Fifteen Months of Mayor Crivella’s Administration, Part 2: Urban and Social Interventions

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This is the second article in a two-part series monitoring and critiquing Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella during his time in office thus far, and covering policies related to culture, public security, and urban and social interventions. See the first article here.

As the first part of this series pointed out, Mayor Crivella’s term has been marked by more inaction than action, as promises and announcements of social programs have frequently not been delivered. As for policies aimed at residents of favelas and vulnerable territories, those proposals that haven’t been abandoned have often done more harm than good. Two examples include Crivella’s declaration that Rocinha needs a “makeover and the destruction of vendors’ kiosks in Vila Kennedy.

The favela “is very ugly”

In favelas, the mayor has not resumed Morar Carioca or even Cimento Social, a program he proposed as senator and coordinated as part of the federal government, and promoted as a candidate to mayor. Instead, last year he decided to resume former mayor César Maia’s Favela-Bairro program. The program aims to serve 16 communities and benefit 40,000 families through upgrading projects, construction of new housing units, and a process of land regularization. Rio’s Strategic Plan actually called for upgrading projects in 21 favelas, titling 10,000 homes, and the construction of 2,000 social interest housing units by 2020, among other initiatives, but the criteria for what areas will benefit, the schedule, and how upgrading projects will be implemented remain unclear.

The controversial upgrading project of Crivella’s term so far was the proposed verticalization of Rio das Pedras, a plan which the mayor then abandoned thanks to powerful and successful community mobilization. The urban requalification study on which the plan was to be based was never released, and neither was the study of Complexo da Maré called for in the Strategic Plan. What the evangelical mayor did do in Maré was to publish a decree renaming 42 streets in Vila do João, one of Maré’s communities, with religious names such as Forgiveness, Worship, Eden, and Mount Zion.

In Rio das Pedras, in lieu of the failure of his intended verticalization plan due to mass community protest, Crivella announced investments in sanitation, lighting, and street widening. With regard to sanitation, his campaign platform had previously promised to “definitively resolve, through a partnership between Comlurb and Cedae, the problems of sanitation, water supply, and urban clean-ups in 20 communities in the municipality” by 2019, although the Strategic Plan’s stated goals for the expansion of the sanitation system were limited to the regions of Barra and Jacarepaguá. In any case, there’s no sign of either the promised partnership or actions.

In Rocinha, the mayor announced that houses would be painted and wiring would be upgraded so that “when people pass by on the Lagoa-Barra road… they have the impression of a beautiful, well-organized community of working people.” He thus established the target beneficiaries of this project as the residents of Barra and the South Zone, and not the residents of the favela itself. Before this, he had already stated that the community needed an “makeover.” This ‘cosmetic’ fix has recently been implemented, with a plan for 150 buildings to be painted.

“We will not wait for summer to arrive” to begin projects to mitigate the effects of heavy rainfall

In another visit to Rocinha, last September, Crivella promised to allocate R$4 million (approximately US$1.1 million) for construction to reinforce surrounding hillside slopes, saying:

“Some neighborhoods are at risk of landslides. We will not wait for [the rainy] summer to arrive. As I have already announced, it’s very important to cover sewage channels, repair houses and some churches as well which have been damaged by stray bullets, to improve schools, reopen the library. We’ll do a number of initiatives here.”

Summer, however, arrived and brought heavy rainfall. Even though there’s much to question in terms of the efficacy of Crivella’s aforementioned proposals as a means to mitigate the effects of rain, not even these actions were implemented. On the contrary, despite the 2,000 people rendered homeless by flooding, Crivella insisted that the city responded well to the storms. It was even revealed that the budget destined for slope containment has been cut under the mayor’s administration. Instead of projects for slope containment, drainage, and regular garbage collection, the mayor proposed the installation of electronic sewage pipes, which would set off an alert when covered in trash, as a mitigation solution. Again, this proposal has also not been implemented.

More than two months after the flooding, the only action undertaken related to heavy rains was the removal of a bridge that inhibited water flow in the Acari River, in the favela of the same name, contributing to floods there. The project, however, is extremely localized and hardly solves the recurrent problem of flooding in the Acari River Basin, as was envisioned in the Strategic Plan’s “Flood Control” initiative. The initiative called first for a mathematical modeling of the basin (which, if it has been completed, has not yet been disclosed).

Moreover, to remove the bridge the City displaced 19 families that occupied the location for residence or commerce. The mayor promised these families would receive social rent subsidies, but between the moment of eviction and moment of actual payment following regulation bureaucratic procedures, time has passed, leaving these families vulnerable without places to live. The same occurred with the families who lost their homes in the February rains in Parque Everest in Alemão.

Another promise Crivella has repeated is the construction of an urban park, similar to Parque Madureira. The location of this park, however, varies according to what area of the city the mainstream media is paying most attention to in the moment. The Strategic Plan called for the park to be located in Realengo, in the West Zone. At the beginning of March of this year, a park for City of God was announced. Then, after the death of Marielle Franco that same month, a Maré Park was announced. In response, the collective Maré Vive wrote on its Facebook page:

“Speak Favela!

Regarding the R$100 million “allocated” for the construction of the “Maré Park”

Wouldn’t it be better to distribute these resources among already existing park squares? I can name several squares from the Palace to Kelson’s [two different areas of the neighborhood], you know?

Projects that could be served with the aforementioned resources: the revitalization of the Piscinão artificial lake in addition to its acoustic stage; the Herbert Vianna Cultural Space; the Vila Olímpica sports center; the Ecological Park which has degraded soil, is deserted, and urgently needs to be revitalized; the Pinheiro Bike Path where this park is proposed; the artificial turf fields and various public sports grounds that are in super bad condition. That money would certainly be enough to revitalize and maintain these structures.

The proposed project is beautiful and cool on paper and in the animations, but it is also wrong. It is a lot of money for just one project.

“The idea is to bring information to the community, so they can participate. The participation of residents, identifying their principal needs, will help us complete the project.” But how is it popular participation, if the project is already designed and ready? Like yours, mayor?

These promises are made even though the Municipal Accounts Tribunal (TCM) has prohibited the municipality from initiating construction until it restarts and guarantees resources for the 131 municipal projects that remain unfinished. The majority of these projects stem from the previous administration, famous for “big construction projects” in an effort to leave an “Olympic legacy.” Nor did the prohibition prevent Crivella from committing, jointly with the state government, to the renovation of the Flamengo Stadium. After all, promises for investment and construction projects are popular with voters.

Beyond not implementing what was planned, Crivella has resorted to arbitrary actions. For example, based on accusations that the Vila Kennedy favela’s vendors were there illegally, their stalls were destroyed. The ensuing mobilization of residents has brought about promises for the installation of new stalls, access to microcredit, and even rent subsidies, but the demolition still disrupted sources of income and raises the question of the real motives behind the destruction, especially if new kiosks will be placed in the same locale.

“Let’s take down this monument to misery, inequality, and poverty”

In the realm of housing policies, Crivella has taken some action. He relocated families that lived in the old IBGE building on the hill in Mangueira and promised them rent subsidies. Rent subsidies will be paid until the building is demolishedtaking “down this monument to misery, inequality, and poverty,” in Crivella’s words—and substituted by Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV) public housing units, which should occur within a year and a half. Showing consideration for the individuals’ history in the area, he stated that this process would allow residents to “continue to live in the where place they’re from.”

Also in the field of housing, Crivella announced the Minha Casa Meu Gari (My House My Trash Collector) program, with special financing conditions for MCMV apartments for this class of workers. He also announced that 600 new MCMV units would be built in Mandela de Pedra, in Manguinhos. For Crivella, the bottlenecks in the construction of social housing and MCMV projects are the high costs of construction materials and the delay in expropriation lawsuits to obtain titles to the land to be used for these projects.

However, by announcing MCMV housing units without planning for upgrading and infrastructure works to accompany them, Crivella risks reproducing the lack of sustainability that often accompanies MCMV buildings; the units are often remote and poorly connected to the rest of the city, lacking services as well as leisure and business opportunities. In addition, the exclusive focus on MCMV, a federal program, exempts the City from financing the housing investments. The municipality will only be responsible for designating which families will benefit.

The implementation of the Social Interest Housing Plan for the Port Region and of Public Interest Housing Units in the favela Jacarezinho, both planned as part of the Mais Moradias (More Housing) program, have yet to be announced. In Centro, neither plans to build new housing units nor the occupation or revitalization of vacant and underutilized properties—to increase Centro’s housing potential—have been initiated, even though they were part of the Carioca Centralities program outlined in the Strategic Plan.

“Giving visibility to these invisible people”

With regard to social policies, the mayor has been more proactive. In partnership with Rio’s urban planning Pereira Passos Institute (IPP), in 2017 the administration conducted research and interviews to identify families who are neglected by public policies. The initiative was part of the Social Territories program, also outlined in the Strategic Plan, which aims to give “visibility to these invisible people” who are underserved by public policies, in the words of Mauro Osório, the director of the IPP. The study, and the geographic location of the most vulnerable families, has yet to be shared. It has only been revealed that most live in the West Zone.

This program’s first line of action, in January of this year, was to supply the identified families with basic food supplies (in the case of those who did not already receive Bolsa Família welfare payments) and water filters. The program also plans to register these families for basic services like healthcare, documentation, and other assessments to qualify for more tailored programs overseen by other secretariats, such as the departments of Housing, Employment and Innovation, Education, and Social Assistance.

For another part of the population, people who live on the streets, so far only 400 of the promised 4,000 spaces in shelters have materialized. However, some other efforts have been made to help the homeless: in February the Social Vacancy and Social Independence programs were launched and will offer vocational courses and designate 5% of city government contract work for people living in municipal homeless shelters.

Additionally, after a survey of this population—conducted as part of the Somos Todos Cariocas (We are All Cariocas) program—the Emancipa Rio (Free Rio) initiative was launched at the end of March. This program provides social rent for six months, with the potential of an additional six-month renewal, for residents of homeless shelters who get a job but still need assistance to live independently. According to the mayor, “there are spaces in municipal shelters, which cost R$2,000 per month. But what’s much cheaper for the public coffers, and better for those who are assisted, are rent subsidies of R$450 per month.”

Click here for Part 1.

This is the second article in a two-part series monitoring and critiquing Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella during his time in office thus far, and covering policies related to culture, public security, and urban and social interventions. See the first article here.