The Inspiring Story of Self-, Collectively-, Women-Built Public Housing in Rio: The Esperança Condominium is Ready

Camila Nobrega, translated by Kayla Boisvert
Rio On Watch
July 13, 2015

Mother and daughter in Esperança.For the original in Portuguese by Camila Nobrega, published in Canal Ibase, click here

In the doorway of one of the houses under construction in the Condomínio Esperança (Hope Condominium)—built by the housing cooperative by the same name in the Juliano Moreira neighborhood in Rio’s West Zone—three pairs of black boots covered in mud announce that Sunday is a synonym for hard work. In the living room, still lacking furniture, three smiling faces wait to speak. Maria do Carmo Martins—also known affectionately as Carminha—Maria Ribamar Figueiredo Freitas, and Vanilsa Queiroz Motta quickly begin to talk about the site’s construction project, while they let the weight of exhaustion overcome them. “It was four years of a lot of work, a lot of production and little rest, but I am proud to say that I built every little piece of my house. I am going to fight much more to make this place a special place to live,” says Ribamar, who is a manicurist and caretaker of the elderly.

Over the past four years, along with her Monday-to-Friday job in a beauty salon and nursing homes, Ribamar contributed 17 hours every week so that the Esperança housing collective project could become a reality. Within her family, she only had the help of her teenage granddaughter, who will live with her. She also received help from other future residents, whose sense of solidarity grew over the course of their work.

Along with Maria do Carmo and Vanilsa, Ribamar is part of a group of 70 families who will soon arrive at the site with suitcases and many ideas. As soon as the residence is approved, they will move to the Esperança condominium, built entirely by its own residents. In reality, it was mostly built by women, female heads of households, as Vanilsa points out. “If my house is now standing and beautiful, it was because of my work, because I put aside my vanity and leisure in recent years,” she says, showing her nails, dirty with grease, and her hair tied back, “and because of the help of the women. Of course, the men helped too, but Esperança is being born out of a lot of hard work by the women—those who are single, like me, and also those who are married but don’t have the support of their husbands. It was us women who did the dirty work.” Vanilsa, who works as an administrative assistant, is moving from Taquara to the new condominium in Juliano Moreiraneighborhood, where she will no longer have to pay R$420 (US$135) rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

Brick by brick, the houses went up these past few years in a collective fashion. Cement, wiring, finishing. Everything done by hand by future owners of the homes, the majority of them without prior experience in building. The knowledge also came from within the collective.

Carminha, Maria Ribamar, and Vanilsa.

Esperança will be the first housing cooperative launched in Rio de Janeiro with resources from the Minha Casa Minha Vida-Entidades program, created in 2009 by the federal government and still little known in the majority of Brazilian states. Linked to the National Secretary of Housing of the Ministry of Cities with resources from Caixa Econômica federal bank, Entidades arose after much struggle by social movements for the right to housing, with the objective of making this right accessible to families organized through housing cooperatives and associations. In practice, the proposal is to promote self-management and make it possible for residents themselves to take part in the whole process of planning and building the housing projects, in contrast to what happens in the traditional process of the [much-criticized mass-production model of the] Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV) program.

The beneficiary families have monthly incomes between R$0 and R$1,600. A monthly contribution is calculated according to the income each family declares at the beginning of construction and begins the moment the family moves to the new home. Everyone will continue making monthly payments for over the next ten years.

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