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.

A Minha Casa Minha Vida development in Feira de Santana, Bahia, Brazil News
A Minha Casa Minha Vida development in Feira de Santana, Bahia, photo by Manu Dias/AGECOM.

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.

Jorge Bittar, State Secretary of Housing, image recreation

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.


  1. Your piece presents a generally negative picture of Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV) projects in Rio de Janeiro. As the director of an impact investment fund planning to help build units in Natal (north-east Brazil) which will qualify for financing under the MCMV programme, I must say that our experience of MCMV communities is quite different.

    First of all, families request financing do so individually under MCMV. This means that the unit they receive is not just consistent with their income, it’s also consistent with the family composition. The house or apartment that they buy is thus their choice – homes are not allotted in some random fashion – and it’s proving to be a hugely popular one. Consider this: in a recent housing fair in Natal a full 70% of visitors attended because of MCMV incentives, according to the organisers.

    Across Brazil, MCMV is giving Brazilians the chance to live in decent and secure accommodation – sometimes with shared facilities such as children’s playgrounds and barbecue areas. We believe that if we treat people from poorer sections of society as customers instead of vulnerable individuals needing charity, we can help them move from slums into well-planned communities. This gives them a sense of belonging as well as a sense of dignity.

    MCMV is an ambitious programme that is being implemented effectively. In its first 18 months of operations, MCMV helped 278,892 Brazilian families to become homeowners, according to a report by Brazil’s national audit authority.

    Brazil has its challenges and infrastructure is deficient in many areas; crime, too, remains a serious problem. But neither justifies or supports your rather negative take on MCMV.

    Mark Jeffery, director, Origen Private Equity Ltd., London

  2. The article feature seems to me to present reasonable concerns to the MCMV programme as it unfolds. However, there should be other concerns too. The use of British contractors (and I make no particular reference to any company and I have no knowledge at all of Origen Private Equity Ltd), suggests to me that those involved in engaging them have not experienced the blight of shoddy, matchbox development(designed only with maximization of developers’ profit, at initial public expense, in mind), that has shot up all over Britian as part of the so-called campaign of ‘regeneration’. Under this campaign, hundreds of millions of publicly-funded pounds have been spent on ripping down perfectly good (and, in some cases, historic) buildings, just for the sake of corporate, capitalist profit. I am far from a communist but I do happen to believe that there is, in Edward Heath’s memorable phrase, an ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ and that, in Europe and North America, its ugly head is all too prevalent. The resulting British developments have comprised matchbox housing (no where near the standard of much Brasilian construction that I have seen) and shopping malls with a life expectancy of the mortgages that will be taken out to buy them: often, as in the case of my home town of St Austell, Cornwall, for a fraction of the cost in public money that was injected to construct them. These buildings, mercilessly squeezed into central areas of old market towns and spreading out around them like open sores, have no long-term prospects and represent nothing more than a point in the corporate builders’ calendars for another bite of the rich, public cherry in twenty five or thirty years’ time.

    That all raises the spectre of the decline of the West, as a result of the advancement of impossible loads of credit, by the wheel barrow, to those who (apparently) could not, ultimately, shoulder it all. Credit purchase is now on the increase in Brasil. Five years ago, in Saquarema, R de J, the place was full of cars which could most charitably have been described as ‘old bangers’. Now, the place is crawling with big, shiny, new cars; most of which are bought on credit. Add to that Brasilian interest rates (about 210% pa for a credit card debt), as well as the Brasilian temperament, and it is not difficult to see that, very soon, Brasilians (and Brasil) are going to fall for the old line of ‘it’s OK to pay tomorrow’; somehow forgetting that this policy has economically crippled parts of Europe (remember the narrowly averted bankruptcy of several major British banks and look at the current state of Greece, Spain and Portugal).

    An initiative for providing affordable housing for those on lower incomes must be a laudable objective but, please, Brasil, make sure that the constructions are sound and have some longevity (even grace and beauty, in your wonderful settings) and think about the funding. What is wrong with subsidized leases instead of outright sales? It seems that it is still too easy to fall for the Thatcherite ‘dream’ of home ownership but, at the end of the day, we leave it all behind and what is better: a life-time’s affordable rent or being tied to a thirty year mortgage, that will absorb a very significant proportion of the income of the lower paid who are sucked in to this ‘dream’: if, that is, they can handle the decades’ long financial shackles of mortgages? If they cannot, my understanding is that Brasilian Courts can be reluctant to grant possession proceedings in respect of properties occupied by the elderly, the infirm or families with children: what then? Then, possibly, the state could end up carrying the financial can for it all.


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