New hope is sprouting near a future Brazil 2014 World Cup stadium, where a once crime-ridden shantytown has emerged as a vibrant community with skyrocketing property values.
Emerging powerhouse Brazil faces a daunting task in providing decent housing for its millions of urban poor, many of whom languish in slums, known as favelas, on the periphery of major cities.
However, in Sao Paulo, the country’s most populous and wealthiest state, increased funding and close monitoring has transformed some of these once drug-infested favelas.
A showcase of that policy is Uniao de Vila Nova, a neighborhood of 32,000 people located 25km from the Sao Paulo city center.
Like many shantytowns across Brazil, Uniao de Vila Nova was created illegally, by people who — unable to afford city rents — cobbled together squalid shacks in risky or environmentally-protected areas.
However, in place of the rickety homes — once routinely swept away by the flood waters of the nearby Tiete Tiver during the rainy season — the 1 million square meter area has morphed into a clean, safe and proud community.
The changes began a decade ago, when authorities launched a program to “urbanize” the favelas. They helped residents upgrade their homes and brought in basic services such as running water, paved roads, electricity and public transport.
The results have been striking.
“We have not had any murders in six years, while we used to have four a day in the 1990s,” community leader Geraldo de Pindola Melo said.
Melo migrated in 1984 from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, joining the 6 percent of Sao Paulo’s 42 million people who live in shantytowns.
The 42-year-old now lives with his wife and four children in a small, brightly colored house that he built and upgraded over the years, with help from the Sao Paulo state housing agency CDHU.
“This is a very cohesive, stable community,” he said.
Today, the neighborhood has seven schools, three daycare centers, a local soccer league with 28 teams and a recycling cooperative employing 36 trash pickers, most of them women.
Residents also have a handicraft workshop, a gardening school equipped with a greenhouse and a factory where rehabilitated drug addicts come to make vuvuzelas, the noise-making trumpets popularized by South African football fans during the last World Cup.
A new train station is set to open early next year, while a technical college is to be built and residents hope to get a new mini-hospital soon.
Throughout the neighborhood, residents showed off new, well-equipped apartments, built with CDHU funding and rented for 15 percent of their income.
“We have 3,010 families living in new vertical apartment blocks funded by CDHU, while 5,300 families live in their own urbanized homes,” said Valkaria Marques de Paula, a CDHU official.
Valeria Araujo da Silva, the local urbanization secretary, has seen the transformation of her neighborhood since she moved to Uniao de Vila Nova 16 years ago.
She and her husband built their own house, and thanks to the property boom in Sao Paulo’s eastern district — where construction is underway on the stadium that will host the opening game of the 2014 World Cup — da Silva says her home is now valued at US$65,000.
The prices of many homes in the neighborhood have jumped as World Cup fever grows and word spreads about the emerging community in Uniao de Vila Nova.