São Paulo is one of Latin America's most modern and developed cities, yet around one-third of its 10 million inhabitants live in poor-quality housing in sub-standard settlements. This paper describes the response of the São Paulo municipal government that took office in 2001. Through its Secretariat of Housing and Urban Development, it designed a new policy framework with a strong emphasis on improving the quantity and quality of housing for low-income groups. Supported by new legislation, financial instruments and partnerships with the private sector, the mainstays of the new policy are integrated housing and urban development, modernization of the administrative system, and public participation in all decision-making and implementation processes. The programmes centre on upgrading and legalizing land tenure in informal settlements, and regeneration of the city centre. The new focus on valuing the investments that low-income groups have already made in their housing and settlements has proved to be more cost-effective than previous interventions, leading to improvements on an impressive scale.