In a landmark case, one of the oldest settlements, the Maua community in Brazil's Sao Paulo escaped forced eviction last week, winning an important battle for the growing fair housing movement in the region.
A UK charity operating in the region, Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, CAFOD, launched an online petition in September that garnered over 4,000 petitions, to halt the eviction of nearly 200 families from an old vacant hotel building, in the heart of Sao Paulo, that had remained abandoned for nearly 20 years before the community helped repair and clean it to make it habitable. The organization negotiated with the city government and the owner of the building, urging the government to purchase the property. The government bought the building for US$6.1 million.
There are nearly 80 organized squats in and around the city center, an area also known to house the organized fair-housing movement. It is also a hub of radical art, along with other powerful anti-gentrification movements, like, "Povos Sem Medo" (People Without Fear), which is a cluster of 8,000 tents in the Sao Bernardo do Campo district.
"We are thrilled to hear that a peaceful solution has been reached and an agreement made for the public purchase of the Maua building. A great injustice has been avoided, preventing a forced eviction and possible use of police force which would have seen almost 1,000 people being thrown out to the streets, including older people, pregnant women and children," Emily Mulville, CAFOD's Brazil Programme Officer, said, according to Independent Catholic News, ICN.
"The news is cause for great celebration and families will have a roof over their heads for Christmas. It comes as a real relief for residents, who for the last few months have lived in fear of being forced from their homes and uprooted from their lives, jobs and schools," Mulville added.
The event is an important symbolic victory for the community organisation, resistance, and solidarity in Brazil. The occupation movement finds its roots in deeper issues of gentrification, among others, including members of the government pushing for their agenda that is often aligned with the private real estate tycoons in the region, for instance, the right-wing administration of the current mayor Joao Doria is known to have made attempts to push for privatization and undermine city's already weak social welfare programs.
"The problem of Brazil and São Paulo, in particular, is that we cannot provide enough housing for low-income families," Fernando Chucre, Sao Paulo's housing secretary told the Guardian. Currently, over 370,000 people are in need of decent housing in the region.
"We’re still in a struggle," Ivaneti de Araújo, one of the organizers affiliated with the Front for the Struggle for Housing, FLM, told the Guardian. "We want the government to guarantee that all the families can stay here."
Nine occupations including Maua have been identified as “transition shelters” for vulnerable groups including the elderly and victims of domestic violence, the Guardian reported.
Heluiza Soares, a coordinator from CAFOD's Sao Paulo partner, APOIO, an advocacy group, hailed the recent reprieve, saying, "In such difficult times, we have achieved a victory. This whole process of community resistance has led to a fantastic victory, and it has also led to a renewal of hope for all of us."
"Long live the fight for decent housing," Soares added.