On Wednesday July 27, more than six months after first occupying the INSS-owned abandoned hotel in Santo Cristo in the Port Region, the Vito Giannotti occupation won a huge legal victory. Residents, social movement leaders and supporters outside the 2nd Regional Federal Tribunal anxiously awaited the verdict from a trial to see if the INSS, the Brazilian social security agency, would retain ownership of the building. They were happy to learn that the decision was reversed, allowing the occupants to stay.
The trial was an appeal; the original verdict by the judge ruled that the INSS would retain ownership of the building and the occupants would be forced to leave. However, the occupants and their supporters filed an appeal trial on the basis that the original decision was made hastily and without a full understanding of the situation.
Residents and supporters alike gathered in front of the building in Centro while handing out pamphlets and using a loudspeaker to inform those passing by about the situation. Many who spoke talked about the prioritization of the rich and tourists when it came to the redevelopment of the city, primarily in the Port Region.
“This is why the building is occupied: in order to guarantee a better future for these families,” explained one of the future residents of the building to people as they passed by. “The Marvelous City is for the tourists to see, not marvelous for the people who live here.”
The three judges making the appeal decision unanimously reversed the previous decision to favor the occupation. With this news, the occupation does not have official ownership, but has permission to remain in the building for now. The occupation will continue to work on renovations to transform the space into affordable housing units.
Spokespeople from the occupation were incredibly happy at the news because it could set a precedent for how other housing occupations are treated in future.
“Beyond the fight of Vito, a situation like this process can also serve for other cases, not just in Rio,” said Marcelo Edmundo of the Center for Popular Movements (CMP), a strong supporter of the occupation and active housing advocate.
“This decision was unanimous, and this means that all those who voted were in favor of housing. This can be used for all the other occupations that have the same right. This means that Vito is victorious in many senses,” said the pro-bono lawyer representing the occupation in the court room.
Still, the ultimate goal is for the ownership of the building to be transferred to a government entity that will aid in its transformation into social housing through the Minha Casa Minha Vida-Entidades program, which would allow the occupation to petition for funds to renovate the building themselves.
While excited for their victory, the occupants and supporters are aware of the work they still have before them.
“We will continue moving forward because we have a lot still to do,” said Juliete Pantoja, a supporter of the occupation also from the CMP.
Pâmela Sall, part of the occupation’s communications team said, “today’s decision guarantees that we will not be expelled in the coming days. It gives us breath to be able to continue.”