The community of Mauá in São Paulo, Brazil, is facing the threat of eviction. We asked for your support and you gave it. Thank you. See our main website for the current situation.
Mauá is a community of more than 1000 people living in a hotel of the same name which was abandoned 17 years ago due to the owner not paying his taxes. The community includes a large number of children, older people and people with disabilities, all of whom could be made homeless should the eviction take place.
Since their arrival in the building five years ago, the occupants have already succeeded in making improvements to their new home and saving it from demolition. They had started negotiations for legal rights to the hotel with plans to turn it into social housing before they received news of the impending eviction.
The community has strong connections with CAFOD, frequently receiving your messages of hope and solidarity. The parish of Blessaed John Henry Newman in High Wycombe has been Connected to the community for the past two years through our Connect2 programme. Now more than ever they need our continued prayer and our support.
The legislation which is being used for the eviction is based on the claim that the community has only been occupying the hotel since the start of this year and is therefore illegal. This is in spite of evidence that supports the Mauá community’s claim that they have in fact been there for much longer.
Neti, a mother of two who often acts as a representative for the community, is just one of the 1000 formerly homeless people, who will be forced out of their homes should the eviction take place.
Some further background in response to frequently asked questions:
Isn’t Brazil one of the BRIC (Brazil Russia India China) emerging economies? Why are we helping them? Doesn’t CAFOD work with the poorest of the poor?
- Although Brazil is one of the world’s rising economies, the wealth sits with a rich minority.
- Brazil is the tenth most unequal country in the world, which the Maua case highlights.. The poorest ten percent of Brazilians receive just one percent of national income. Despite recent economic growth, 54 million Brazilians living in poverty (about the size of the UK population) including 20 million who are living in extreme poverty, struggling to meet their basic needs. CAFOD works through our partner organisations in Brazil to bring hope and support to poor communities, such as the Maua families in Sao Paolo, who are experiencing poverty and injustice on a daily basis.
- This poverty and inequality is expressed in the lack of decent housing and basic services for a large section of the population, particularly in rapidly expanding cities like São Paulo. São Paulo has 2,200,000 people live in favelas, one million in derelict tenement buildings and almost 3 million in precarious housing.
- While millions of people live in precarious housing and thousands sleep on the streets, there are over 400,000 vacant homes and buildings in the city – empty and abandoned when they could be converted into housing.
- Property such as the buildings our Mauà families have made their homes in is held by the rich owners without using it or occupying it, and left derelict. And then the city’s people cannot afford the unnaturally high rents created by those same landowners. This prevents the natural development of São Paulo into a thriving commercial and inhabited city, and it puts families in precarious living conditions without the security we can often take for granted. It keeps the poorest families poor, unable to afford homes in their own neighbourhoods, and without anywhere to go.
- One is the Mauá building where CAFOD’s Connect2 Brazil families have made their homes in. This property was held by its owners without using it, occupying it or paying taxes for over 17 years until the families moved in. Derelict properties prevent the natural development of São Paulo into a thriving commercial and inhabited city, and putting families in precarious living conditions without the security we often take for granted. It keeps the poorest families poor, unable to afford homes in their own neighbourhoods, and without anywhere to go.
- But you may know from the Connect2: Brazil blog and updates that these families are far from downtrodden in spirit – they’ve formed community groups, started small businesses, and got involved in the city’s politics to get their voices heard. They’re a spirited bunch who want to transform their city into a thriving and industrious place, free from the stranglehold of rich absentee proprietors. That’s why they’ve moved into and cleaned up these dilapidated, abandoned buildings and started the legal process of applying to make them their homes, as Brazilian law allows.
- Many face the choice of either affording food or rent – to either live in slums far from the centre and without basic services, or to bed down under a bridge, in the park or by the side of the road.
But they don’t own these buildings – aren’t they just ‘squatting’? Why are we talking about these buildings being their homes?
- Brazilian law allows people such as the Mauà families who have been in irregular possession of an urban area for more than five years to have the right to legalise possession and/or property. For five years, Maua residents have worked to make the building habitable for its 237 families, and over a period of time apply for legal rights to their home.
- It’s a law that exists to stop homelessness becoming a big problem in the face of abnormally high rents, and to stop absentee property owners letting buildings fall to ruin and become a blight on their neighbourhoods. Sadly this is exactly what this owner had done, until the Mauà families moved in and cleaned up the old hotel building. Tragically many buildings in Sao Paulo lie empty, stymieing the city’s prosperity and community, and breaking this law, while millions of people continue living in the most precarious conditions. In a bit more depth: the Brazilian Constitution balances the needs of individual property owners with the needs of society to ensure social justice and the equitable enjoyment of the cities, especially by the most vulnerable and disfavoured citizens. By law, municipalities must ensure that all properties fulfil a social purpose, such as residential, productive purposes or paying taxes. Those properties that do not are illegal and can face sanctions and expropriation.
- This legal mechanism isn’t unusual: in international and much national law across the world, dereliction is guarded against by laws around land and property. These laws exist to stop property prices rising so high that they exclude significant numbers of the population. And the Human Rights Charter and our own European Convention on Human Rights set out every person’s right to safety and dignity in their own home.
- Our Connect2: families and their neighbours in Mauà moved into this derelict building in 2007 with the purpose of pressuring the government to implement public policies and guarantee their access to decent housing, and facing life on the streets as the only other option. They’re exercising their legal rights by applying for rights to these buildings – and what’s more, they’re doing a lot for the city of Sao Paulo and its community, prosperity, and safety by doing it – which is why the law allows them to try in the first place.
- Sadly, in Sao Paulo, often the property owners don’t invest in their property or the city, even though they have the means and wealth to do it. Instead, by leaving their property a shell, they hamper the city’s growth and vitality. By contrast, the Mauà families, who have next to nothing, have worked to bring buildings like this back to life and usefulness.
- Our Connect2: families and their neighbours in Mauà are exercising their legal rights by applying for rights to these buildings – and what’s more, they’re doing a lot for the city of Sao Paulo and its community, prosperity, and safety by doing it – which is why the law allows them to try in the first place.
- The owners have legal clout too, of course, in scenarios like this, because they hold the deeds to the buildings, and that’s why this owner has pushed for and won this new court repossession order against the families just before the 5 year period. However, in the different appeals to the court sentence, the judge has not even considered the families’ rights at all. He has not ordered that the eviction can only take place if the families are provided with an alternative housing solution.
- So unless a alternative solution is negotiated, and Brazilian authorities intervene to stop the eviction, the families in Mauá and the other properties will be thrown out of their homes into the streets, trampling their constitutionally guaranteed rights and basic human needs.
- Our partner organisation APOIO’s vision is of a just and sustainable city. A city not of empty buildings and derelict neighbourhoods, but where people live, work and thrive. A city where all citizens including the poorest can live and thrive close to where they work and where the services and schools are– not a controversial idea. And because it’s a vision that will give some of the poorest people in Brazil homes, security, livelihoods and dignity, it’s a vision CAFOD is fighting for too.