Resettlements for the good of the habitants – that’s what Rio’s municipality calls the removal of people in favelas. In the past five years 20 229 families have been forced to leave their homes in one of the favelas in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Critics call it an attempt to hide poverty from the eyes of tourists during the World Cup and Olympics.
They debate about the motives of this policy, its legitimacy and its results. But even affected families cannot agree wether the policy is good or bad. Some of them thankfully move into social housing units where they can expect larger homes, a sanitary system and official electricity installations. These are benefits that convince some of the families. In total, 9 320 of the removed families resettled into a social housing unit through the government’s program “My House My Life” (Minha Casa Minha Vida).
For another group however, being forced to leave their homes is a nightmare and a change for the worse of their living conditions. As a result, an alliance of those opposed to the removals was founded, the “Local Committee for the Olympics and the World Cup” (Comitê Popular Rio Copa e Olimpíadas). Various NGOs and the United Nations support this group.
The municipality claims that the policy takes in to account the population’s best interests. “The resettlements are necessary to give dignity to those families,” says the municipal secretary of housing, Pierre Batista. According to him, just 1 720 of the removals had to do with construction sites, including some for the Olympics and the World Cup. In all other cases, the removals occurred because the houses were located in “risk areas”, such as riverbanks or mountainsides. “All the families that received housing from the municipality live under much better conditions today than they did before”, Mr. Batista said.
“The goal is to show a Rio de Janeiro to the tourists that in fact doesn’t exist. A Rio de Janeiro without poverty”, said Renato Cosentino from the Comitê Popular. He argues that the classification of “risk areas” is used arbitrarily. In his view, it’s not a coincidence that removals mostly take place around the touristic and highly valued regions of the city – near the locations where the Olympics and the World Cup will take place. In the end, the residents don’t profit from the destruction. The actual winner are the real estate companies. “When there is a demolition of a favela, the region around it is immediately valued greatly,” said Mr. Cosentino.
His main criticism concerns the location of the resettlements. Social housing will mainly be located in the west of the city. According to the Comitê Popular, those places are far away from the city center, which means they are far away from jobs and basic infrastructure. Furthermore, this region is controlled by militias, groups of retired policemen and soldiers that now take law enforcement in the poorer neighborhoods into their own hands.
To ground this criticism, the Comitê Popular likes to refer to an analysis by Lucas Faulhaber, a student of the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Universidade Federal Fluminense). For his final thesis at the School for Architecture and Urban Development (Escola de Arquitetura e Urbanismo) in 2012, he analyzed official data on the removals.
The following graph is taken out of his thesis “Wonderful Rio: practices, political projects and territorial interventions at the beginning of the 21st century” (Rio Maravilha: práticas, projetos políticos e intervenção no território no início do século XXI). It shows where families were removed from their houses and where they were transferred to, in a timeframe from January 2009 to April 2012. It reveals that the removals mostly took place in the touristic east of Rio, and the habitants new homes were mainly in the far west.
Those living in a house that is about to be removed can either accept a compensation from the municipality or a limited payment to pay for rent, 400 Reais, or can move to an apartment in the social housing. The Comitê Popular criticizes the value of the payment, too, saying that it is not enough. “With this amount of money there is no way of buying anything comparable to the houses in which people used to live,” said Mr. Cosentino.
The municipality denied those accusations. “Nothing is perfect,” said the secretary of housing, Mr. Batista. “We always try to optimize processes. But there were no fatal failures.”
This polarizing policy shows that there are two completely different views to look at the topic. Talking to the affected families showed that the truth is not simple.