Families Removed from Skol Community in Alemão Await Homes Promised Nearly 5 Years Ago

For the original in Portuguese by Melissa Cannabrava, published in Voz das Comunidades, click here

“We only want what was promised!”

The hundreds of families that were removed from the community known as Favelinha da Skol are requesting that work on the Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV) public housing [promised to them] be initiated urgently and are accusing the government of abandoning them. The promised land is situated in front of Rubens Berado Municipal School and has become a dump site, attracting rats and insects. Dump trucks frequently offload debris on the site. For almost five years the residents have been receiving social rent and they say the one year deadline for relocation was never met.Fed-up with the situation, residents gather on the land that was their home. Photo: Betinho Casas Novas

In August 2012, in an interview with the newspaper Extra, the state secretary overseeing the works, Hudson Braga, said that residents in areas of high risk would be prioritized within the program Morar Seguro (Safe Living) and that the first families to benefit from the program would be the approximately 480 families living precariously in the hangars of the old Skol factory.

At that time, the state government said the homes would be built on the same site and that, during the building phase, the families would receive social rent from the government. The hangars were demolished and the objective was to build about 400 homes.

In spite of all the promises, the reality looks completely different. To this day, the families that were removed from the community known as Favelinha da Skol still receive social rent, yet they have not received the key to the apartments that they long for. The majority of the families need to supplement the amount given for rent and say that with R$400 (US$127)—the amount of aid given through social rent—one cannot rent a house anywhere.

“I pay R$650 in rent and I have to make up the difference from my own pocket. I miss that amount in my life. The situation here was very difficult, but the fact that we did not have to pay rent was a huge advantage. With the money I spend today I would be able to buy things for my daughters,” says Camila Santos, who is currently living in the community known as Reservatório.

“We are not against the university, but for almost five years we have been fighting, and now they come and take the attention we never had. We do not want to leave Alemão. They cannot simply throw people anywhere. We are against the building of the university on the Skol site,” claims Regina Dantas, ex-resident of the community who has stepped up to help spearhead the cause.

“I have photos and several documents showing the promise by Governor Pezão and the representatives of EMOP (Public Works Company of the State of Rio de Janeiro). In their documents it states that we would remain on the original site. They promised us. Skol was inhabited for 12 years. I have a daughter who came here at 9 months of age and today she is 13 years old,” she concludes.

The site has accumulated a great deal of debris and garbage, dumped by trucks coming in from outside. Photo: Betinha Casas Novas

In July of 2009 approximately 60 families were removed from the site and in September 2010, remaining residents left. Next semester will mark five years since the first families were removed and the fear of losing social rent is something they live with daily. According to the ex-residents, no position was given concerning the duration of the benefit and they are fearful that the program will be canceled.

“These families that left in 2009 have been receiving social rent for almost five years and up until today nobody has ever come to speak to us about readjusting the amount. Every year my rent increases. During all this time it is not possible that they have not had the money to build our apartments. You just need to do the math as to how much they have already spent on social rent,” says one resident.

The residents say that Governor Pezão, who at the time was Vice-Governor, stated that everyone would be relocated within one year at the most. “They took the people away from here and promised that within one year the apartments would be ready and we could return here. But look how it is after four years. They took people away from here to have a garbage dump. Pezão made that promise to us. We want this land. My granddaughter studies here, my family works here. It does not make any sense for us to have to leave the community where we have lived all our lives,” says Sueli Gonzanga da Silva, 55 years old and retired as a result of disability.

In a public hearing with the Human Rights Commission of the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) in Nova Brasília, the second in command of the North Zone municipality, Roberto Horto Salles, stated that construction was scheduled to begin in August and he has scheduled a meeting with both ex-residents of the site and representatives of EMOP in order to clarify any concerns. In a statement, the communication aide of EMOP announced there was a public call and the company Empresa Bairro Novo is approving the commencement of construction.