By Matthew Elliott, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rocinha, in Zona Sul (South Zone), is widely considered Brazil’s largest favela community, and is certainly the most renowned. Situated on the hillside between wealthy neighbors São Conrado and Gávea, Rocinha is home to just under 70,000 people according to a 2010 IBGE census, although unofficial estimates place the number much higher.
Once infamous for being controlled by violent drug gangs who brandished assault riffles openly on street corners, the massive neighborhood was declared pacified in late 2011. Even with the UPP outposts in place however, there continues to be violent episodes and large police operations.
Still, the city’s pacification program, along with PAC investment, proposed major transportation projects and speculation related to upcoming mega-events, have influenced the real estate market in Rocinha with both sale and rental prices rising.
Often perceived as a ‘city within a city’ Rocinha hosts all essential amenities such as banks, supermarkets, restaurants and thousands of private enterprises dominating the busy streets and alleys. Bus connections to Botafogo, Copacabana, and Leblon transverse the winding thoroughfare of Estrada da Gávea.
Elliot Rosenberg, an American living in Rocinha and founder of Favela Experience, which offers furnished private rooms and apartments in the community, explains that “Foreigners are increasingly viewing pacified favelas as attractive places to live in Rio because of low prices, vibrant culture, and central locations.”
This trend seems set to continue with the advent of ambitious new projects designed to improve infrastructure and transportation ahead of the 2016 Olympics. An extension of the cities Metro (subway) system with a scheduled station in São Conrado at the foot of Rocinha will be a “huge gain for the community” according to Vice-Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão who anticipates “greater mobility for the population.”
A gondola cable car similar to that constructed in Complexo do Alemão is also on the cards but the project has ignited protest amongst residents who argue that more essential problems must first be resolved. Health and sanitation are chief among these issues while lingering questions remain over crime and the UPP occupation.
The familiar brick homes which characterize Rio’s favela panorama so too dominate the housing situation in Rocinha. Despite outward appearances, many have very modern interiors as residents constantly strive to improve their homes.
Earlier this year the city government issued land titles to some residents but home security remains problematic with some populated areas earmarked for removal.
Despite concerns the real estate market in Rocinha is seeing escalating prices with rental rates estimated to have risen around thirty percent since pacification. According to Rosenberg “an unfurnished, studio apartment rents for between R$350 and R$450 monthly, and a one-bedroom apartment rents for between R$450 and R$600 monthly.”
Completed houses with three bedrooms can cost up to R$1,200 per month in rent, a figure which, although low by the standards of cosmopolitan Rio, presents significant difficulties to families with stagnant wages in a country with a minimum wage of R$674.96 per month.
Location is also a key indicator of value as lifelong resident Zezinho da Rocinha, and operator of Favela Tours, explains “Rents also vary according to where in the favela you live… the cheapest places to rent are higher up the hill and off of the main street in a alleyway. the most expensive part of the favela is at the bottom and on the main street.”
Purchase prices vary depending on location and furnished standard with one bedroom apartments starting from around R$38,000 and larger homes selling for up to R$100,000 in some cases. Private sales constitute the bulk of market transactions.