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Vila União Evictees Told There is Not Enough Public Housing for All

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The residents of Vila União de Curicica, a West Zone neighborhood about 1km from the future Olympic site are being threatened with one of the largest evictions yet announced for the 2016 Olympics, and have just been informed that many will be receiving a social rent allowance instead of being given apartments promised by the Mayor via the federal housing program Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV). Government representatives delivered the news to the Neighborhood Association on Friday, November 7, causing outrage among residents who feel the City has failed to recognize their housing rights and ensure just compensation.

The reason given for the community’s eviction is that it is in the path of the TransOlimpíca highway and BRT. However, the original route of the TransOlimpíca veered east of Vila União. The community was initially told they would receive much needed upgrading–with a full integration of the community including all necessary infrastructure works–through the city’s Morar Carioca program. During 2012 the community was consulted numerous times about works needed. As plans changed behind closed doors, however, residents were later told 50% of the community would need to be relocated. Finally, they were informed that the entire favela would need to be demolished to make way for the road, at which point they were promised public housing nearby.

While some accepted being relocated to nearby Colônia Juliano Moreira, many have been outspoken against eviction. A resistance group has been meeting regularly and they held a protest in September.

Residents watch the crowd below
This latest news last Friday, that residents would no longer receive public housing right away, and instead be given rental assistance (amounting to about US$155 per month in the 11th most expensive city on Earth), led the community to gather in huge numbers this Tuesday, November 11, to hear the Neighborhood Association’s Vice-President, Zezinho Orelha, speak alongside Barra de Tijuca representative Alex Costa about the situation. Barra de Tijuca is Curicica’s wealthy neighboring district, “Rio’s Miami,” where the controversial elite gated community of Ilha Pura is being built just 1km away from Vila União.

Zezinho’s position on the issue was heavily anticipated as he is a powerful person in the area. While many hoped Zezinho might side with the community, he prefaced Costa’s speech by claiming to the community they have been living there “illegally for 25 years” and that now the government needs the land back for the project. Before passing the microphone off to Costa, he said: “Who won, won. Who lost, lost.”

Zezinho speaks to Residents. Alex Costa, Barra borough representative, at his side.

Zezinho speaks to Residents. Alex Costa, Barra borough representative, at his side.

On the previous Friday, residents had been told they would receive social rent allowance because the government was behind schedule in building new MCMV apartments. On Tuesday, Costa shifted the blame to the residents, stating they could not get an apartment because they did not have proper forms of identification and haven’t completed all the documentation through Banco do Brasil. He said the residents will be put in the social rent allowance program until they can sort out their documents.

He assured the residents that the first three months of rent would be paid but that he expected people would not have to pay rent for long before the apartments will be distributed. Responding to jeers and accusations, he acknowledged that previous governments had left people in the social rent allowance program instead of giving them an apartment, but assured residents that the current administration will not do the same.

“No one will stay in the social rent allowance program,” said Costa. “I am making that guarantee.”

The crowd grew angry during Barra representative Alex Costa's speech. Zezinho at his side.

The crowd grew angry during Barra representative Alex Costa’s speech.

As Costa continued to speak the crowd became antagonistic. Zezinho stepped in to add: “Dilma promised this in her campaign, she already signed off on it,” shrugging his shoulders to the crowd.

Chants of “No rent!” interrupted both of the men’s speeches. A mother with two children, each on one arm, said: “We’ve never had to pay rent in our own home, where will we go when we have to pay R$400 a month? We will be in the street!”

Lack of information and organization in Vila União de Curicica have been instrumental for the government in this situation. Friday’s announcement, like that of the demolition of the community, came as a surprise. On Monday people were informed of Tuesday’s meeting and the time was only announced the morning of the meeting.

With such short notice, two of the resistance’s most important figures were unable to attend. According to residents, the City has done very little to ensure transparency and disseminate information. Zezinho and Costa used a faulty microphone that made it difficult for the majority of people to understand exactly what was being said.

Despite Zezinho’s support for the government and Costa’s words of assurance, residents continue to advocate for their rights. The meeting will continue on Friday November 14 at 7pm at the Neighborhood Association. The resistance group will meet at the same time, to develop strategies to fight the eviction.