Improving Housing Among Marginalized Communities: Effects of Social Capital in the Covid-19 Crisis
Social capital may be central to increasing compliance with government directives or mitigating the fallout during pandemics or natural disasters. Through a randomized controlled trial of an NGO-led program in Brazilian slums, I test whether individuals who worked with other community members towards improving housing conditions are more likely to comply with public health measures during the Covid-19 crisis and to help and collaborate with others. My findings show that community members who were part of the program have higher levels of trust and reciprocity with their peers and community leaders than their counterparts who did not take part in the program. These ties translate into better evaluations of the work of community leaders, NGOs, and governments during the crisis. Yet, I find no substantial change in different measures of physical distancing and basic hygiene, nor on measures of solidarity and claim-making activities. This work contributes to a growing literature on how social capital shapes collective action in contexts of extreme vulnerability and humanitarian crises. It also raises questions about the notion that social capital will necessarily promote collective action to fight Covid-19.