Shanty towns transformed into vibrant communities in Brazil

In Sao Paulo, a shanty town is transformed to provide decent housing for the urban poor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 9:27am


New hope is sprouting near a future Brazil 2014 World Cup soccer stadium, where a once crime-ridden shanty town has emerged as a vibrant community with skyrocketing property values.

Emerging powerhouse Brazil faces a daunting task in providing decent housing for its millions of urban poor, many of whom languish in slums, known as favelas, on the periphery of major cities.

But in Sao Paulo, the country's most populous and wealthiest state, increased funding and close monitoring has transformed some of these once drug-infested favelas.

A showcase of that policy is Uniao de Vila Nova, a neighbourhood of 32,000 people 25 kilometres from Sao Paulo city centre.

Like many other shanty towns across Brazil, Uniao de Vila Nova was created illegally by people who, unable to afford city rents, cobbled together squalid, wooden shacks in risky or environmentally-protected areas.

But in place of the rickety homes - once routinely swept away by the floodwaters of the nearby Tiete River during the rainy season - the one-million-square metre area has morphed into a clean, safe and proud community.

The changes began a decade ago, when authorities launched a programme to urbanise the favelas. They helped residents upgrade their homes and brought in basic services such as running water, paved roads, electricity and public transport.

The results have been striking. "We have not had a murder in six years. We used to have four a day in the 1990s," says community leader Geraldo de Pindola Melo.

Melo migrated there in 1984 from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, joining the 6 per cent of 42 million people in Sao Paulo who live in shanty towns.

The 42-year-old now lives with his wife and four children in a small, brightly coloured house that he built and upgraded over the years, with help from the Sao Paulo state housing agency CDHU. "This is a very cohesive, stable community," he said.

Today, the neighbourhood has seven schools, three day-care centres, a regular rubbish collection, a local soccer league with 28 teams and a recycling co-operative employing 36 rubbish pickers, most of them women.

Valeria Araujo da Silva, the local urbanisation secretary, has seen the transformation of her neighbourhood since she moved to Uniao de Vila Nova 16 years ago.

She and her husband built their own house, and thanks to the property boom in Sao Paulo's eastern district - where construction is under way on the stadium that will host the opening game of the 2014 World Cup - da Silva says her home is now valued at US$65,000.

The prices of many homes in the neighbourhood have jumped as World Cup fever grows and word spreads about the emerging community in Uniao de Vila Nova.