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Sao Paulo slum morphed into vibrant community

SAO PAULO, Brazil--New hope is sprouting near a future Brazil 2014 World Cup stadium, where a once crime-ridden shantytown has emerged as a vibrant community with skyrocketing property values.

Emerging powerhouse Brazil faces a daunting task in providing decent housing for its millions of urban poor, many of whom languish in slums, known as favelas, on the periphery of major cities.

But in Sao Paulo, the country's most populous and wealthiest state, increased funding and close monitoring has transformed some of these once drug-infested favelas.

A showcase of that policy is Uniao de Vila Nova, a neighborhood of 32,000 people located 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the Sao Paulo city center.

Like many other shantytowns across Brazil, Uniao de Vila Nova was created illegally, by people who, unable to afford city rents, cobbled together squalid, wooden shacks in risky or environmentally-protected areas.

But in place of the rickety homes — once routinely swept away by the flood waters of the nearby Tiete Tiver during the rainy season — the 1-million-square meter (10.7 million square feet) area has morphed into a clean, safe and proud community.

The changes began a decade ago, when authorities launched a program to “urbanize” the favelas. They helped residents upgrade their homes and brought in basic services such as running water, paved roads, electricity and public transport.

The results have been striking.

“We have not had any murder in six years, while we used to have four a day in the 1990s,” says community leader Geraldo de Pindola Melo.

Melo migrated here in 1984 from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, joining the 6 percent of 42 million people in Sao Paulo who live in shantytowns.

The 42-year-old now lives with his wife and four children in a small, brightly colored house that he built and upgraded over the years, with help from the Sao Paulo state housing agency CDHU.

“This is a very cohesive, stable community,” he told AFP.

Today, the neighborhood has seven schools, three daycare centers, regular trash collection, a local soccer league with 28 teams and a recycling cooperative employing 36 trash pickers, most of them women.

Residents also have a handicraft workshop, a gardening school equipped with a greenhouse and a factory where rehabilitated drug addicts come to make vuvuzelas, the noise-making trumpets popularized by South African soccer fans during the last World Cup.

A new train station is set to open early next year, while a technical college will soon be built and residents hope to get a new mini-hospital soon.

Throughout the neighborhood, residents, beaming with pride, showed off new, well-equipped apartments, built with CDHU funding, and rented for 15 percent of their income.

Others who own their homes were contributing to a beehive of construction activity as they upgraded or expanded their brick and concrete dwellings.

“We have 3,010 families living in new vertical apartment blocks funded by CDHU, while 5,300 families live in their own urbanized homes,” said Valkaria Marques de Paula, a CDHU official.

Property Values Skyrocketing

Valeria Araujo da Silva, the local urbanization secretary, has seen the transformation of her neighborhood since she moved to Uniao de Vila Nova 16 years ago.

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A boy helps to crop vegetables in a public garden built within the upgrading favela project by the Sao Paulo state housing agency CDHU at Uniao de Vila Nova, in eastern Sao Paulo, Brazil on Aug. 23. New hope is sprouting near a future Brazil 2014 World Cup stadium, where a once crime-ridden shantytown has emerged as a vibrant community with skyrocketing property values.(AFP)

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