The Latin America and the Caribbean region of BWI recently intervened in the international process of construction of human rights based housing policies initiated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. BWI took the opportunity to insert a couple of strategic organizational priorities into the Thematic Report of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations at its upcoming 37th Session.
Brazil has one of the world's largest housing deficits. Quantitative and qualitative housing deficits that are so large that they are similar only to India and South Africa. Most recent studies point to a quantitative housing deficit of more than 6 million households. That means that almost 20 million Brazilians are homeless, representing about 10% of the population of the entire country.
The housing deficit is a reality in all regions of the country, including in the centers of the largest cities with the most developed infrastructure, such as São Paulo, with a deficit of over 230 thousand units. According to the municipal governments of two of Brazil's richest cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, more than 15,000 people sleep on the streets of each of these cities every single night.
It is in this context that BWI highlighted the absolute necessity of (re)starting the more than 15,000 construction projects all over the country that have approved (but not transferred) funding. According to Bebeto Galvão, regional vice-president of BWI Latin America and the Caribbean, "paralyzed construction projects cause incalculable losses, stop generating jobs and income for workers in the sector, do not provide improvements and social benefits and create serious problems of deterioration, which in the end, represent huge sums of public money thrown away." Stalled construction work affects the entire community, which sees their properties and small businesses devalue or go bankrupt.
In response to this dramatic situation, many Brazilians participate in occupations. The Movement of Homeless Workers - MTST has led occupations in many of the largest Brazilian cities. The MTST is a movement that organizes urban workers where they live: in the peripheries of large Brazilian cities. Brazilian urbanization is marked by deep social and spatial segregation, creating two different types of cities in the same space: on the one hand, areas where services and infrastructure necessary for a dignified urban life are concentrated (transport, lighting, sanitation, public safety etc.), while in the peripheries millions of people live in highly precarious conditions. Precarious in every sense.
In view of the above, the BWI requested that the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing give particular attention to the occupation by 10,000 families of workers in an area with 60,000m2 in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, State of São Paulo, Brazil. As a global union of construction workers, we support the São Bernardo occupation for two main reasons: First, many of the families living there are workers in our sector who build homes for others and yet have nowhere to live themselves. Second, because meeting the central demand of building housing on the site would have an immediate employment generation effect for many of those living there.
Considering the immense social dimension of the problem and the immediate risks to which the occupants and their families are exposed, BWI suggested that the matter be brought immediately to the attention of the countries that make up the human rights system of the United Nations, in order to move quickly towards a solution that meets housing and employment needs.
The full text of BWI’s contribution to the process is available on the UN’s website here.