According to IBGE (Brazilian Federal Statistical Office), 40 thousand real estate properties in Porto Alegre are potentially abandoned. At the same time the population living in the streets keeps growing. Facing the housing crisis in the capital of the Rio Grande do Sul state you can find resistance in form of urban occupations.
It is not difficult to notice the housing crisis in Porto Alegre: you just have to walk through the city to see the expressive number of people who live in the streets. Strange is when you compare this perception with the numbers from the Brazilian Federal Statistical Office (IBGE), which highlights that 40 thousand of properties in the city are potentially abandoned. This not counting the ones which are not used due to the real estate speculation.
“If living is a privilege, occupy is a right.”
(sentence written on the wall at one of the occupations)
Considering those numbers, a lot of movements have taken action and started to questioning and change the situation, fighting for adequate and decent housing. We visited some of the occupations which have served as shelter for several families and could register a bit of what is happening in three of them: Utopia e Luta (utopy and fight), Mulheres Mirabal (Mirabal Women) and Lanceiros Negros (Black Lanciers).
Flag of the autonomous community Utupia e Luta (Utopy and Fight)
The autonomous community Utupia e Luta (Utopy and fight) - compared to other occupations in Brazil - has a different reality. The building is localized in the city center and was occupied during the World Social Forum in 2005. Today it is the only cooperative which has conquered the ownership regularization by the means of the solidary credit program offered by the federal government. The building has 9 floors and more than 40 families live there. But the space is not only destined as living-space. Besides the communitary laundry room, the building has a culture space and a hydroponic communitary garden on the rooftop of the building. Furthermore there is also the area where the Solidarity Cooperative Utopia e Luta (Coopsul) is functioning. They organize silkscreen printing, bakery and tailoring workshops through the project “Plantando Alternativas, gerando sustentabilidade” (Planting Alternatives, generating sustainability).
Facade of the occupation Lanceiros Negros
The Movement for Fight in suburbs, shantytowns and poor neighborhoods (MLB) has collaborated with the population in risk situation in Porto Alegre. It’s collaboration was fundamental for the occupation of Lanceiros Negros (Black Lanciers) and Mulheres Mirabal (Mirabal Women). Lanceiros Negros is an occupation of the former state public ministry headquarters, which has been abandoned for about 12 years. The building was occupied in November 2015 and today provides shelter for over 70 families. Priscila tells us about her experience with the occupation:
“I live here with Arthur and Enzo, my sons. Since we arrived here, only good things happened. Where we lived before was in the suburbs - a favela - and there were a lot of gunfires, a lot of police. A lot of violence! And here not: here they can go to the playground and have access to the health system. Their live has improved 100%.”
Priscila - resident at Lanceiros Negros
The last occupation we could visit was Mulhers Mirabal (Mirabal Women), which was realized at the 25th of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The name was chosen in honor of the Mirabal Sister, who fought against the Dominican Dictatorship and have been executed on 25th November 1960. Minerva, Patria and María Teresa Mirabal, also known as the mariposas (butterflies), since then became the symbol of power and resistance for the women in Latin America.
The occupation was organized by the Women's Movement Olga Benário (MMOB), expressing their claim for a reference center for supporting the women in the city. Today in Porto Alegre there is only one shelter with 48 places and a reference center which cannot handle the demand of more than 700 thousand women. Nataniele, resident and member of MMOB tells us about their claim:
Nataniele - Women's movement Olga Benário
“The idea is to build a reference center for women; victims of violence. But violence of different types, not only physical: the psychological, the patrimonial as well as the institutional. We believe that it is not only the partner which harms the women, but also the State. The State because when it doesn’t give an alternative to a women mothers that they can work or if there is no doctor at the health station, a gynecologist... because this are the things that are missing. And there is also the matter of housing. When a women doesn’t have a decent house, no work to sustain the children. Then we try to organize all this in our fight. [...] If they won’t give us public policies, we are going to make them with what we have. We will occupy and we will make a decent reference center to help the women.”
Facade of the occupation Mulhers Mirabal (Mirabal Women)
The occupation is still facing a hard battle against the ownership repossession of the building. If this would happen, the women which are being helped there would be without shelter and won’t have a place to go. In a context where the access to housing is getting more and more difficult and the population which lives in the streets is continuously increasing, it is more than necessary to reflect about the social function of property and the omissions given by the missing regulations of the state.
Soon there will be a video with all the people who shared with us a bit of the plenty fights for housing which are happening in Porto Alegre.