This article is part of our series on Covid-19 and its impacts on the favelas.
Dance instructor Buba Rodrigues, 32, is a victim of the pandemic. He became unemployed during quarantine because the gyms and events where he worked were forced to close. Without income to pay rent for his room in Vila Medeiros, he found shelter in the Jardim Julieta occupation, also in Vila Medeiros, in the North Zone of São Paulo. Like him, hundreds of people in Brazilian cities were left without money to pay rent and took refuge in housing occupations, like this one in São Paulo. They are the so-called “new favelas,” spaces created by the impact of the pandemic on the poorest people.
Residents of the Jardim Julieta occupation fear repossession, a common occurrence in other occupations, despite the pandemic. Residents say they have nowhere to go if they are evicted. Some, who preferred not to identify themselves, said that since they entered the community, they have received no assistance from city government.
“Look, I’ve been here for over three months. The mayor has not come here. I don’t have access to hand sanitizer, a mask, and other things, plus I am unemployed. What should I do?” asks Maria Lúcia.*
Bricklayer João Carlos* says he has no professional direction and did not want to be in the occupation, but had to go due to lack of options. “Without emergency aid, without income, I had nothing else to do. I have always worked, I am not one of those people who complains about work, but I was left with no option and this was the option available for the time being.”
Rodrigues defines the occupiers with whom he lives as “pandemic victim residents.” He says that their life situations are similar. “The people here have lost their jobs and have been evicted from their homes due to lack of paying rent,” he says.
According to Débora Ungaretti, 30, a researcher at the University of São Paulo Architecture School’s CityLab, and at the Evictions Observatory, the São Paulo city government lacked sensibility in dealing with repossessions during the pandemic. “The appropriate policy during this period should have been the suspension of all evictions, to ensure that people are not left homeless during this public health emergency,” she said.
She says that all government projects involving evictions should be suspended, in addition to all of the city government’s repossession and expropriation processes. Ungaretti says that instead of understanding the situation, the City Management Secretariat and public housing authority instead made plans for urgent evictions.
The researcher cites situations in the Campos Elíseos neighborhood, in downtown São Paulo, and repossessions in the Cachoeirinha region, in the North Zone. “In these two cases, the evictions are to make space for the implementation of public-private housing partnerships, which shows a profound contradiction,” she says.
“Instead of directing public land and housing policy to guarantee housing for families, these important public resources are serving to evict families without any guarantee of housing assistance,” she adds.
In the case of the Jardim Julieta occupation, in the North Zone, SP Urbanismo, an organization linked to the Municipal Urban Development Secretariat, demanded the removal of families even during the pandemic. After the residents protested, and as anti-eviction protests occurred across the country, the public company suspended the repossession until the end of the emergency period caused by the pandemic.
Despite the decision, residents remain afraid of this timeline not being followed. “We set ourselves a deadline to only stay here until February, and we are all very apprehensive and afraid of being left without a home, without any means to pay rent, and without knowing when the pandemic will end,” says Rodrigues.
He recalls that in the occupation, there are many elderly people and people with co-morbidities who are considered high-risk groups for Covid-19, in addition to people with physical disabilities and single mothers. “What will be the situation with our jobs? There are mothers with three or five children.”
According to reports collected by the Evictions Observatory, some people who created the occupation experienced violent evictions because they were unable to afford rent. The researcher points out that economic vulnerabilities overlap with other kinds of vulnerabilities, but no data about the profile of these families has been collected by the city government so far, which makes it more difficult to enact public policies which truly serve the population.
In July, housing movements in the state of São Paulo, such as the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), sent a complaint to the United Nations about evictions of occupations that have occurred during the coronavirus pandemic.
The complaint dealt with cases in the state of São Paulo. According to the social movements, the forced evictions led to women—many of them pregnant—and men, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities and other co-morbidities to be exposed to violent evictions and homelessness, as well as to the coronavirus.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, parts of the legislature, civil society, the judiciary, and the academy have been mobilizing in order to, in some way, prevent evictions during the public health crisis. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing Balakrishnan Rajagopal called for Brazil to stop evictions during the pandemic: “Evicting people from their homes in this situation, regardless of the legal status of their housing, is a violation of their human rights.” The request has not been followed in Brazil’s major cities.
*For safety reasons, names have been changed.
Lucas Veloso has a degree in journalism and is one of the co-founders of Agência Mural, an initiative that aims to minimize the information gaps and contribute to the deconstruction of stereotypes about the peripheries of Greater São Paulo. After having worked for the online news portal Alma Preta (Black Soul), he is currently a reporter at Agência Mural and writes for the site Papo de Homem (Men’s Talk).
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