Recession force many Brazilians to set up homes on vacant land

World Today

Thousands of families are flocking to a new squatters camp in Brazil. The camp is located in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere.

The camps explosive growth is a vivid reminder of Brazil’s severe housing shortage.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral has more.

Brazil has long suffered from a housing shortage in big cities – and even more – lacks affordable housing for its poor residents. The recent recession only made the situation worse, forcing many people who’d lost their jobs and wages –to live on the streets -some resorting to squatting. 

Isac de Souza came about one month ago after he lost his job. He lives here in this small tent and works as a volunteer in a community kitchen where donated food is prepared for the group.

“I was out in Sao Paulo looking for a job – something in construction work or gardening – and I saw a friend carrying pieces of wood and canvas,” de Souza said. “I asked him, ‘where are you going ‘ And he said: ‘To an occupation. If we squat now, God willing we may get a flat in the future.’ Then I decided to come along as well.”

The squatters, organized by the Landless Workers Movement – a land reform group — wants the government to expropriate the land – that has been unused for 40 years and has a growing tax debt – to build low cost housing.

“This is the result of the worsening of the social crisis in Brazil,” Guilherme Boulos, national coordinator with the Landless Workers Movement said. “We have 14 million people out of work in Brazil. Many of these people can’t pay rent anymore and have to squat. But the problem is not new–we have a shortage of 6.2 million homes in this country that was created by a historic lack of housing policies in Brazil.”

Sao Paulo State authorities said they plan to build 50,000 new houses for low income citizens this year – but acknowledge that doesn’t come close to addressing a regional shortage of at least 1.2 million homes.

“The figure is, of course, higher now because of the economic crisis,” said Elizabete Franca, Planning Director with the Sao Paulo State Housing office. “There’s a long line of people waiting for a home, so you can’t pass over someone who’s been waiting for years to give a home to someone who began squatting on land recently, even though it’s true they also need a house.”

Brazil is still far from solving the severe house shortage that affects millions of its citizen, a problem that remains in plain sight in the country’s major cities.