In a country marked by deep social and racial inequalities, the experience in two governments reveals the importance of a favourable correlation of forces for the realization of policies committed to social justice. The first Workers’ Party (PT), and the first woman’s government in Brazil’s largest city, Luiza Erundina’s mandate, implemented an innovative housing policy, in a moment referred to as a ‘virtuous cycle of urban policy’. In Lula’s first term as president of Brazil, the Ministry of Cities was conceived as a space for constructing a policy based on principals of urban reform. In an adverse political context, progressive forces were not able to confront the dominance of capital in the cities. However, one outcome that allows us to find hope in the current context of regressions in Brazil’s political space is the increasing number of politically engaged professionals, who can form the basis for beginning a new cycle.