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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 18:59 GMT
Brazilians flock to shantytowns
Rita Silva and family
About 20% of Sao Paolo's population lives in shantytowns
By Isabel Murray

Low prices, proximity to work, very little in the way of bureaucracy and zero property taxes.

These are the factors that are causing an ever-increasing number of Brazilians to buy homes in the favelas, or shantytowns, of Sao Paulo.

According to a census carried out two years ago, 30,000 people live in the Paraisopolis favela - the largest one in the city of Sao Paulo. However, the local residents association puts this number nearer to 60,000.

Situated within the upper-class neighbourhood of Morumbi, the Paraisopolis favela is like a small town inside the mega-city of Sao Paulo.

Normally, the houses are made of wood, but here they are made of bricks. Even so, there is no proper sewage system.

Cash buyers

For 17 years Helena Santos has worked as the local estate agent. She explains how the sort of people buying a home in the favela has changed a lot in recent years:

"I can't tell exactly which class these people come from," she says.

Estate agent Helena Santos
Estate agent Helena Santos sells houses in the favela

"I know they come from the nice parts of town and come to live here instead. They buy their houses across the whole range of prices and they pay cash."

A normal arrangement would be a two-bedroom house with a lounge, kitchen, bathroom, and utility room, with or without a garage.

Often the buyers add on an extra floor, giving the house a total floor space of up to 100 square metres (1,000 square feet).

According to Ms Santos this would cost something in the region of 35-40,000 reals ($15 -17,000).

In any other neighbourhood within the city that has basic urban services, such as paved streets, sewage and street lighting, this could cost as much as 90,000 reals ($38,000).


Rita Silva moved from the city centre with her family of five.

She explains how she adapted to life in the shantytown:

"At the beginning I was a bit scared of the place. Back in 1993 there were loads of murders in this area."

"It's the people who make the neighbourhood," she added. "We don't get involved in anything dubious. We avoid getting involved in all the gossip. That's what's important."


Silva is just part of a growing trend, one that's becoming so noticeable that Nelson Baltrusis, an urban planner and sociologist, has studied the property market in the favela.

In his opinion lack of choice is forcing a growing number people to live in the favelas. He explains:

Living in the favelas, translates into a better salary for these people because they spend less time commuting

Nelson Baltrusis

"People come here to live because it is closer to where they work. This is because there are no housing projects for the lower income classes here in Brazil."

"The few housing projects that there are," Baltrusis explains, "are focused on providing accommodation for the working classes and are centred on the outskirts of the big cities.

"Living in the favelas translates into a better salary for these people because they spend less time commuting."


Despite the fact that the residents are squatting on the land, Baltrusis believes that this trend is happening all over Brazil.

"They don't have legal title to the land", says the sociologist. "But in large favelas like Paraisopolis it's very unlikely that the land's legal owners will go to the courts and formally request their land back."

"It would cause social upheaval on a huge scale. In the city of Sao Paulo alone you have more than two million people living in shantytowns and this represents almost 20% of the city population."

"Can you imagine throwing 20% of a city's population out onto the streets? This would be unthinkable in any city anywhere across the world."

See also:

29 Feb 00 | Americas
Brazil mudslides kill 13
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Brazil
14 Dec 01 | Americas
Timeline: Brazil
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