Shared Learning, Technology Helps Brazilian City Develop Online Housing System

This knowledge sharing experience between São Paulo and São Bernardo is a great example of the value of investing in Middle Income Countries.

The Cities Alliance’s portfolio in Brazil has historically been the partnership’s biggest, with more than 26 projects totaling over USD 19 million over the past 12 years. This longstanding partnership has produced valuable experiences related to integrated slum upgrading that are highly relevant to cities in Africa and Asia.

Arguably, one of the most visible results achieved during that time has been HABISP, a comprehensive online information and mapping system developed as part of the Cities Alliance’s long-term partnership with the city of São Paulo. By providing accurate, up-to-date information about the city’s informal settlements, HABISP has dramatically improved São Paulo’s ability to prioritise its interventions, and it has become one of the city’s most effective urban planning tools.
Following the success of HABISP, the city of São Bernardo do Campo approached São Paulo about establishing a similar system for its own use. In 2011, the two cities signed a technical cooperation agreement with support from the Cities Alliance and the World Bank.
The result is SIHISB, an online information system for social housing that is customised to São Bernardo do Campo’s specific needs and context. Like HABISP, São Bernardo’s system is public, online, and able to effectively organise and systematise data on informal settlements to help city authorities plan their interventions more effectively. SIHISB is a more focused system, with six modules instead of HABISP’s nine, and uses slightly different methodology.
“The SIHISB initiative shows the value of continuing to invest in Middle Income countries. The experience of Brazil is hugely relevant, especially in Africa and Asia.”
-- Cities Alliance Manager William Cobbett
Operationalised in June 2012, SIHISB is already making a splash.
“When we started in 2009 we had no idea of the number of slums and where they were located,” said Tassia Regino, Housing Secretary for São Bernardo.
Ms. Regino stressed that the system has already given the city greater capability to address its problems and plan. She also noted that with accurate information on São Bernardo’s precarious and informal settlements, the system has helped the city reduce the number of at-risk communities.
The city is also committed to sharing its experience with others. As part of the Cities Alliance grant, a comprehensive publication is being produced that documents the process of customising and systematising the online system and extracts lessons learned.
These lessons include:
  • The importance of partnership among government entities to share knowledge and experience
  • The need for governments to have a comprehensive understanding of the city’s problems in order to prioritise interventions
  • The importance of characterising settlements and defining typologies to streamline decision making
  • Information systematisation has an impact on institutional coordination and integrating interventions with other agents whose actions have an impact on housing solutions
  • New media can consolidate the relationship between government and society by making information transparent and publicly available
São Bernardo’s experience with SIHISB is a great example of how pilot programmes such as HABISP can be adapted and used in different contexts. The information system addresses a fundamental problem shared by cities around the world, namely access to usable information that is not politicised.

It also shows how relatively small investments – in this case, USD 75,000 in co-financing from the Cities Alliance – can leverage significant learning, especially when it is shared between cities.