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Minha Casa, Minha Vida: Brazil's Public Housing Is Better Than Nothing

The Minha Casa, Minha Vida program in Piraquara, in the state of Paraná
The Minha Casa, Minha Vida program in Piraquara, in the state of Paraná
Wilhan Santin

LONDRINA - In the southern state of Paraná, is a small town of some 12,000 people, with no schools, day care or health centers -- nor any real shops.

Initiated in 2009 by former Brazilian president Lula and completed last year, the Vista Bela public housing project has 2,712 residences (1,272 houses of 35 square meters, and 1,440 apartments of 42 sq meters) built far away from the middle-sized town of Londrina. If it were a city itself, Vista Bela would be larger than 242 of the total 399 cities in the state of Paraná.

Vista Bela is part of the Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life) program, considered one of the main achievements of Lula’s government and a central talking point during current president Dilma Rousseff’s campaign for elections two years ago.

Sewer worker Jenaína Ribeiro dos Santos, 24, is now living here. Every day she wakes up at 4 a.m., together with her two-year-old twins, Jaqueline Rebeca and Daniel Miguel. She must wake up this early to make it to work on time after dropping her kids off at day care.

“If there were a nursery here, it would be much easier for me and more comfortable for the kids. In winter, it’s too cold for them,” says Jenaína, who pays 250 reais ($125) to her neighbor each month to take care of her oldest son, João, 5.

Price of distance

The lack of infrastructure and urban planning in Vista Bela is expensive for Londrina. The local government had to contract with a bus company to pick up about 1,000 children living in Vista Bela and take them to 23 different schools, which costs 128,000 reais ($64,000) per month, and will reach 1 million reais ($500,000) before the first schools are built in Vista Bela at the end of 2013.

After a child reaches the age of 12, families must pay half the bus fare, which means that the teenage sons of carpenter Vilvaldo dos Santos, 48, do not live with him in Vista Bela. Full bus fare costs 2.20 reais ($1.10). "They stay with their grandma, so they can be closer to school," says the father. "There is nothing here.”

Another problem is the lack of health centers. The closest medical care is at least 2 kilometers outside the town, and usually overcrowded. In charge of his sister and a nephew with mental deficiency, Dolvanir Pires, 60, said politicians should have planned it all better. “It took more than a year to build the housing. Why didn't they build a health center at the same time?”

In spite of the problems, families say life is better now than it was in the past. Many of them come from bad employment situations and dangerous neighborhoods.

According to the local government, 96% of the families live on less than one-third above the minimum wage (1,866 reais or $933). They have to pay monthly rent from 25 to 75 reais ($12.50 to $34.50).

More positive features are functioning sewage systems, treated water, electric power and solar heating for showers in some of the houses. There are special places for the elderly (46 units) and wheelchair users (20 houses). Another 55 users have had their housing units adapted for their special needs.

Retired couple Antônio Arruda, and Maria Vanderlânia are both wheelchair-bound, and managed to get one of the special houses. "People are kind, they help us when we need it. It’s a good life here," Arruda says.

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