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By Cecilie Hestbæk, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The expansion of the favelas of Rio is a heavily discussed topic. The rapidly growing slum areas provide homes for a rising number of people at an alarming rate, at the expense of the surrounding rainforest. However, the actual process of building a house in a favela often takes years of patience and hard work.

Rio's favela homes built on top of old ones, photo by Cecilie Hestbæk.

When Patricia Pereira, lifetime resident of the favela Babilônia in Zona Sul, got married and had a daughter, she inherited a piece of land in the morro (hill side) from her grandparents, and the construction of a new home for her young family began.

As soon as the building started to take shape, Pereira and her husband moved from her parents’ house and into the space with a temporary roof and walls. Now, seven years later, they recently finished the construction, and she is now proud to say that she will never leave her house – and when the time comes, she will be able to pass it on to her daughter.

The construction process has been long and expensive, Pereira explains. “We built everything ourselves while working full time, and we were only able to purchase few building materials at a time, because of course we still had to buy food, clothes and so on.”

The UPP pacified Babilônia favela seems to be filled with construction sites, but only two small shops provide materials such as bricks, concrete, and other supplies. To supplement this, it is often necessary to travel to stores outside the favela, which means hard-earned money spent on transportation of the heavy materials up the steep roads of the morro.

Only few of the buildings in Babylônia are completely finished, photo by Cecilie Hestbæk.

The recent implementation of the UPP in Babilônia and neighboring Chapéu Mangueira has made many things easier for the inhabitants. Now all homes are provided with water and electricity, and with the increased feeling of safety, house prices have increased. The price of a house in the favela has ranged from around R$16,000 to R$30,000, but recently a house was sold for as much as R$60,000.

The greater safety in the area also means more possibilities of locals to rent out rooms or floors of their house. In Vidigal and Rocinha (Rio’s largest favelas), long term rentals of an apartment can be as low as R$250 per month. Here and in other communities like Babylônia, residents are seeing prices rise as more outsiders enter.

The community recently started official favela tours, which several inhabitants hope to use as a foundation for the offering day-to-day rentals in time for the 2014 World Cup, so they can earn more money on the empty spaces in their houses.

For those not fortunate enough to have built a home there yet, however, the police presence in the area has put an end to the favela expansion. This means that if their family does not own land yet, many of the next generation will have to leave Babilônia in order to build a home for themselves as their parents did.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. I really would like that the gringos leaving in Brazil, would stop once and for all to glamorize favelas.
    You do not have that in your countries and your governments would not put up with that at all.

    Squatting laws have been revised in many EU countries and to build unsafe unhealthy is a big no no.

    So why on earth do you come here and basically say it is OK to live like that, is it because it is not on your backyard?

    Poor people they do not have where to live, I think that is disgraceful and meanwhile the international community view favelas as a solution for popular housing were are gonna have more of them.

    I do not see this same international community pointing the finger in the same way at the Brazilian government for not providing proper house facilities or a sensible housing scheme for the low income populations.

    Favela people used to glamorize their surroundings in order to cope, I feel they deserve a little better than that, I also think the forest deserve better than that so do the rest of the population. Everyone is tired of putting up with open sewage and deforestation.

    I do not feel sorry for people who build illegal anymore, Mind you every single favela in Rio started illegally and nowadays most of them pay rents to favela landlords who are getting very rich without paying a single penny in taxes meanwhile people on the rest of town struggle to pay the bills.

    This is not right and irresponsible to say the least., so please stop making report on the great favela living, I find that VERY hypocritical as most of you will go back to your favela free countries.

    Please do report on Brazilian government corruption and exceedingly expensive taxes which are not disposed in favour of Brazilian population in housing, health an education programs for all.

    Please do report on lawless Brazil and its take advantage kind of culture.

    Please do say how much many Brazilians are fed up with it all.

    Do not let the Sugar Loaf and beautiful beaches cloud your vision, it was not man made, it is nature made.

  2. As a gringo, although i respect favelas and their residents… i have a problem with other gringos who live in favelas – trying to act all ‘adventurous’ and boasting to their friends back home about it…

    My opinion of Brazilians living in favelas..? It’s a divisive issue. On one hand, i realize that poor people need somewhere to live. On the other hand, it’s sad to see the forests cut down in order to construct more houses. So i don’t have the solution…

    And these favela ‘tours’ for gringos..? What a joke… treating the favela like a zoo and the residents like animals…

  3. Oh well, I’ve seen too many favela reports in this publication for sure.

    Pacification is good, but what would be the solution is proper houseing for those people. I do not have solutions either, but if we do not chnage the direction and how we look at the favelas, this solutions will never be reached.

    I find favela tours disgusting, I’ve never been on a Bronx tour to see the poor or on a Liverpool tour to do the same.

    Yes I agree wth Diego, it treats the poor like zoo animals and most of the income does not even go to those comuunities,

    Yes poor peopl shoukld have were to live, but we should not put up with favelas as a solution, because thery are not, period.

    People should be asking better, not putting up with the wrong to fill the huge gaps in society and the poor richness distribtution of Brazil.

    The Brazilian upper classes are also a big culprit, classes war in Brazil has gone to insane heights. It is very subtle but it is ther at all times.

    News people should be reporting on it instead, I feel.

  4. As a “gringo” I have always condemned favelas and their acceptence as a way of life.
    It seems a “Bairro Nobre” cannot exist unless their is a favela beside.
    Brazilians need to pay a fair wage that people can live on and governments need to provide social housing.

  5. As aside, I recommend all cariocas visit that ridiculous lift in Ipanema. I, as a “gringo” was NOT permitted past the first stage.
    The drug business is really flourishing now… faster than every… thanks to the lift and the dealers wear green t-shirts from the mayor!
    What a waste of money… proper apartments could have been built for less.

  6. I totally agree Edward, the whole system in Brazil is very hypocritical, the government thinks is not responsible and the war between classes is very acute, and the upper classes treat the lower in pity or with despise. This has to change as so regulations and culture.

  7. I have met many gringos who love to hang out in favelas, kind of ‘adventure’. I am also a gringo and i also find favelas fascinating – but i try to show respect to those who live there and don’t treat the favela like an adventure park, in the way that many gringos (and their tour guides) do.

    Some favelas have decent infrastructure, such as Rocinha (the lower section at least). The solution..? Well, the favelas that currently exist, are here to stay – so i guess the best thing to do would be to improve the living standards and infrastructure has much as possible – while attempting to restrict their expansion and growth (and creation of new favelas).

    That is correct that the upper-classes and government are part of the problem, by exploiting favela residents with low-wages and treating them with such contempt and disdain.

  8. “I find favela tours disgusting, I’ve never been on a Bronx tour to see the poor or on a Liverpool tour to do the same.”

    Why?

    I’ve been to the bronx quite a few times. Have visited markets in poor areas of India, Morrocos and Egypt, so why not visit Favelas. There is nothing wrong with visiting such places. They are actually eye openers.

    You have these people work in your houses, pay them crappy wages and don’t want to see how they live. That really goes beyond me.

    I don’t like those favela jeep tours. They will drive you around some of the streets and stop for pics. Try a tour by http://favelatour.org/ by dj zezinho and you might get to know some of the people that live in a favela and understand why they like living there.

    Visiting them does not treat these people as zoo animals, it merely show your interest in seeing for yourself how these people live. Going by your idea, any tourist treats locals as zoo animals since they come here to watch how we live.

    “Favela people used to glamorize their surroundings in order to cope”. Did you get that information through actual antropological and sociological research or is that just an opinion you have and share with others as facts.

    “It seems a “Bairro Nobre” cannot exist unless their is a favela beside.”
    Of course not. People in Bairros Nobres want their servants to works cheap from 6 in the morning untill nine at night, so they have to live close by. Besides, you could also ask yourself what was there first, the bairro nobre or the Favela. In general, the answer will be the favela.

  9. Great article.
    I’m a visitor in Rio and yesterday I was so fortunate to visit a favela. It was a great experience to meet the people who live there and a hard experience to see how these people live. All the time new houses are build on top of old ones and every spot in the favela is used for housing which leaves no room for green or sunny places.
    One can only hope for a better development, but it surely takes a serious political effort.

  10. Its not about glamorizing the Favela, or coming back home and bragging to friends about staying in the Favela. What it is, is a recognition that a distinct and unique culture has and is emerging in the Favela’s that the predominately racist middle and upper class in Rio does not want to acknowledge or support let encourage and protect.

    While violence and drug dealing should not be supported, overtime many of the favelas are becoming more about the arts, music, culture and growth. I am an American supporting projects, families, and efforts that put a focus on all that is good in the favelas while helping preserve what is good and improve quality of life.

  11. I live near a ‘pacified’ favela in Zona Sul… and most of the locals from the morro don’t seem too excited about the gringo tourists… people aren’t exactly rushing to greet said tourists… but just seem indifferent…

    A chat with some locals inside this favela, shows that some people living there support the UPP… while others don’t… so like most things in life, it’s not a simple black and white situation… but a divisive issue with two sides…

  12. Sven, I got that while studying history of Rio from a text. And I do still find to visit favelas in a tour disgusting, I do not have employees to pay huger salaries, And when my mother did have one, my parents made sure to pay the cost of their education and health as well as paying for goods for their families when they could.

    More often than not my mother use to spend part of her nights teaching the maid how to read and write and eventually they would get a job and move on and up in life.
    Mind you most of the population of Rio knows favela living or have been inside one.

    I think tours showing them around as attraction is disrespectful, can’t really agree with you on that one.

    Favela don’t exist only to support the upper classes habits, favelas exist mostly due to a lack of social policies that have been in place for ages and also to a have a huge immigration from other states

    Also I hugely agree that salaries in Brazil are horrid, and on top of that business are heavily taxed, making difficult for people to move forward.

    I only wish we could have seen the money from our taxes employed in not keeping the ditacture-ship machine so well oiled for over 20 years.
    So basically as we say in this town the hole is a little lower and takes huge political and cultural effort from all involved.

    I myself am sick and tired to hear the upper classes despising the lower as well as seeing the lower denying their upbringing when they go up a notch.

    Unfortunately racism is engrained within Brazilian society although most of them are not willing to admit it or have a very distorted idea of racism.

  13. When i decided to live & work in rio, i got a full time job earning about 900R per month. Now anybody who lives in rio knows that its not easy to make ends meet on that kind of salary, Rio is not a cheap city & not all gringos have an unlimited supply of money.
    … so i ended up moving straight out of my place in Ipanema where i had been for 5 months & into Rocinha & stayed there for 1.5 years before moving to vidigal for 1 more year.
    My experience showed me just how huge the social divide is in brazil.
    Before moving to the favela, I made a lot of middle class carioca friends & when i say middle class i mean ranging from upper middle class neighborhoods like copacabana, flamengo ect to some poorer places like Sao Goncalo, Madureira, sao cristovao ect that in some areas look just like favelas yet are not considered favelas…
    & i can tell you that 90% of them thought i was crazy for moving to a favela & maybe only about 2% of them had ever even visited a favela at least once in their lives.
    A huge part of the problem is because of the media… Media has so much power over the Brazilian population its disgusting. Way to much sensationalism & no where near enough information is reaching the people…. Every time i was invited into somebodies home, rich, poor, middle class what have you, i was always astounded by the crap people watched on tele… Brazil needs more alternative information sources.

    Anyway aside from not having enough money to live anywhere else i yearned to get to know the favela & its people & to understand how it all worked.
    So it was a very important experience & hopefully one day when i return to brazil I will be able to get involved in some social work there.
    Im sure many of the favela residents didnt like me & thought i was a stupid gringa who came to have fun at the baile funk & didnt really understand what suffering is… & too some degree they had the right to think like that because at anytime i could by a ticket on my credit card & go back to my easy life in australia. But the people who i did form strong bonds with openly expressed with me their opinions about gringos living in favelas & favela tourism & most of them were pretty indifferent towards it &/or saw it as an opportunity for them to learn more about other cultures.
    As diego says there is is no black & white situation here, some favela tour companies are reaping huge profits with some greedy individuals getting rich off other peoples misery…Yet on the other hand there are institutions in favelas that encourage gringos to get involved & to have a more hands on experience & do some volunteering thus bridging the gap between cultures.

    There is one italian lady living in rocinha who opened a creche & she has lived there for more than 10 years & has helped so many families, & especially single moms who have to work all day.

    So i never criticize anyone for being curious about favelas.
    They are very fascinating to us folk who live in separatist societies where our wealth & commodities have divided us. Community living shows us a more human way of living where people still rely on one another.

  14. I am an american who has visited several favelas in Rio over the past decade. As a volunteer mission worker I have stayed and worked beside Brasilain believer to try to better those who live there, not from a political standpoint or social either but from a spiritual. I have never pitied those who live there or looked at them as zoo animals. As I don’t know all of the problems solutions concerning the favelas onr thing I do know is if people, whether in Brasil or any other place, whether rich or poor, could change and treat others as themselves alot of problems would solve themselves. Unfortunately this is an overwhelming thing to see happen because of peoples greed and lack of respect. I can say that I have acquired wonderful true, and faithful friends who live in the favelas. My recommendation is this if you want to truly get an accurate perspective of life in favelas finf someone and stay there for a whle

  15. Brazil only has favelas because there is a a lack of infustructure and lazyness in the Goverment, thats why their are there in the first plance. When favelas first beagan the Gorverment was slow to react as they are slow to react to most things in Brazil. Its not the favelas that makes brazil look like an ‘LEDC’ but the Goverments curuption and lazyness to tackle the problem when it first begins. To fix the propblem?? well i guess it can be argued that its to late, look at the size of Rocinha and Vidigal and orthers. best advise is by taxing the residance its harsh harsh but it will stop the overcrowing and also one big thing in brazil if ur gonna lift the minimum wage then don’t lift taxes on goods cus that just takes the point away. As an Anglo-Brazilians i see these problems from both a local and a ‘ringo’ point of view.

  16. Google needs to read these comments. I feel like they are pointing and laughing at the people who live in the favelas and turning it into an online attraction.

    Google precisa de ler estes comentários. Eu sinto que eles estão apontando e rindo para as pessoas que vivem nas favelas e transformando-o em uma atração online.

    Not every white person is ignorant.

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