Sempre Jardim Edite

The Jardim Edite favela, located at the foot of the landmark Estaiada bridge in an affluent section of Sao Paulo, Brazil, was once home to more than  550 families.  All are gone now, as the government of Sao Paulo has forced them to leave their homes to make room for a new development.

Many of the residents of Jardim Edite came from the countryside, many from poor rural communities in the North, seeking opportunity in the bright lights of the city. They built their homes first out of scrap wood and cardboard and whatever else they could find, but over the years some of the homes have grown into reinforced concrete structures with running water and electricity.

The neighborhood was home to several bars and restaurants, a barber shop and beauty salon, a bicycle repair shop and several other businesses. Other residents supported their families working for businesses outside the favela, many worked long hours collecting recyclables to take to a nearby sorting facility.

City officials have long wanted to remove the ramshackle homes that make up Jardim Edite to build a modern housing development. In September of 2008, a court order sealed the fate of this tight-knit community when a state tribunal judge said the project could go forward and the occupants should be evicted.

An architectural drawing, posted in the window of a nearby building used as a base for the social workers, demolition crews and others hired by the government to work on the project, shows eight new buildings with a park in the center. Government officials declined repeated requests for interviews about the specifics of the planned development project or a proposed time frame for its construction.

Some residents, those who were previously registered with the city as official occupants of the favela, are eligible for rent subsidies or cash payouts if they leave their homes.  But these payouts are often not sufficient to find suitable housing , so many families end up moving to other favelas.  Meanwhile, the neighborhood, where some have lived for more than 30 years, is slowly being demolished.
This story is part of a larger project focusing on life in the world’s urban squatter communities. While much is written about the crime and poverty endemic to squatter settlements, the realities of everyday life are often lost in the headlines. Many squatters are hard-working citizens who, through lack of education or poor job opportunities, are forced to work in low-paying jobs and do not earn enough to rent or purchase a legal home. The vast majority are not criminals and are merely looking for a safe place to live. As one squatter living under high-tension power lines in a favela in Sao Paulo told me, “my dream is to have a legal address”.