Imagine that you are a low-income person living in Brazil.
Prior to 2009, your chances of accessing quality housing were slim to none. You and your family had no other choice but to live in (at best) subpar housing in a favela, sometimes even having to share already limited space with other people.
Then, you were given hope when the federal government announced a housing credit plan called Minha Casa Minha Vida (My House, My Life).
Even though you still lived in a historically vulnerable area plagued by violence and poverty, you were now assisted by the government and did not provide a down payment given that 1) you were a first-time housing assistance beneficiary, 2) you were not a homeowner and 3) you fit the income limit requirements. OK deal, right?
Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV) was created with the goal of resolving Brazil’s housing deficit by constructing 1 million new homes by 2016, thereby also creating over 1 million jobs. An implicit expectation was that state and local decision makers would band together to implement the gathering of funds, land donation, infrastructure, tax reductions and demand accumulation.
The Ministry of Cities recently estimated that 7.6 million people are currently living in MCMV residences: an unprecedented housing assistance aggregate investment of R$ 241.3 billion.
Apart from overwhelmingly high fixed and variable costs of meeting demand, an ongoing concern for the supposed beneficiaries of MCMV is that a significant number of them live in historically unsecured favelas – the cheapest and most appealing locations to build – where they are dangerously susceptible to illegal occupation of (their) apartments, and correlated drug trafficking and violence.
The Ministry of Justice has received over 100 complaints, mapped here, from MCMV residents across sixteen states. Not only do 70% of these cases involve the presence of drug traffickers; but also, said traffickers have resorted to threats, attacks and even homicide to obtain the homes.
One case in Rio resulted in the arrest of 21 gang members who were making R$ 1 million per month by collecting taxes, making sales and enforcing rent from six MCMV complexes. The punishment for residents who did not comply? A harsh beating, or death.
In this vein, occupation of apartments now constitutes the second-most prevalent complaint after trafficking – clarifying the correlation between occupations and drug crime.
All of this leads to the question of whether a policy meant to empower populations marginalized from the basic need of housing, has actually made life worse for those populations by adding fire to the proverbial flame of a security crisis?
Something important to note is that the abovementioned complaints reflect a new (Ministry of Justice) Group’s outreach in an effort to ‘develop integrated action with security organs about illicit conduct within the scope of housing programs put into place’ by policymakers.
Addressing the problem of too much freedom for construction firms in deciding where to build, a Ministry official coordinating the Group recently commented that the government needs to be more involved in the design-side implementation of the program to diminish the capitalizing on vulnerable areas.
A sociologist at the Institute for Labor and Society also identifies issues of administration of the program’s complexes as precursors to security issues. Informal payment arrangements along with inexperienced residents serving as building managers make the residences vulnerable to criminal acquisition and control.
In fact, the additional income insecurity and consequent unmanageable needs of residents sometimes leads to the desirability of new people in charge – the militias or traffickers. This issue highlights the need for more support for residents and managers through expanded program financing (currently constituting no more than 2% of initial investments).
An integrated response is certainly necessary, as it is no coincidence that notable portions of complaints were in states like Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and São Paulo that face high levels of myriad other social welfare issues like drought.
As an actual low-income Brazilian reliant on the program commented recently, “the only right you have [as things now stand] is to keep your mouth shut” and obey – in their particular case – the local militia. “When they want to play, they kill people with a sledgehammer.”
 Novais, Andréa. “Introduction to the Brazilian Housing Program Minha Casa, Minha Vida.” The Brazil Business, October 6, 2011. http://thebrazilbusiness.com/article/introduction-to-the-brazilian-housing-program-minha-casa-minha-vida
 Rogero, Tiago. “Minha Casa Minha Vida tem denúncia de tráfico, milícia e invasão.” Estadão, January 4, 2015. http://m.estadao.com.br/noticias/brasil,minha-casa-minha-vida-tem-denuncia-de-trafico-milicia-e-invasao,1615122,0.htm
 “Expulsos do ‘Minha Casa, Minha Vida’ milícia no Rio denunciam mortes.” Globo, July 4, 2014.