The struggle for housing is an endemic issue in Brazil. In São Paulo there are approximately 600 homeless people. Paradoxically, there are around 600 buildings abandoned by the owners, with no social function, scattered throughout the capital.

The struggle for housing is not exclusive to a single movement. Just under the banner of the FLM – Frente de Luta por Housing, there are 13 other acronyms that came together in favor of the movement.

On Monday, May 14, 2018, page B participated in the opening of the exhibition Occupy, Resist, Build and Dwell, which traces the history of the movement in photos, maps and comics, in the Nove de Julho occupation, which is part of one of these flags and is under the umbrella of the MSTC – Movimento dos Sem-Teto do Centro.

At the beginning of the Nove de Julho occupation, as in all other occupations in the LWF, there are rules. People need to identify themselves with name, RG and CPF.

Nove de Julho works in an old building of the INSS, the National Institute of Social Security, which had been abandoned for 30 years, in the center of the city. Today, two years after the occupation by the MSTC, the building is constantly being renovated and houses 121 families. According to the movement, each family pays 200 reais to help maintain occupation, renovate spaces and build new rooms.

In the public presentation, which took place during the opening, one of the residents who came from Rio de Janeiro, spoke “When I got here I felt like I was born again. Here we have elderly people, wheelchair users and people treat me well all the time. Minha Casa Minha Vida should be contemplated from housing movements, because here people are prepared to occupy these houses. Here we have rules, respect and commitment”.

Inside the building, there is also a popular course organized by the uneafro. The objective of the course, according to the organization, is to collaborate with the formation of citizens “because the system excludes the poor and black people”, he explained.

In the access corridors, photos, mostly underexposed, in high contrast, in shadows and dense colors, bring images about the daily life of the occupations. In an organized way. Across the hall, the story is drawn in black, white, and red highlights.

Comic created for the exhibition of the Nove de Julho occupation - Photo: PáginaB
Comic created for the exhibition of the Nove de Julho occupation – Photo: PáginaB

In addition to the drawings and photos, the montage also features the maps that make up the doctoral work of Jeroen Stevens, urban planner, professor at the University of Leuven, on the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium. Stevens conducted extensive research on occupations in downtown São Paulo. The work involved dozens of people and lasted about four years, and trips between Brazil and Belgium. Altogether, he and more than 30 of his students produced more than 43 photos during this period.

Stevens' work aimed to map and understand the urban design developed organically by the squatters. “It is fashionable for architects to develop participatory projects. I don't want to create a project and then invite the community to participate. I want to participate in the occupation and together with them improve the project that the movement is already doing,” she said.

That's how he ended up living for 15 months in occupations linked to the FLM, but it was in the Nove de Julho occupation, managed by the MSTC, Movimento Sem-Teto do Centro, where he spent most of his time. “I want to be with the people in the occupation. That's why we made this exhibition (here), I didn't want it to be just inside a Mackenzie room with three other academics”, he explains. On his most recent visit, Stevens presented his thesis to a panel at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at Mackenzie Presbyterian University.

The city of occupations

During the four years he followed the occupations, Stevens researched the social and urban impact of the reforms carried out inside the buildings in the city of São Paulo. He also says that he learned more from the residents and activists of the housing movements he met than at his college, “I've never seen an urban planner do such a project”. It was thanks to this interaction that the researcher learned to speak Portuguese.

The study revolves around the mapping of the occupations of the city center as a new city, inserted in the reality of the first. “When you put all these [occupied] buildings together, we have a city being built in the voids of the city that already exists. The city of struggle for housing”. The comics and photos are an important complement that highlights the urban analysis carried out by the researcher.

According to the survey carried out by him, this city of occupations would total around 25 thousand people, among which 10 thousand are residents and another 15 thousand people are direct or indirect participants in the urban life of the city of occupations.

To give you an idea, this dispersed city in the center of São Paulo would have more inhabitants than São Paulo cities like Bofete and Ouro Verde, with 9.618 and 7.800 people, respectively, according to the 2010 IBGE Census.

One of the particularities of this city, according to the researcher, is the pace of life of the people who make up this population, “This city doesn't stop. They are all the time renovating, building, painting, everything to have a decent place to live,” he said. In fact, even during the opening of the exhibition, people were everywhere working on the renovation of the building. Even during the debate, workers were carrying dozens of bags of cement into a room that was being restructured.


pay to live

All of Jeroen Stevens' research work began when he visited the former squat of the Hotel Cambridge, also in downtown São Paulo. It was there that he met, through a friend, the coordinator of the MSTC, Cármen Silva.

The coordinator of the Movimento dos Sem-Teto do Centro is well known inside and outside the housing struggle movements. One of the reasons, besides her remarkable leadership, is the accusation that hangs over her.

Cármen Silva, in 2016, was accused of coercing residents into paying fees for the Nove de Julho occupation. In videos shared on the internet, you can see Carmen criticizing those who delay paying fees. In another video, she argues with a resident, who ended up being expelled from the occupation after voting in the assembly. To G1 portal, the former resident said that after leaving the occupation, she began to receive threats, including death. The Public Ministry has been investigating the case for two years. So far, eight people have been heard.

Carmen stands firm in her position. During the opening of the exhibition, in a quick speech and without mentioning what had happened, she highlighted the importance of the residents' contribution to the occupation and concluded: “I had to go down to the dust to know the greatness of solidarity […] Here, we are preparing citizens to be part of the State, not apart from it. The meaning of society is organization and like me, there are many other carmens here”.

Researcher Stevens, who has lived the daily life of the squatters, agrees with the importance of collaborations and the payment of some fees to maintain the squatters, “It's amazing what [residents] do in squats with so little rent money. Architecturally, they would not have been able to pay for the renovations,” he explained.

Stevens cites, as an example of good use of resources and good maintenance, the Mauá Occupation, which is located in the old building of the Santos-Dumont hotel and which was abandoned in the 1980s. Mauá is currently the oldest occupation in downtown São Paulo. Paul in action. In 2018, she turned 11 years old. Stevens' arguments, regarding the work of urban reform and the social function of the occupants, boiled down to a photo of the old abandoned hotel next to the same building, now renovated and which has become a symbol of the struggle for housing in the state of São Paulo.

Mauá Occupation, in the building of the former Santos-Dumont hotel before (left) and after (right) being occupied
Mauá Occupation, in the building of the former Santos-Dumont hotel before (left) and after (right) being occupied

In the debate on alternative systems for accessing housing, all information is scarce. It is a complex reality and one that the State is far from realizing.

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