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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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Society

Where 'The Zone Of Interest' Won't Go On Auschwitz — A German Critique Of New Nazi Film

Rudolf Höss was the commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp who lived with his family close to the camp. Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest, a favorite to win at the Cannes Festival, tells Höss' story, but fails to address the true inhumanity of Nazism, says Die Welt's film critic.

Where 'The Zone Of Interest' Won't Go On Auschwitz — A German Critique Of New Nazi Film

A still from The Zone of Interest by

Hanns-Georg Rodek

-Essay-

BERLIN — This garden is the pride and joy of Hedwig, the housewife. She has planned and laid out everything — the vegetable beds and fruit trees and the greenhouse and the bathtub.

Her kingdom is bordered on one long side by a high, barbed-wire wall. Gravel paths lead to the family home, a two-story building with clean lines, no architectural frills. Her husband praises her when he comes home after work, and their three children — ages two to five — play carefree in the little "paradise," as the mother calls her refuge.

The wall is the outer wall of the concentration camp Auschwitz; in the "paradise" lives the camp commander Rudolf Höss with his family.

The film is called The Zone of Interest — after the German term "Interessengebiet," which the Nazis used to euphemistically name the restricted zone around Auschwitz — and it is a favorite among critics at this week's Cannes Film Festival.

The audacity of director Jonathan Glazer's style takes your breath away, and it doesn't quickly come back.

It is a British-Polish production in which only German is spoken. The real house of the Höss family was not directly on the wall, but some distance away, but from the upper floor, Höss's daughter Brigitte later recalled, she could see the prisoners' quarters and the chimneys of the old crematorium.

Glazer moved the house right up against the wall for the sake of his experimental arrangement, a piece of artistic license that can certainly be justified.

And so one watches the Höss family go about their daily lives: guiding visitors through the little garden, splashing in the tub, eating dinner in the house, being served by the domestic help, who are all silent prisoners. What happens behind the wall, they could hear and smell. They must have heard and smelled it. You can see the red glow over the crematorium at night. You hear the screams of the tortured and the shots of the guards. The Höss family blocks all this out.

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