Sao Paulo, Brazil – Four-year-old Miguel jumps from one sofa cushion to another, his dark curly hair bouncing around his face, as his father talks to a neighbour outside their one-room home. A small, boxy television set shows the news, a single window in the corner sits above a double bed.
Miguel and his father, Cleber, are among the last families living in the historic Prestes Maia, an abandoned building in the heart of the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo that has been occupied by housing rights activists since 2002. Today, the 22-storey high-rise is about to be vacated and transformed into social housing for the families who have squatted here over the last few years.
“It’s wonderful; it’s a big win,” Cleber, who did not provide a last name, tells Al Jazeera. “I came here four or five years ago. It was really good to live here, [with] the opportunities it brought us. There is really no other alternative.”
Sao Paulo is the de facto financial capital of Brazil, known for its lush architecture, upscale restaurants and exclusive neighbourhoods. But another part of town, hidden in plain sight, reflects the city’s deep housing crisis, along with the systemic racism and social inequality that plague this region.
As Latin America’s biggest city, Sao Paulo has failed for decades to solve its severe housing crisis. More than 1.2 million people are in need of adequate housing and, according to figures on the rate of construction provided to Al Jazeera by the city council in 2018, it would take 200 years to have enough social housing for everyone in need.
Against this backdrop, thousands of people have organised into squatting movements, taking matters into their own hands by occupying dozens of buildings across the city, including the Prestes Maia.