Port revitalization, relocation and housing

Piauí magazine takes on the subjects: a must-read

If you’ve ever had a long flight delay or cancellation at an airport gate, you’ve seen the chaos (unless you were comfortably distanced, in the VIP lounge). First they say it’s just a little late, then no information at all, then it’s a lot late. You can’t make out what they’re saying on the loudspeaker. People give each other versions of what they thought they heard. A crowd forms at the desk. Fists are shaken. Babies cry. Other people just like you, right across the way, are getting on their flight, all perfectly normal.

What? How will I get to..? I have a meeting/death in the family/hungry child! When are we leaving? What’s wrong with the plane? Even if they fix it, I’m not getting on. Connections… What hotel? Who pays? What about food? Isn’t there another flight? Do you know who I am? Shuttle to the hotel? Where? Tomorrow? Spend the whole day here? I need to make a phone call! I want my money back!

You’ve seen the poker-faced, sweaty airline employees, trying to sort it all out– and scram.

Now imagine what it’s like to have the city say that you and some of your favela neighbors have to move because they need to tear your house down.

Not only has this situation been extremely difficult for residents and city officials; it’s also been almost impossible to get a broad reading of the news regarding low-income housing and relocation. Not least because most of the available information comes from activists, who have their own biases.

Such was the case until last week, when Piauí magazine published “Os Descontentes do Porto” (The Malcontents of the Port), in its January edition.

The article is linked here, but fully available online only to subscribers. Piauí can be purchased at newsstands. There’s a lot of new information in the piece by veteran journalist Claudia Antunes, which supports the conclusion of this blog post back in 2011 about relocation– that aside from the thorny issues of justice, the city is doing a poor job of organizing and communicating such change.

Here’s a basic and startling fact in the Piauí article that isn’t so new but worth emphasizing: in the absence of a low-income housing policy, between 2000 and 2010 carioca favelas grew more than 27%. In the city as a whole, the population rose only 7.4%. Today, 1.4 million cariocas, or 22%, live in favelas.

Several other elements stand out in the Piauí article, which focuses on the Morar Carioca urban upgrade efforts in the Morro da Providência, the site of Brazil’s first favela, contiguous to the port area:

  • A variety of sources were consulted, including federal, state, and city officials, activists, neighborhood leaders and residents. Nevertheless, no one provided a firm date for delivering new apartments to those whose homes will be demolished in the Morro da Providência favela. It should be noted that firm dates aren’t available for many urban construction projects in Rio. And projects, once delivered, may present problems such as this and this.
  • Providência residents (671 families, or about 2,000 residents) were told in late 2010 they’d have to leave, but construction of their new apartments is behind schedule. The new municipal housing secretary, Pierre Batista, told the magazine that the problem is that many families haven’t yet decided which of two options they prefer: relocation or reimbursement. It’s unclear why the number of apartments needs to be neatly tied to the number of families to be relocated, when any surplus could easily be filled. Meanwhile, those who have left their homes and await new ones receive 400 reais a month in “social rent”, said to be far below the actual cost of renting in the area. Antunes writes:

According to the Municipal Housing Secretariat (SMH), there are plans to build 752 apartments at six addresses in the port area, with federal and city funds. In December, however, two lots still hadn’t been taken over by the government, and only on one of them, behind the Central Station tracks, had work begun. There were almost no construction workers, and the engineer said they’d been shifted to finish up the cable car system. Still, city hall insisted it will deliver the lot’s 118 units in the first half of this year. 

Up to now, 475 families from the Providência favela haven’t come to an agreement with the city about leaving their homes. Of the 196 that have left, 135 receive municipal aid for rent, called “social rent”, while they wait for the new apartments. The other 61 accepted other compensation offers: cash reimbursement, the purchase of a new home with help from the city, or a move to the a federal Minha Casa Minha Vida (My Home My Life) unit, outside the port area. 

Two years after work began, the demand of activists and those affected has changed from “no to removal” to “changing keys”.

  • Residents might have been relocated to the nearby Porto Maravilha, but that real estate revitalization initiative has reportedly been reserved for office buildings, shops and restaurants, and middle-class housing. The entire port area, says Piauí, is more than two-thirds the size of Copacabana, but has a population five times smaller, of 28,000. Of its five million square meters, 3,8 million hark back to Rio’s early days. The remaining 1.2 million, twentieth century landfill, mostly belong to the federal government and are chockablock with empty warehouses made obsolete by shipping containers. According to the magazine, the federal government has an indirect hand (by way of a Caixa Econômica Federal fund) in allocating these lots for upscale usage. Still, Alberto Gomes Silva, the new president of Cdurp, the city entity that manages the port revitalization, promised Piauí that he would publish a map of lots set aside for low income housing.

He said that Cdurp had allocated a waterside “desirable lot”, for the homeless movement, and that he’s working with the city to “create an inventory” of low-income real estate.

  • The state attorney general’s office has repeatedly moved to stop Morar Carioca work in Providência, arguing that citizens weren’t duly informed or involved in the process. In November, a judged ruled in favor of this, ordering a halt. And the federal government, by way of a working group on housing linked to the  Presidency’s Human Rights Secretariat, held a public hearing last October on the impact of construction related to sports mega-events, which city officials didn’t attend. This is the only related story available in the the mainstream press; in fact, until the Piauí article appeared, RioRealblog hadn’t heard about these developments.
  • Former Municipal Housing Secretary Jorge Bittar chalks up criticism to political interests. When the media shirks its watchdog role, such is the inevitable outcome, leading in this case to an absence of useful debate on relocation, port area land use, and low-income housing policy.

The critics  “have a prejudiced and ideologized view of things,” he said. “The epicenter of this is called PSOL. They’re playing politics using the allegation that the World Cup and the Olympics are pushing out the poor”.

As we all know, favelas have long been an informal solution to housing needs.

Once they exist, and once a city decides to integrate them into the urban fabric (as Rio is now doing), policymakers come up against long-ignored basic questions of life quality and costs.

“Maintenance is complicated,” Sergio Guimarães Ferreira, Pereira Passos Institute Director of Information  told RioRealblog last week. “Sanitation is a serious issue.” Other challenges, he added, are trash collection, public safety, general access and lighting. In some cases, spaces need to be opened up in order to implement solutions.

In order to bring favela living conditions up to standard, removals will have to take place. This is embodied in the Morar Carioca program, set to upgrade all Rio favelas by 2020.

You might say that Morro da Providência is a sort of pilot for Morar Carioca, which got under way–late– last year. There, a new high-tech cable car system is in a test phase, and should soon begin easing the lives of residents who have long dealt with the highs and lows of life in Rio de Janeiro. And sometime in the not-too-distant future, after a period of confusion, some of those whose lives were disrupted by the upgrade will boast a permanent address not far from where they used to live.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Porto Rio de Janeiro, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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