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The world's attention may be focused on the Rio Olympics, but what about the disadvantaged Brazilians who no longer have a place to call home? Find out about their struggles below.

In Brazil, the great legacy of the FIFA World Cup was not sustainable development or better livelihoods for its population. Rather, the event left behind debt, infrastructure problems and an enormous number of people evicted from the places they called home to make room for stadiums and other construction necessary to host the soccer games.

Over 250,000 people were either directly or indirectly forcefully removed from their living spaces due to the World Cup. As if losing their houses wasn’t enough, the government compensated these families with values far below the real market value for their houses. For example, families whose houses had an estimated value of USD $70,000 received only USD $22,000 – not nearly enough to purchase another house.

This happened because property rights are a controversial issue in the Brazilian legal system. Impoverished families generally live in slums or informal settlements, where they often do not have legal ownership of the land where they have built their homes. Although there are laws that guarantee that these families should have access to secure land tenure, the process to legalize land is long and costly. On average, a land tenure case can take up to 20 years in the judiciary system and often will end without a clear solution or recommendation. 

Many of the families evicted during the World Cup are still waiting to receive compensation for their losses. In Pernambuco – a state in the northeast region of the country, 200 families, who were removed from the community where they lived for over 40 years, are currently suing the state Government of Pernambuco. 

In 2013, these 200 families were evicted from their homes in order to build a bus terminal to increase mobility for the World Cup. The families received very short notice that they would have to leave their homes. Some suffered police brutality during the eviction process. To date, nothing has been built in the place where their homes were torn down. The bus terminal, like many other World Cup projects, was not completed in time for the event. The families, who were quickly and forcefully removed from their homes are still waiting to receive fair compensation for their losses.

This year, Brazil is once again hosting a big event – the Olympics. While preparations were much smoother this time, evictions and discriminatory and counterproductive government practices that seek to make cosmetic and superficial "improvements" rather than address the root causes of challenging issues are still present. In Rio, there are two big questions.

  1. Where will the families evicted from where the Olympic City was built live? Rio is one of Brazil’s most expensive cities. Even in a favela, a small house can cost close to USD $40,000.  Families who live in communities often occupied these spaces over 60 years ago and slowly build their homes. This makes relocation tough, and many families end up living in worse conditions after a forced eviction.
  2. What will happen with the infrastructure built for the Olympic City? Will the buildings become another ghost town, abandoned and gone to waste? Many organizations and social movements in Brazil are advocating for the Olympic City to become social interest housing, to benefit the families who had been evicted.

The name of this type of occupation is the “social role of property.” This is a legal term in Brazil which means that every building in a city needs to fulfill a role and be built with a purpose. This makes it illegal for buildings to be abandoned in a city. But it is not what happens in practice, and cities have thousands of buildings that have been abandoned for over 40 years, fulfilling no purpose other than contributing to and benefitting from market speculation.

Research recently conducted by Fundação João Pinheiro showed that there more abandoned buildings in Brazil than there are homeless families. Habitat for Humanity Brazil, through the Solid Ground campaign and along with national and international partners, is proposing and advocating for policies that enforce the social role of property as a fundamental solution for the housing deficit in Brazil – estimated at approx. 7 million units. It is a difficult battle. Brazil’s legal system tends to prioritize the rights of the landowner over those of the tenants occupying the land – but without a doubt it has in its heart the rights of over 50 million Brazilians who are currently living in inadequate housing and without security of land tenure. 

Raise your voice to urge leaders to prioritise land for shelter. Sign our petition today. 

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