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Project aims to help Brazil's shantytowns
The Washington Times / June 25, 1996

By Larry Luxner

SÃO PAULO, Brazil -- A slum reconstruction and improvement project executed by the mayor of South America's most populous city is getting warm words of praise -- even from his political opponents.

Paulo Maluf, mayor of São Paulo, says his pet project -- dubbed "Projeto Cingapura" -- was inspired by a recent trip to Singapore, a city-state dominated by high-rise apartment buildings and known for its cleanliness and efficiency.

"The project takes its inspiration from Singapore's success in keeping communities together while upgrading buildings and providing city services," according to the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo. "A principal aim of the project is to keep families in place and turn them into homeowners at relatively low cost."

São Paulo, with 16.4 million inhabitants, now ranks as the world's second-largest metropolitan area, according to "An Urbanizing World: Global Report on Human Settlements 1996." The report, presented earlier this month during the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, says São Paulo is smaller than Tokyo (with 26.8 million people) but surprisingly larger than both New York (16.3 million) and Mexico City (15.6 million).

Nevertheless, at least two million paulistas, as residents of São Paulo are known, live in unhealthy slum conditions -- a 19.4% increase since 1987. These slum-dwellers are clustered in 243 favela nuclei containing at least 200 huts each. Projeto Cingapura aims to urbanize and upgrade favelas and corticos (partition-houses) for some 92,000 families containing 500,000 individuals. The three-phase project, begun in June 1994, costs around $250 million. Of that, $160 million is being funded through a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, with the remaining $90 million coming from the São Paulo Municipal Housing Fund.

Yet the work, supposed to be finished in March, is lagging far behind schedule. Less than a fourth of the 28,136 apartment units have actually been completed.

In a recent briefing for U.S. officials, Atilio Piraino Filho -- an advisor to the São Paulo municipal government's housing and urban development office -- said that the city's large poverty belt "is a result of immigration to São Paulo from other parts of Brazil, as well as formerly middle-class paulistas moving to slums as a last resort for housing." He said that nearly half of all slum dwellers earn more than four times the minimum salary of $400 a month. "Far from demonstrating economic well-being, however, this figure discloses that many people formerly described as lower middle-class have experienced a decline in their living standards and can no longer afford middle-class housing."

In a nutshell, Maluf's program for verticalization and urbanization of slums involves the regularization and "gentrification" of slum areas by keeping families in their present neighborhoods. The project will provide basic sanitation systems, sewage, electricity, garbage collection and paved roads, and is divided into three phases. According to Piraino Filho, 40% of favela huts will be urbanized; the remaining 60% will be given access to low-interest loans for transforming their huts into brick houses. He says the project will be financially self-sustainable "because families entering the newly constructed units will have to pay a monthly mortgage fee -- approximately $60 -- until the $13,000 cost of each unit is fully amortized over 25 years.

In addition, the rebuilding process is being performed according to population density, type of soil, elimination of dangerous spots, and the establishment of schools, medical facilities and sports centers.

Comments the U.S. Consulate: "The favelas being upgraded under Projeto Cingapura are among the worst in São Paulo. Residents' primary source of drinking water is polluted, there are no sewage systems, and most of the areas are subject to flooding. The favela population strongly supports Projeto Cingapura because it provides improved living conditions, access to sanitation, health care and schools, and will significantly improve the living conditions of thousands of São Paulo residents. In addition, Mayor Maluf can be expected to take credit for the project's eventual success, with an eye to the October 1996 mayoral elections."

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