RIO DE JANEIRO – Living in a “favela,” or shantytown, in Rio de Janeiro is an option that has been gaining ground in recent years among foreign residents looking to sidestep the exorbitant rents or get closer to the “authentic” Rio.
The “fad” of living in the huge slums began in 2008, when the government began its program of “pacifying” the favelas by installing Police Pacification Units (UPP) in the communities, especially in southern Rio’s Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema neighborhoods.
Although the UPP presence has not managed to eliminate violence in those areas, and it has shot up in recent months, the rents in a tourist zone like Copacabana have skyrocketed to $650 for a room in a shared apartment and this has contributed to the flow of foreigners into the favelas, which are not much farther from the beach than the wealthier areas.
Larissa Lourenço, who rents an apartment in Pavão-Pavãozinho, told EFE that she pays 900 reais ($290) for an unfurnished two-room apartment in the favela including a bathroom, US-style kitchen and porch, just half of what an average apartment costs only three streets over, in the better-off section.
Nearby, in Cantagalo, Raphael Rodriguez rents a little house with one bedroom, a living room and kitchen for 1,000 reais and said that although “shootouts happen in the favela,” they are “sporadic” and “normal.”
However, Joaquin, a 22-year-old Spanish student, said the problem is more serious in Babilonia, with it being normal to see armed drug traffickers out in public and to hear gunfire, and although “nobody’s going to attack you,” the fact is that you could “get caught in a shootout.”
The latest police figures indicate that the number of shootouts in favelas with UPP stations has skyrocketed from 13 in 2011 to 1,555 last year, and murders in Rio totaled 502 in February 2017, 24.3 percent more than during the same month last year.