ONE AFTERNOON IN AUGUST LAST YEAR, Maria Neuma’s neighbours called her at work and warned her not to return home. Since June, 47-year-old Neuma had been a resident of Rio de Janeiro’s Condominium Coimbra, a residential complex in the city’s West Zone, built by the government as part of its Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My Home, My Life) programme. The project, which aims to provide housing to millions of Brazilians who live in poverty across the country, has been beset by problems since its inception. Though it was supposed to address concerns of sanitation, and law and order which plague the favelas that dot every city in Brazil, many of the new complexes in Rio had fallen under the control of informal armed militia. Now, the militia of Condominium Coimbra had threatened violence to Neuma’s family, which drove her neighbours to call her and warn her to stay away.
“It is better if you do not come back, we heard that they want to kill you,” Neuma recalled her neighbours telling her when I met her in August this year. “I was terrified and immediately warned my partner and my children to leave everything as it was and come away without being noticed.” When the family approached the prefecture—the city municipality—for help, they were offered accommodation in a homeless shelter; turning this down, they returned to the favela of Caju where they had lived previously.
The Minha Casa, Minha Vida programme was launched in 2009 by Brazil’s then president, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. A sum of 34 billion reales (more than 10 billion US dollars) was sanctioned for the construction of one million housing units across the country by 2011. According to the city’s Municipal Secretary of Housing, since 2009, 13,677 properties have been delivered to occupants in Rio, 12,167—or 90 percent of them—in the West Zone of the city, where Coimbra is located.