By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – President Dilma Rousseff’s government is increasing funding for the landmark Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House My Life) program by R$1 billion in 2014. The move, which will funnel R$15.77 billion into the government-sponsored housing credit initiative, according to O Globo, is an attempt to shore up support for Rousseff in an election year.
The report indicates that, at a time when support for Bolsa Família (Family Scholarship) is high among other candidates, the Workers’ Party (PT) president can no longer rely on the ten-year-old conditional cash transfer program to generate excitement and electoral support as she seeks reelection this November. Bolsa Família, enacted by Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in 2003, is largely credited for lifting millions of Brazilians out of extreme poverty in the last decade.
Its supporters point to Bolsa Família’s fame as one of the most effective poverty-reduction programs in the world. To its harshest critics, it is a vote-buying scheme that creates clientelism. Ensuring that Bolsa Família is maintained is said to have been key to securing the victory of Workers’ Party candidates in the last two presidential elections.
President Rousseff’s opposition is now labeling her effort to increase Minha Casa Minha Vida funds as opportunism.
“There’s a great electoral opportunism in making a one R$1 billion reinforcement in the program in an election year. The government uses the weaknesses of the poorest population to perpetuate itself in power. But that bill will be paid by society one day, because they are creating a huge bubble, the degree of bankruptcy is very high,” warned Senator Cássio Cunha Lima from Brazil’s Social Democracy Party (PSDB).
Yet in November 2013, PSDB’s presidential candidate, Aécio Neves, introduced a bill in the Senate that would guarantee Bolsa Família would not be repealed by other governments.
Rousseff’s government is hoping 3.5 million homes will be finished between 2015 and 2018, an increase from the 2.7 million houses completed during phase two of Minha Casa Minha Vida that draws to a close this year. Rousseff had initially proposed three million homes for the third phase of the program.
“Those who are against extending the resources of Minha Casa Minha Vida for 2014 are the same who voted against the creation of the program back then,” PT leader José Guimarães told O Globo. The public housing program was enacted by Lula in 2009. Over one million homes have been completed and delivered since its start. As Bolsa Família, Minha Casa Minha Vida is popular among low income Brazilians and enjoys wide support from the larger population.
The program provides financing so that those households making under three times the minimum wage can buy their first home with low interest loans. It is meant to influence the housing market so that it offers an adequate supply of affordable houses to low-income prospective homeowners.
O Globo reported that Rousseff has asked her ministers to address the flaws that the program’s opponents might rail against during her reelection campaign this year. Minha Casa Minha Vida has been marked by fraud scandals and by accusations of delivering inadequate, poor quality homes. The government is hoping to quickly finish the second phase’s technical studies so that it can use the project’s successes in its campaign.