News / Rio 2016 Olympics / Work by Donna Bowater

Olympics bus route to displace 900 families from Rio favela

RIO DE JANEIRO — As José Paulo Barcellos’ family grew, so did his house.

Over time, the two-bedroom bungalow he built at the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship spawned another story, where his daughter and her two children now live, above him and his wife. His patchwork carport, which doubled as his workshop, is now also a playground for his 2-year-old granddaughter, Nicole.

But like many in the Vila União favela in western Rio de Janeiro, Barcellos’ home has been marked like a condemned house with “SMH” — the initials of the municipal housing secretary.

José Paulo Barcellos, 70, walking into his marked home (Photo: Gustavo Oliveira)
José Paulo Barcellos, 70, walking into his marked home (Photo: Gustavo Oliveira)

Later this month, about 900 of the 1,500 families who live in Vila União will start to move out to make way for the TransOlímpica rapid bus system (BRT) to be built for the 2016 Rio Olympics. It is one of the biggest favela resettlements since Rio was chosen to host the games, with some 500 families also resettled from 2010 to 2011 for the construction of the TransOeste BRT.

According to Amnesty International, more than 19,000 families have been removed from their homes in Rio since 2009. City Hall denied any evictions were carried out for the World Cup earlier this year, but many have linked the resettlements to improvements and cleanups ahead of the FIFA event, including the hundreds of families moved from the Metrô Mangueira favela beside Maracanã Stadium.

The authorities expect up to 70,000 passengers a day will use the new $660 million system to travel between Barra da Tijuca, where the athletes’ village will be, and the Deodoro zone, the site for several Olympic sports. The TransOlímpica route will pass through the parallel Tudorbethan streets, currently lined with crooked, overhanging homes and jury-rigged webs of cable.

The families who live there have been offered compensation payments or a new apartment in nearby Colônia Juliano Moreira, built under the government’s Minha Casa, Minha Vida (“my home, my life”) program. The $46 million apartment blocks are due to be inaugurated in September and will take in families until early next year.

According to the president of the residents’ association, Vânia Júlio, many welcomed the relocations from the tiny favela to new accommodation like a “lottery win.”

At the entrance of Rua da Esperança (“street of hope”), the state government set up a marquee to fingerprint and document residents who never before had identity cards.

A girl is fingerprinted for documents in Vila União, Rio de Janeiro (Photo: Gustavo Oliveira)
A girl is fingerprinted for documents in Vila União, Rio de Janeiro (Photo: Gustavo Oliveira)

“By being resettled, they will not only gain a home, with all the infrastructure, but also the ownership title of the apartment — something they do not have today,” said Alex Costa, subprefect for the neighborhoods of Barra and Jacarepaguá, who serves as the link between the community and City Hall.

He said the majority of families affected by the resettlement currently occupy public areas and areas at risk of severe flooding and landslides. “Even so, the TransOlímpica route was studied in order to affect the fewest number of families,” he said.

But the decision to build the bus route through the community came as a blow to residents after the neighborhood was initially slated to benefit from the state’s Morar Carioca investment program. Under the initiative, aimed to improve all of Rio’s favelas by 2020, a group of architects planned to redesign and bring better infrastructure to the area as part of the Olympic legacy.

And those who built homes bigger than the new apartments face considerable downsizing or indemnities they believe undervalue their homes. City Hall has photographed homes in Vila União to calculate compensation deals based on real estate value and size.

Photo: Gustavo Oliveira
Photo: Gustavo Oliveira

“If you put a double bed in the new apartments, there’s no room for a wardrobe,” said Barcellos, 70. “There’s nowhere to wash your clothes like we have here. Why would those of us with a building, a better house, want to move to an apartment? If we can’t stay, we want to be compensated with a fair price.”

The construction of the BRT system will also raze businesses and commercial buildings.

Tetuliano Souza, 62, who runs a scrap market outside his home, pointed to the sky. “Only Jesus knows what I will do,” he said. “I don’t want another home. I would prefer money.”

Cintia Neves, 26, was 6 months old when her father bought a plot and built his family a home in Vila União. She runs a cafeteria and works at the Copagaz gas supplier a few doors down from where she lives with her mother and brother. “I’m worried,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do after I leave here.”

As she talked, a group of boys kicked a ball down a street that will become the bus route. They passed the Eustaquio Marques soccer stadium, which will be spared, though red spray paint marked the six meters of its ground that the new road will encroach on.

Photo: Gustavo Oliveira
Photo: Gustavo Oliveira

“It’s sad. This is a peaceful, safe community. We don’t have trafficking or crime,” said Júlio. “But the works have to happen. The TransOlímpica has to pass through here. I’m doing everything I can to make sure the community is satisfied.”

In the nearby community of Asa Branca, home to 2,000 families, residents resisted plans to use their rough soccer pitch as a construction site for the TransOlímpica.

“It’s not much of a leisure space, but it’s the only one we have for 8,000, 9,000 people,” said Carlos Alberto Costa, president of the Asa Branca residents’ association. “If we don’t shout in the community, these things happen.”

The view from the roof of the residents’ association building takes in both sides of Rio: the soaring towers of the new wealth in Barra da Tijuca alongside the crude red bricks of the favela homes.

Despite the threats of displacement and demolition, Costa said people acknowledge the Olympics will bring development that’s long overdue.

“Thank God, the Olympics are happening, so some things will happen for people,” he said. “We know that there won’t be any changes after 2016. After 2016, we’ll just return to the same mirage of Brazil. The good things that come are because of the events.”

Still, uncertainty and anxiety remain.

“It’s going to employ a lot of people. I believe in this,” he said. “But this is a very good community. I love living here, and we want to stay. We will fight to stay.”

Originally published by Al Jazeera America

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