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Homeless families refurbish the first public building to be adapted for social housing in Brazil

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The building is being refurbished to accommodate 42 homeless families

8th March 2009

Fabiana Leal

From Porto Alegre

On Borges de Medeiros Avenue, in the centre of Porto Alegre, the former property of the National Social Security Institute (INSS) is getting ready to accommodate forty-two families and become the first public building in the country to be converted into social housing, with funding from the Solidarity Credit Programme of the Ministry of Cities.

The building will be run on a self-management basis, with the residents undertaking income-generating activities for profit. The members of the ‘Utopia and Struggle’ Solidarity Cooperative (Coopsul - Cooperativa Solidária Utopia e Luta ), which will be responsible for managing the property, will begin to move into their apartments from April, according to Eduardo Solari, the convenor of Coopsul and a member of the ‘Utopia and Struggle’ autonomous community, part of the National Movement of Struggle for Housing (MNLM - Movimento Nacional de Luta pela Moradia ).

The building was occupied in 2005, during the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the country’s gaucho capital. The group then started negotiations with the INSS and the federal government. On 13th February 2008, the INSS agreed to sell the property, which had been abandoned for over ten years and was in poor condition.

“Given the failure of the housing system, we had to create a new model. That is why we chose self-management”, said musician and composer Solari. “Through the self-management process, everyone has to be organised. In this way, we will be able to pay the costs of the condominium and educate our children, teaching them how to use computers effectively. We’ll discuss environmental issues and make a contribution to society”, he reported.

Solari and a colleague are the only ones still remaining from the original occupation four years ago. The other new residents are people who meet the allocation criteria. “Many people have come and gone, but many of these either couldn’t get used to our system or didn’t meet the criteria”, said Solari, who said that this had not led to bad feelings among participants in the struggle for housing.

Sele ction process

According to Solari, the selection process took into account the applicants’ age (from 25 to 58 years) and their willingness to get involved in the self-management system, as the residents themselves will be responsible for the laundry, security, cleaning, training courses, food preparation and other services needed in the building. Applicants had to have no interest in seeking public office. “As we support equal opportunities, gender and ethnic diversity were also taken into account.” Seventy per cent of the residents are women heads of household and most of them study or work.

Fourteen of the studio apartments, with 30m2 of floor space, are suitable for two adults and two children. The other twenty-eight, with 25m2 of floor space, suit families with two adults and one child.

How it will work

To live in the building, each of the forty-two families will pay 25,000 Brazilian reals, interest free and with a twenty year repayment period, to the CAIXA federal development bank (CEF - Caixa Econômica Federal ), as outlined in the agreement signed with Solidarity Credit, a housing finance programme that provides funding for housing for low-income families. This programme provides funds exclusively to families organised in associations or cooperatives, with priority given to those with monthly incomes of up to 1,125 Brazilian reals.

Having already signed a contract with the Guarantee Fund, Solari believes that the group will be able to pay off the debt in ten years. But before then, he hopes to move the residents to another property and convert the building into a ‘citizenship space’. “In five years we want to move the families out and turn the building into a Centre for Citizenship Education. At the moment this is not possible, because the law won’t allow it, but we want to break these rules”, says Solari. The need for this will arise due to the fact that the forty-two families include many young people which, over time, will lead to an increase in the number of members.

Carlos Henkin, 48 years old, is the convenor of “Utopia and Struggle” and a member of Coopsul. He expects that the experience in Porto Alegre will be the basis on which the CAIXA Federal Development Bank and the government will be able to develop a new social housing model based on self-management for the rest of Brazil.

The building

The building has nine floors, seven of which are occupied by flats. Each floor has its own theme. The first, for the oldest residents, will be called the ‘Floor of the New Man’. This is illustrated by an image drawn on the wall of the revolutionary Che Guevera. The two oldest men will be given flats with balconies looking out onto Borges de Medeiros Avenue.

‘Black consciousness’, ‘Indigenous peoples’, ‘Youth’, ‘Biodiversity’, ‘Women’ and ‘Revolution’ are the other themes for the murals and the names of different floors. The murals were painted by artists with different styles. The Terreira da Tribo actor, 30-year-old Renan Leandro, was one of the artists who painted the murals, including ‘Black consciousness’.

A laundry is being installed in the basement of the building. There will be two industrial washing machines and two dryers. A domestic washing machine for children’s clothing can be used for free.

On the terrace, in the ‘Chico Mendes’ area, there will be an industrial kitchen, a communal garden and a waste recycling area. The ground floor will have room for a theatre, computer classes and a centre for early childhood education (crèche). In the entrance hall, the phrase “you are now entering the territory of popular self-determination” will greet residents and visitors.

Other National Social Security Institute (INSS) buildings

According to the director of the Programme for Inner City Redevelopment of the National Secretariat for Urban Programmes in the Ministry of Cities, Renato Balbim, there are other buildings owned by the federal government – in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador, Recife and São Luís – which have already been ear-marked for social interest housing.

According to the Statute of the City, Federal Law 10.257/2001, these buildings must fulfil a social function. That is, they cannot just be left standing empty, as this results in costs to society as a whole.

“As regards these public buildings, the federal government, through the creation of the Ministry of Cities and the Programme for Inner City Redevelopment, has made efforts to set aside its empty properties for housing since 2003. This contributes towards reducing the housing deficit and improving the urban environment, and it allows people to live in decent conditions in areas that are well located and not out on the edge of the city,” argues Balbim.

Redação Terra: http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/interna/0,,OI3615940-EI8139,00-Semteto+reformam+predio+publico+de+moradia+social+do+Pais.html

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Forty-two families belonging to the autonomous community “Utopia and Struggle” will live in the building

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The building is being refurbished to accommodate 42 homeless families

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The murals, such as ‘Youth’, were painted by artists with different styles

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The building is located on Borges de Medeiros Avenue in the centre of Porto Alegre

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The ‘Black consciousness’ mural on the walls of the third floor of the building in Porto Alegre

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The basement will house a laundry with industrial washing machines and dryers

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The top floor of the first public building to be used for social housing in Brazil houses the ‘Revolution’ mural

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The ‘Indigenous peoples’ mural is at the top of the staircase giving access to the fourth floor

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The ‘New Man’ floor will house to the oldest members of the group. Two of the apartments have balconies

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Actor Renan Leandro, age 30, works on the ‘Black Consciousness’ mural

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The sixth floor of the building celebrates ‘Biodiversity’