Brazil is the fifth largest country on the planet, with a total area of more than three million square miles. Yet ever since the Portuguese settled here some 500 years ago, an outsize number of its residents have struggled for a place to live.
Today the dimensions of Brazil’s housing shortage have reached alarming levels. One-third of Brazil’s families are either homeless or live in poor-quality houses. At the same time, a booming industrial sector and the effects of globalization have pushed the price of land to exorbitant levels.
São Paulo and other major cities have seen the rise of social movements led by activists who occupy abandoned buildings. The owners of these empty properties usually have debts from unpaid taxes that they cannot honor. Many have been forcibly removed from the buildings, but the movement has also gained political momentum lately. The mayor of São Paulo recently announced the purchase of forty buildings that will be turned into popular housing projects. Meanwhile, in more remote rural areas, Brazil’s indigenous people and other impoverished citizens have engaged in similarly hard-fought battles for a place to call home.