By Benjamin Parkin, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A new favela is in the process of being constructed after a group invaded an unoccupied area owned by the telephone company Oi, in Engenho Novo, Zona Norte (North Zone). A reported 5,000 families have set up barracos (makeshift housing) in the buildings and the surrounding terrain since the settlement began last Monday, March 31st.
The new community is being called the “Favela do Telerj,” a reference to an old telephone company in Rio. Oi explained that the territory was a deactivated warehouse, and have obtained a court injunction to repossess it.
Representatives from the Municipality, State Government, Military Police, Public Defender’s Office and Public Ministry will meet to decide upon a course of action. Military Police have been on watch around the new construction but do not yet have permission to enter the area.
Aerial images captured by Globo News show the extensive construction already underway, and the quick growth of the community. Residents have been coming and going, bringing rudimentary building materials onto the site.
Residents told O Globo of their fear of removal. Luis Claudio Silva, 36, explained how he had lived precariously staying in friends’ houses and worried about the future. “Where will they take us? I’m with my family, with my five children, since the occupation began. We want a solution for everyone.”
Mileide Almeida, 25, said, “We have been expecting the entrance of the Shock Battalion (Military Police unit dealing with civil disturbance) [to evict us] at any moment. We spent the whole week with this feeling, that they would enter sooner or later.”
Theresa Williamson, founder of the NGO Catalytic Communities, which works across Rio’s favelas, spoke to The Rio Times, “Why are people settling? They’re settling because there is no affordable housing, there is no land […] Now we’re living in an economic period where the city has been attracting people from all over Brazil, as well as people who are being priced out of their own communities. And this creates major pushes for new favelas.”
Informal settlements such as favelas are common in Rio, with 23 percent of the city’s population living within them. There are over 1,000 identified favelas in Rio, which typically began in a similar fashion, with families and immigrants settling on unoccupied terrain and building makeshift accommodation, before developing into permanent structures and communities.
Various favelas across Rio have been under threat of demolition and removal in recent years, particularly in light of new construction for the 2016 Olympics. More than 90,000 people have been evicted from their homes in the past five years and over 1,000 homes were demolished in Manguinhos, Zona Norte of Rio, with more demolitions currently underway in Vila Autódromo, on the border of the Olympic site in the Zona Oeste (West Zone).
Those removed from their homes are typically offered alternative forms of compensation, such as enrollment in the Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House My Life) housing program, as well as financial compensation. The nationwide program, began in 2009, has provided 2.7 million houses so far, and is aiming for 3.5 million new units by 2018.
In Rio, the Mayor’s office projects the construction of 100,000 units by 2016. However, the Minha Casa, Minha Vida program has also come under fire for providing poor quality housing and being built in out of the way areas, typically in the outer parts of Zona Oeste, which can be as far as two to three hours commute from the city center.