forward by the Antas and S. Victor SAAL brigades faced countless obstacles. The first major hurdle was landownership, yet both brigades ignored the complex structure of existing ownership of the land at their sites, believing that new legal frameworks inspired by the revolution's “route to socialism” would allow them to expropriate the land needed for SAAL operations. To their frustration, there was no clear shift in land policies during the immediate postrevolutionary period. Consequently, the implementation of the SAAL program, in Porto and elsewhere, became highly problematic.77
The End of the SAAL Spring
Throughout the postrevolutionary period, the strategic alliance of political parties opposed to the dictatorial regime gradually waned. On 28 September 1974 and on 11 March and 25 November 1975, political and military clashes revealed the tensions existing between those who once shared support for the April 1974 revolution. Support for postrevolutionary housing policies, unsurprisingly, was eroded by these tensions. The hectic summer of 1975 ended with a schism between communists and socialists, whose parties had been most active and influential in defining housing policies just after the revolution. On 10 February 1976, the new Ministério da Habitação, Urbanismo e Construção (Ministry for Housing, Urban Development, and Construction) was created.78 Eduardo Pereira (1927–2015), an engineer appointed by the Socialist Party, became the new minister in charge of the country's housing policy. One of Pereira's first initiatives was to create a credit system to encourage private home purchases, supported by strong, state-funded financial incentives. In reality, the new program was intended less to solve the affordable housing crisis than to help sell off the enormous stock of housing acquired by real estate investors during the early 1970s. In 1975, many people in Portugal were without housing (mainly the urban poor), but many houses (owned mainly by wealthy investors) were also without people.79 In short, rather than solving the problem of the lack of affordable housing, Minister Pereira focused his attention on the liquidity problems of real estate speculators. Indeed, his program was designed to halt the decommodification of housing promoted by SAAL by using state-controlled resources to stimulate the private housing market.
Pereira's policies created hurdles for those involved with the SAAL program. The state boycotted the land expropriation processes that the SAAL brigades had expected to employ. The expectations of residents' associations and cooperatives were frustrated, and few new affordable dwellings were built. Squatting and spontaneous settlements emerged once again. Paradoxically, for Pereira, the reappearance of these clandestine movements was good news. They allowed him to blame the SAAL process for not providing adequate affordable housing or eradicating slums. This political maneuver eventually put an end to the SAAL program, to the decommodification of affordable housing, and to organized grassroots efforts focused on providing affordable housing for the poor.
On 25 April 1976, the Socialist Party won the first legislative elections held in Portugal since the coup of 25 April 1974, and Eduardo Pereira continued as minister for housing, urban development, and construction in the new government. Porto's residents' commissions and associations were gloomy about prospects for the SAAL program. They denounced “governmental boycotts, libels, neglect, and all sorts of barriers put forth by the municipalities to the expropriation processes, antipopular conduct of the Ministry of Housing about the development of the SAAL process.” “The government,” they asserted, “wants to overturn its compromise, trying to replace the SAAL controlled by the residents with a SAAL that does not serve the latter's interests.”80 Porto's residents' associations called for a general demonstration on 23 October 1976, and posters announcing the event were put up all over the city (Figures 13, 14, and 15). During the demonstration, protesters standing in front of Porto's town hall shouted slogans such as “Expropriations, yes! Boycotts, no!”; “Municipalities at the service of the people”; “SAAL shall be what the people want”; “Right to the place”; and “Houses, yes! Shacks, no!”
On 28 October 1976, five days after the demonstration in Porto, the Diário da República (Portugal's Official Journal) published a cabinet order signed by Minister of Housing Pereira and Minister of the Interior Manuel da Costa Brás. According to this document, “Two years after [the SAAL program's creation] one can conclude that some SAAL brigades have strayed evidently from the spirit of the cabinet order that established them, acting marginally to FFH and the municipalities, who should be the main vehicles for the development of the process.”81 The cabinet order accused the SAAL brigades of failing to meet the program's goals and contributing to the expansion of slums and squatting. It proposed to decentralize the decision-making process around urbanization, assigning more power to the municipalities and creating stimulus for the development of private housing initiatives, the renovation of dilapidated areas, and the elimination of squatter and clandestine settlements. Instead of the SAAL brigades, the government nominated one representative from each of the three main development areas—Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve region—for the ambiguously defined job of “supporting the municipalities in planning the actions to develop.”
Again, residents and the brigades resisted. On 30 October 1976, an association of residents of the slums of Lisbon, Setúbal, and Porto wrote a motion repudiating the dismantling of SAAL. They claimed that the program was the victim of a plot orchestrated by economic elites taking advantage of social tensions to advance their own political agendas.82 On 2 November 1976, the staff of SAAL/Norte (the regional section of SAAL based in Porto) issued a press release blaming Minister Pereira for attacking the rights and organizations of the urban poor. The document highlighted two ways this attack was made. First, it asserted, “there is an attempt to disarticulate and destroy a program [that was designed] to fulfill the right to housing and the right to the city under the control of the residents.” Second, “there is an attempt to disarticulate and destroy the technical support apparatus [of SAAL]—giving away the governance of the process to the municipalities (one of its main active enemies) and to government representatives obscurely nominated.”83 With this press release SAAL/Norte denounced the ministers' deceitful and calumnious accusations against the SAAL process. Against accusations of incompetence and waste, its authors provided numbers: twenty-six months after the creation of the SAAL program, there were 16,407 new housing units and 58,004 people involved in operations developed by SAAL/Norte alone.84
As these figures suggest, any objective accounting of the SAAL program's operations and achievements contradicts the government's accusations. Since 1974, SAAL had produced tangible results, providing housing for the urban poor and effectively decommodifying the housing system. By 1977, when the first houses developed by SAAL were completed, public-sector contributions to the construction of new houses had grown by more than 15 percent—the largest gain since 1952.85
After 1977, as a consequence of the cabinet order published on 28 October 1976, the SAAL program's operational capacity declined sharply. In the years that followed, the worst expectations of the brigades and residents were confirmed. In Porto, the goal of recasting the ilhas as a model of community life and the cornerstone of a more inclusive city was challenged. Porto's SAAL brigades were now forced to abide by existing patterns of landownership, which hampered their efforts to transform the city's social and physical fabric. More than anywhere else SAAL operated, in Porto its projects for ilhas residents were part of a larger program for the whole city—to create homes, not just houses, and to emphasize housing's social value over its economic value.
The housing policies implemented by Salazar's regime between 1933 and the late 1950s, when Portugal's industrialization gained momentum, were directed mostly toward the middle class. The urban poor were largely left out of the system, while middle-class homeownership was promoted and commodified. Housing was an asset, central to the aspirations of all middle-class families, who constituted the segment of society that most actively supported the regime. Such housing was, however, out of reach for low-income families. During Marcelo Caetano's time in power, the creation of a central agency for housing, FFH, and the integrated plans began to address the problems of housing for the “great number,” but these efforts were frustrated by the political challenges and economic hardships resulting from Portugal's war in Africa. Finally, with the democratic revolution of 1974, things began to change. After almost five decades of government restrictions on workers' organizations and other forms of political association, independent workers' and residents' committees suddenly emerged throughout the country.86 The commodification of housing that prevailed during the dictatorship was challenged. Housing became a right rather than an asset, and the emancipatory goals of the urban poor briefly gained traction. For many lower-income residents of Portuguese cities, the possibility of building a home became a reality.
However, the system of “dual power” under which the SAAL brigades worked during 1974–75 was seen as a threat by political interests on both the right and the left. Economic interests were at stake. After the new constitution of 1975 and the first free elections held on 25 April 1976 brought about relative stability, capitalist initiatives grew swiftly and soon began to influence public institutions and governmental agencies. The newly elected government's decision to shift coordination of the SAAL process to municipalities concealed vested interests that aimed to seize the power that lower-class citizens had grasped after the democratic revolution.
According to José António Bandeirinha, the experiences of the SAAL-Porto brigades “intensified the contradictions between a progressive approach, which implied a rupture with the establishment, and the [latter's] desperate attempts to preserve power, to consolidate deep-rooted conspiracies of domination and submission, [and] to perpetuate market privileges in the urban real estate market.”87 Transference of the SAAL process to the municipalities was thus instrumental for those seeking to control the struggle for land and shelter; in effect, it did little to improve conditions for the urban poor as the government once argued it would.
The government's boycott of the expropriation processes created severe problems for the SAAL brigades. It thwarted their efforts to create a truly inclusive city and to decommodify the public housing system. After October 1976, while under control of the municipalities, only those SAAL projects already under way were finished, and most had poor infrastructure, or none at all.88 This resulted in rapid decay and contributed to the ghettoization of the SAAL neighborhoods, leading ultimately to discontent around the benefits of the program and toward public housing in general. This discontent was harnessed by those with political and economic interests in the failure of the SAAL process. SAAL was scorned by those who saw it as a menace to traditional power relations and to business as usual. The SAAL spring soon faded away, and only a relative few finished the long walk from house to home.