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Residents Evicted by the 2016 Olympic Park Fight for Just Compensation

Photo by AF Rodrigues/Agência Pública

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For the original article by Mariah Queiroz in Portuguese published by Agência Pública click here.

Families evicted to make room for the now-abandoned Olympic Park have gone to court for reparations; data obtained through freedom of information legislation shows unequal treatment at the hands of the Eduardo Paes government

News that the Olympic Park arenas are now abandoned has not brought any sense of comfort to former residents of the favela of Vila Autódromo such as Luciana Souza da Silva. All that remains in the region that used to be home to more than 500 families in a privileged location next to the Jacarepaguá Lagoon, where Vila Autódromo once stood, are empty lots, poorly used and deteriorating rapidly. Just 20 families managed to stay living on a small parcel of the land once occupied by the community, in Barra da Tijuca in Rio’s West Zone.

Outraged, Luciana and her husband Anderson Justino went to court along with 109 other families in the latter half of 2016 to ask for a fairer compensation package, given their lack of choice over their removal and the consequent loss of their house, which they had to leave on the eve of the Olympics last year.

The couple lived with their 12 children in a house with a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom, yard and rooftop space on which they’d planned to build another story. Their departure from Vila Autódromo was chaotic. “We didn’t have much choice, the neighboring houses were being knocked down, the walls of our house started to split and sewage was coming into our house,” Luciana remembers. The final straw was when an employee from the Sub-Mayor’s office threatened to call Child Protective Services due to the unsanitary conditions the children were living in following the demolition of the neighbors’ houses. “I didn’t want to leave, but I was very scared of losing my children, so we agreed to go,” she laments.

The only housing option the couple were given was an apartment in the Parque Carioca housing complex, built as part of the Minha Casa Minha Vida federal housing program. They moved into the three-bedroom apartment in May 2016. Since then they have been struggling to cope with the high cost of electric and gas bills. Furthermore, “the apartment itself was poorly made: the flooring has come unstuck more than once, the toilet is wobbly and the shower is already broken,” Luciana adds.

Represented by attorney Fábio Correa Guedes, 110 families are claiming compensation from the Rio de Janeiro City government, the RioMais Consortium (formed by the construction companies Odebrecht, Andrade Gutierrez and Carvalho Hosken) that was responsible for building Parque Carioca, and the federal housing bank Caixa Econômica Federal.

“We’re fighting for the right to choose, that they were denied at the time. When the proposal for Parque Carioca was made, ex-mayor Eduardo Paes guaranteed that the apartments would be delivered furnished, and they believed him. This promise was not kept. Now we want them to have the right to negotiate compensation, administratively or judicially,” Guedes explains. In addition, according to the claims in the complaint, “the residents that opted to stay in Vila Autódromo will have obtained better deals from the City and this goes against the principle of equality before the law.” The families are requesting moral damages valued at R$100,000.

The complaints are numerous, but two of them have particularly motivated the evicted families to act: the lack of documentation proving their property ownership [in Parque Carioca]–to this day they have not received titles in their names–and the feeling of having been harmed by the City.

“The City could not have promised families apartments with immediate access to titles. The former residents of Vila Autódromo were also not informed that they would have to stay in the property for ten years to achieve full ownership. They were not given access to the contract, they only received a promise that the City would provide ownership documents. We’re also claiming moral damages caused by the government, since these residents were conned,” says Guedes.

Neither the City nor Caixa have declared the value of the apartments in Parque Carioca. The only value mentioned so far was given by former mayor Eduardo Paes in a meeting in the Riocentro convention center, based on the government’s own evaluations.

“The former mayor said that the market value of a two-bedroom apartment was R$285,000 and the three-bedroom one was worth R$400,000, and the residents who agreed to move there were motivated by these figures. It would be only fair for them to receive this value so that they can have their right to choose, either to sell their apartments or remain living in Parque Carioca,” Guedes explains.

How it all started

The eviction negotiations got underway precisely at Riocentro on October 7, 2013.

On that day, then-mayor Eduardo Paes held a meeting to present the Parque Carioca housing complex, where hundreds of families were to be relocated to, around two kilometers away from Vila Autódromo. Located next to a beautiful mountain, the residential complex would have a swimming pool and waterslide, as well as a park for children and a green area.

Paes took advantage of the occasion to offer a mea culpa: “It was the end of 2009, we won [the competition to host] the Olympics, and the first thing I should have done was to come here, dialogue with the residents, speak to people, and we could have explained what was going on. And the truth is that I didn’t do this. That was my biggest mistake.”

He promised that from then on dialogue would be ongoing. Then he added the following: “If your property is worth more than the one we’re offering you, then the individual can choose, they can say if they would prefer to receive compensation because their property is worth more.”

But the reality is that the following years were very different to what was promised. Less than 5% of the families managed to stay living on their land, despite ownership granted by a Real Use Concession in the early 1990s by ex-governor Leonel Brizola and renewed in 1998 by ex-governor Marcello Alencar, valid for 99 years, with the right to renew for another 99 years. The other 95% received compensations, which were not always just. But which were always unequal.

During the removal of Vila Autódromo, ruins were left behind (AF Rodrigues/Agência Pública)

Through freedom of information legislation (Lei de Acesso à Informação), Pública obtained tables with the values of all compensations paid by the City to Vila Autódromo residents. The values are absolutely disparate: while the lowest compensation given was R$18,200, the highest was R$3.4 million

But this is only one of the problems: the amount spent on removals by the Paes administration was 15 times higher than the estimated cost of upgrading the area and allowing the residents to stayFurthermore, 89% of the money spent on removal, around R$195 million, came from a municipal secretariat whose sole function was to deal with the Vila Autódromo removals cost, the Special Secretariat for Concessions and Public-Private Partnerships (SECPAR)–in general, eviction costs should be paid by the Municipal Housing Secretariat (SMH). The tremendous amount spent on the Vila Autódromo removals did not figure in the accounts of the Olympics expenditure by Paes’ administration.

Each head, a different sentence

Instead of compensating in a transparent way, taking into account the value of the land in Vila Autódromo–which was quite high since the Barra da Tijuca area was going through a period of rapid expansion, with property being sold for R$10,000 per square meter–government representatives did separate negotiations with each family (sometimes, with different members of the same family), changing the offers and increasing the pressure as the Olympics drew closer.

“From the beginning, the government aimed to divide and conquer, segregating the community and pitting residents against each other, in order to achieve the objective of total removal,” remembers Maria da Penha de Macena, one of the community leaders who resisted eviction.

Over the period of evictions, which lasted from March 2014 to August 2016, life in the area became a “real hell,” she says. Among the tactics used by the City were visits by disguised government representatives, using made-up pretexts to measure and photograph the houses and interview residents; repression by the municipal guards; demolitions of houses that had already been negotiated, leaving the community in tatters and full of rubbish, cockroaches and rats. (Learn more in Pública‘s special article).

The initial offer made to residents was an apartment in Parque Carioca, or monetary compensation. But Maria da Penha remembers that the City changed its strategy for residents considered to be “difficult:” “They asked us ‘What’s the value of your house?’ If the person said R$700,000, they would offer R$580,000; to that the person would respond that they would only accept R$700,000 and would go to the Barra da Tijuca government office to make a deal.” In the government office there was a team that was there exclusively to deal with the community; some people ended up going there more than 20 times to negotiate.

The story of nanny Maria da Conceição Queiroz shows how the values offered changed over time. She recounts that she arrived in Vila Autódromo back in the 1990s, straight from Maranhão in northeastern Brazil, to help out her sister, who was going through a high-risk pregnancy. She ended up getting a taste for the area and for the people living there and decided to stay in a small apartment, where she lived for three years. She then met her husband and they saved money together–around R$15,000–to buy a house that was still under construction. “It was the place where I was happiest in my life, living in my house, which we worked hard to build,” she says. They lived there for more than 12 years.

Her name was on the list of the 20 families that were going to stay living in the community post-Olympics. But as the event drew closer, the municipal government stepped up the pressure and doubled the compensation offer. Queiroz says that Barra da Tijuca sub-major Alex Costa offered her R$200,000 and her husband R$200,000 too, as well as an apartment for each of them. Even so, she wanted to stay in Vila Autódromo. This caused family arguments and a marriage crisis.

I’ve never liked this apartment [in Parque Carioca], here you can’t grow a plant or have a pet. In Vila Autódromo we would get home from work and put a chair out on the side of the road, see what was cooking over at the neighbor’s house, have parties on the weekends, and at Christmas everyone would get together. There’s no other place in Rio like Vila Autódromo,” she says sadly. She and her husband moved out on March 23, 2015 and they received, as well as the two apartments, R$300,000 and R$400,000 respectively, paid in checks from the Caixa Econômica Federal bank, where they opened accounts and had access to a savings card.

Researcher Eugenia Motta, post-doc at Institute of Social and Political Studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP/UERJ) universities and researcher at the Research Nucleus in Culture and Economy (NuCEC), explains that the decrees that governed the Vila Autódromo removals determined that eviction could only take place with the agreement of the resident. “There’s a whole political game based around the residents’ resistance. The government makes a threat, saying that if you make a deal later it will be a worse one, as there won’t be money left [to pay compensation]. On the other hand, the residents know that if they close a deal quickly they’ll end up being offered less money. The decrees themselves guarantee a margin, in some cases up to 80% higher than the value negotiated with residents, in order for the government and local actors to complete the negotiation.”

Maria da Conceição–a nanny–and her husband left Vila Autódromo in March 2015. In exchange for leaving their house, they received money and two apartments in Parque Carioca from the government (Reprodução/Agência Pública)

The kick-off to negotiations took place upon taking the measurement [of the property in question] by the City’s technical team. Despite the measurement process following technical criteria, as detailed in decrees 3.8197/2013 and 4.0562/2015which established calculations based on the area of the property, the average value per square meter for the neighborhood, and other parameters–Pública heard of many cases in which similar properties received very different amounts of compensation.

This was the case for Maria Queiroz, Conceição’s sister, along with four other families. Their houses, with practically identical dimensions, all had four bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, bathroom and yard.

The families in the first three houses received apartments in Parque Carioca. The other families, who negotiated around three months later, received cash compensation as well as apartments. “They left the other houses in ruins, but my sister stayed living in her house and ended up opening a restaurant serving food to people from the construction companies and the City, all while fighting to remain in Vila Autódromo. In the end she accepted the offer they made her,” Conceição remembers.

Distortions

The tables showing the compensation paid by Eduardo Paes’ administration, to which Pública had access through the freedom of information legislation, show other distortions.

Dividing the payments into those made by the Municipal Housing Secretariat (SMH) and those by SECPAR, there is more than one case where the recipient is recorded as having received a property in compensation in one table and, in the other table, a cash compensation.

In other cases, there are names of people who received different payments from both secretariats. The values are shocking too. Of a total of 376 former Vila Autódromo residents listed in the documents, 22 received less than R$40,000 in compensation, while 56 received more than R$1 million. The largest payment was R$3.395 million, according to the City’s table.

The 10 highest and lowest compensations in Vila Autódromo:

The number of people removed from Vila Autódromo to Parque Carioca is uncertain. Despite many requests for access to information made by Pública, the Eduardo Paes government refused to share the number of people removed per community. The press office limited its response to saying that Parque Carioca housed 900 resettled families, without saying which communities they were resettled from.

In the case of the families that are going through the courts, claiming compensation from the City, Caixa bank and RioMais, attorney Fábio Guedes says that “the government alleges that people received apartments in an area with better conditions than their houses in Vila Autódromo and therefore they should be satisfied with this.” RioMais has responded saying that it only did the construction work and that therefore, the responsibility for the families lies with the government. None of the entities responded to Pública’s questions.

Expense 17 times greater

According to data obtained by Pública, the Rio City government spent R$184 million in compensations for Vila Autódromo. Another R$35 million were spent on house dispossessions.

This brings the total cost to around R$220 million, a sum that is 17 times higher than the amount that could have been spent if the government had opted for the Vila Autódromo People’s Plan for Urbanization, which was developed with researchers from the Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ) and the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), and budgeted at R$13 million.

The Plan for the Urban, Economic, Social and Cultural Development of Vila Autódromo, realized with the total support of residents, included paving the community, installing water and sewerage networks, improving the houses and creating a cultural space and a community day care. The Plan won an international urbanism prize, the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award, in 2013.

Housing or Public-Private Partnerships Secretariat?

Decree 3.8197/2013 makes clear that the body responsible for registration of buildings is the Municipal Housing Secretariat (SMH). One document elaborated by the City describes: “Regarding the resettlement of families living in informal housing, including the transition to new accommodation, these families are assisted by the Municipal Housing Secretariat.”

But data obtained by Pública reveal a different reality. While almost all the compensation payments in communities such as Metrô Mangueira, Vila União de Curicica and Vila Harmonia were made by the SMH, Vila Autódromo is the big exception to the rule.

In Vila Autódromo, 298 of 376 families (76%) received compensation from the Special Secretariat for Leasing and Public-Private Partnerships (SECPAR), a body created to incentivize partnerships between companies, like in the Marvelous Port [revitalization] project in Rio’s Port Zone, led by Jorge Arraes. The Secretariat’s website states that “partnerships with private companies are an instrument to achieve investments.” There is no reference on the website to compensation and removals.

But an analysis of SECPAR’s budget for 2015 and 2016 reveals expenditures for compensations, resettlement and the purchase of properties.

SECPAR’s Budget 2015:

SECPAR’s Budget 2016:

Between 2015 and 2016, the special organ spent R$92,595,433.78 on the acquisition of property and R$123,230,746 on compensations and resettlement.

According to Thiago Marques, economist and consultant of the Popular Budget Forum (Fórum Popular do Orçamento), the majority of this money comes from taxes. As a result, the money can be spent however the City sees fit. “The nature of tax money is that it is not linked to anything in particular, that is, the funding is not for a specific purpose–the money enters into the general ‘pot’ of income,” he says.

In the budget reports of other secretariats it is possible to identify every single expenditure. In the case of SECPAR, the final destination of expenditure is published simply as SECPAR Cabinet, so it is not possible to know precisely what properties were bought by the Secretariat and their locations.

The fate of one of the most coveted pieces of land in Barra da Tijuca

The Olympic Park, the main location for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, was under the responsibility of the Special Secretariat because it was constructed through a Public-Private Partnership with the consortium formed by the construction companies Odebrecht, Andrade Gutierrez and Carvalho Hosken. In exchange for the construction of the site, the City gave 40% of the land–exactly the land by the Jacarepaguá lagoon, where Vila Autódromo was located–to the companies. The investment was R$1.6 billion.

According to the contract, the RioMais Consortium was to receive around 440,000 square meters of land on which to construct luxury apartment blocks, according to the information given to Pública by its press office in October 2016. At the time, the number of apartment blocks to be built was not confirmed.

In an addition to the contract signed in 2012, the City Government later authorized the construction of 18 story buildings–initially approved at 12 stories.

In July 2016, Pública revealed that a document uncovered as part of the Carwash corruption scandal suggests that a cartel was created to win the tender for the Olympic Park construction.

RioMais were contacted again but declined to comment.