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The Continuing Expansion of Favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Despite the lack of official figures, the sense of community leaders and residents of the Ladeira dos Tabajaras and Morro dos Cabritos favelas in Copacabana (a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro), is that the local population has increased substantially, especially after the creation of the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in 2010. Longstanding problems such as poor access to health and sanitation, worsened with the arrival of new residents, who in many cases, lived on asphalt prior to their arrival.

For example, the João Barros Barreto family Clinic in the favela has already reached a patient limit. The last registration was made in 2011 and, today, many people are left without access to healthcare. Danilo Ferreira, president of the Association of Residents of Ladeira dos Tabajaras and Morro dos Cabritos, is reminded that other services also do not account for growth, like water sanitation and sewage. The community leader says that these networks are old and in need of repair and expansion. He estimates that since 1990 the population has increased by approximately 35% (with higher growth after the establishment of UPP).

Danilo Ferreira, President of the Association of Residents of Ladeira dos Tabajaras and Morro dos Cabritos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Daiane Adams, UPP Public Relations representative of the Tabajaras and Cabritos favelas, also noted an increased demand for properties, both for rent and for sale. According to her, the UPP itself is often sought by people wishing to trade homes or space. "The UPP brings fresh air to the community, particularly in the area of development. The government, aware of such changes, seeks to engage in infrastructure projects," she says.

Urban Sprawl

The approach of the government on the issue of population growth, however has been quite timid. According to the Municipal Housing Bureau, the community has not passed a regularization process. Because the community occupies land without officially owning it (as designated through a certificate of Occupancy Permit), new construction and renovations are not under their control.

Thus, buildings are erected in places of collective use, areas that are protected, and those that are designated as at risk. According to Danilo Ferreira, the City knows of these illegal developments, but acts indifferently. According to the Municipal Planning Department a "monthly inspection service" is performed on the Tabajaras and Cabritos communities.

A favela outside Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Maria da Conceição owns three rental properties. The construction of new buildings or "puxadinhos" generates income for many people in the favela communities. Maria da Conceição Borges, 51, intends to sell the license for her vendors stall, on the beach of Copacabana, to invest in real estate. She has built three buildings with her savings and intends to eventually build a store. From the perspective of the seller, the money generated from the rental of real estate allows you to have a comfortable life.

The pursuit for homes and commercial spaces also generates income for the Bazaar of Cabritos, a store in the favela which sells building materials. According to the salesman, Fabrizio de Oliveira, sales have increased by 50% in recent years. Although population growth is favorable to their business, Oliveira fears that residents' lives are at risk due to the irregular and unplanned construction.

Fabrizio de Oliveira who owns a building materials store in the favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The poor quality of buildings in the community does not seem to ward off new residents of Tabajaras and Cabritos. Such is the case for the actor and theater director, Sandro Filizola, who lives in Cattete. He is currently looking for a rental property in the community, but has been amazed at the prices – which are linked to increased demand. Filizola has found a room with a bathroom to cost R $700 monthly (about US $300). Even so, for him, the prices are compensating. "The cost to live in the favela remains more viable. Another favorable factor is that in these cases, contracts are verbal or at most are formalized in registries, which removes the bureaucracy and the need for a guarantor," he says. The latest official data for the population of Tabajaras and Cabritos is the 2010 Census, counting 4,243 residents there. The growth there is visible, but can only be confirmed by the next Census in 2020.

Does your city experience urban sprawl as a result of a lack of affordable housing?

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, can be found here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.