By Samuel Elliott Novacich, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House My Life) the massive public housing campaign launched by the Brazilian Federal Government in March of 2009, has been kicked into overdrive. Originally showcased with a federal subsidy of R$34 billion and a plan of building one million low-cost units throughout the country by 2014, Minha Casa Minha Vida now has more than twice the budget, a federal subsidy of R$72 billion.
With increased funding, the federal government is also expecting double the output, forecasting the construction of two million units over the next three years. In Rio de Janeiro, increased funding for the program means faster development. The mayor’s office, in collaboration with the federal government, has projected the construction of 100,000 units by 2016.
Funded primarily through the PAC 2 program, at least one third of units will be designated to families making up to three minimum wage salaries. Jorge Bittar, State Secretary of Housing, reports that 3,781 units have already been constructed and that a total of 12,450 new units will be available by the end of the year.
As funding pours in, the Minha Casa Minha Vida program is advancing very quickly, which for some is reason for concern. “It’s a speed of construction never before seen,” says architect Luciana Correa do Lago, of the Institute for Research and Regional Urban Planning (Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano e Regional, Ippur/UFRJ).
Hasty development, the architect critiques, leads to problems with the new units, that are “almost always of poor quality, on cheap land to increase construction profits, apartments less than 42 square meters, far from centers of commerce and without proper transportation.”
Many of the units being constructed as part of the Minha Casa Minha Vida program in Rio are destined for groups displaced by development for the World Cup and Olympic Games. Most are located in the Zona Oeste (West Zone) of Rio de Janeiro, along the Estrada dos Caboclos in Campo Grande, in Cosmos, or as far as Santa Cruz.
Catalytic Communities, a Rio de Janeiro based watchdog, has been monitoring these developments, and claims that constructions have not taken into account varying family sizes of displaced residents. According to the group, regardless of size, each family receives a two bedroom unit, leading to obvious complications and tensions as families of two are allocated the same size apartment as a family of ten or twelve.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the success of Minha Casa Minha Vida in Rio de Janeiro however, is the presence of the militias.
Alexandre Capote, of the Delegacia de Repressão a Ações Criminosas Organizadas (Department of Repression against Organized Crime, Draco), reports that Livorno, Trento and Treviso, three communities located in Cosmos and part of the new constructions, may be under the control of militias controlled the imprisoned ex-Military Police Ricardo Teixeira da Cruz, “Batman.”
Militias regularly charge illegal taxes to residents for electricity and water, but in the case of the new public housing units, they have taken their illegal activity a step further.
State Secretary of Housing Bittar reports that at least half of the 300 units built along the Estrada dos Caboclos have been invaded by militias, who have forcefully removed families to illegally resell housing units. Bittar reports that the Judiciary and Federal Police have been notified and are currently taking action.