A Brazil without Favelas
The Fez Tá Pronto housing company is creating something that many think impossible: inexpensive, well-located and good quality apartments in Brazil’s cities. Imagine: this could finally allow poor families to live in good flats with solar collectors and water tanks! Read More
A Brazil without Favelas
Interview with Ruban Selvanayagam
You find them in every large city in Brazil: the favelas, parts of the city in which people live tightly packed together on property that is not officially theirs because they cannot afford an apartment. How cheap is it to live in a favela?
It isn’t inexpensive at all. Living in a favela, especially in the central urban regions, has become considerably expensive for low income families – so much so that many have been forced to move to the peripheries. Newcomers arrive daily, which leads to rising prices for land and rent.
Construction costs are high in Brazilian cities and land-price speculation is skyrocketing. Is there really no other option for poorer families?
Particularly since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, when Brazil saw rapid price rises in its housing market, the majority of building projects have catered to the middle to upper income segments. Although there have been a number of commendable housing policies and programmes for the poor in Brazil in the past decades, their impact was mostly negligible. There is still a lot of work to be done!
In 2009, former President Lula launched the “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” programme (My House, My Life). It aims to provide everyone with affordable housing, and has been praised a lot by experts. “Minha Casa Minha Vida” basically gives access to credit, both for occupants and for developers of social housing. If construction companies develop houses fulfilling the programme’s criteria, demand is almost ensured. Did this programme have a negligible impact as well?
The problem with Minha Casa, Minha Vida is that families are often obliged to move to the outer peripheries of the city. The reason is that construction and urban land costs are extremely high. The government can generally only offer cheap housing in areas far from the central business districts – without adequate transportation links or other essential public services like schools, hospitals or employment opportunities. So many families prefer to stay put.
Your company, Fez Tá Pronto Construction System, wants to achieve what Minha Casa hasn’t achieved to far: offer good housing for poor people in the city centre.
The Minha Casa, Minha Vida is a very well structured initiative, but it has become impeded by market forces: land and construction costs are just too high. At Fez Tá Pronto, we are bringing down the costs of construction via lean productivity methodologies and other technical benefits. This enables us to construct faster and at a notably lower cost.
Where are these apartments located?
Obviously, we cannot easily build in central regions of the city as land prices are considerably higher. Therefore we focus on areas that we expect to be growing fast, and that offer all infrastructure facilities that low income families need to lead healthy and sustainable lives. Our last housing complex was built in Rio das Ostras, close to Brazil’s petroleum capital Macaé – a part of the state where there is an immense demand for affordable housing.
You claim to provide houses that are of high quality, affordable and attractive for families from the favela. What exactly do you offer?
We build low-cost, environmentally friendly homes: they have solar energy panelling, rainwater capture and supplementary water storage tanks. We offer apartments in these buildings because this reduces the land price. Individual housing units take up a lot more space and create higher infrastructure costs. Our 47.4 sq. m apartments have two bedrooms, a service area, a living/dining area, a kitchen and full complementary infrastructure. The developments are simple but use the best materials on the market. Substituting individual housing by closed condominiums could also be an opportunity to offer residents added security (CFTV, night guards) at lower cost. But this is a long term strategy that needs to be thought out carefully.
Why can you build houses with all these ecological features at an affordable price while others cannot?
We don’t use the traditional building methods that require qualified labour. Apart from being expensive, these methods also have massive negative effects on the environment. Instead we use patented gypsum plaster block and employ a copyrighted, semi-industrialised construction method. Unqualified workers can easily mount the blocks. They work together with professional plumbers, electricians, hydraulic specialists as well as of course site managers and engineers. This brings development costs down, and we can offer houses at lower prices. At the same time, we’re even able to pay our unqualified workers a decent salary – up to three times the industry standard.
We’re even able to pay our unqualified workers a decent salary – up to three times the industry standard.
Fez Tá Pronto states that its apartments are aimed at Brazilian families earning between one and three times the national minimum salary – that is to say up to about US$ 925 per month. Their need for housing is especially high. What do your apartments actually cost?
The costs vary. We want to offer some units through the “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” programme. In that case, the government would pay most of the costs – R$ 69,000 (US$ 30,500) in the State of Rio de Janeiro for example – and the family would only have to pay 5% of their income (on a lease to own basis). This effectively means that the family resident will acquire the property from the government after a set period – providing that they keep up with their payments. But through the closed condominium option mentioned above we might even explore working in the subsidy side of the Minha Casa, Minha Vida.
Your vision is a Brazil without favelas. Do you think that even a world without slums is possible?
As the world’s population continues to rise dramatically, some estimates suggest that the need for new housing is reaching some 67 units per minute. Nevertheless, most developers have little interest in addressing the poorer population, as the risks are too high and profit opportunities too low. In light of such realities, the idea of a world without slums might seem an unrealistic and distant dream. But as I see it, nowadays there is a lot more drive for governments to provide houses for poorer families. So yes, why not achieve a world without slums? At Fez Tá Pronto, we believe in establishing, embracing and committing to this vision.
This interview was held by Claudia Knobloch and Till Leopold of Endeva, a consultancy specialised in inclusive business. It is part of Endeva’s interview series "Inclusive Housing for All".
You can read the entire interview here.