Battle for downtown Sao Paulo pits squatters against mayor

AP News | 7/12/2017 | Staff
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SAO PAULO (AP) — It was around midnight when eight young men with crowbars tried to force open the large gray metal double doors of a building on a tree-lined street in Sao Paulo’s dilapidated downtown.

About 100 people gathered around, some shouting advice: “Pull up now! Try lower! Lower!”

Doors - Way - Police - Gas - Group

But before the doors could give way, the police arrived, launching tear gas at the group who responded by throwing rocks, leading to an hour of cat-and-mouse confrontations before the crowd finally dispersed.

It was a small battle in a broader struggle for the future of downtown Sao Paulo, where squatters occupy abandoned buildings to press for more affordable housing, and the city’s new mayor, Joao Doria, dreams of a gleaming, largely privately financed renewal that will draw businesses and residents back to the city’s historic heart.

Men - Crowd - Front - Fight - Housing

The young men and the crowd that cheered them on were organized by the Front for the Fight for Housing, a group that argues that the landlords of vacant and deteriorating abandoned structures are breaking a law that requires buildings to serve a “social function.” They say those buildings could offer quality housing in a prime location well connected by public transport to people who are often forced to live on the city’s periphery.

Fair-housing groups now occupy about 80 previously empty properties downtown, according to the city’s Housing Department. Thousands of people, mostly families, have made their homes in buildings that include hotels, a textile company’s offices and an old federal police headquarters.

Administrations - Buildings - Plans - Housing

Previous administrations pledged to purchase some of the occupied buildings, and plans are underway to renovate them for legal, subsidized housing.

The battle goes to the heart of competing visions for the megacity. On the one hand, Sao Paulo is the engine of Brazil’s economy and a leading financial center. Doria, who has called the condition...
(Excerpt) Read more at: AP News
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