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Rio Olympic Village to become luxury apartments after the Games, despite city’s affordable-housing crisis

(AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Rio de Janeiro is facing an enormous affordable-housing crisis, which isn’t being helped by Brazil’s preparation for the 2016 Olympics. In fact, the Games might be making the problem worse.

According to a Boston Globe report from December, about 220,000 Rio de Janeiro residents do not have a proper place to live. But now comes word that the Brazilian government plans on turning the Olympic village into 3,600 luxury apartments that will sell for up to 2.3 million Brazilian reals ($700,000).

The Associated Press has more:

The lavish layout — called “Ilha Pura” (Pure Island) — should pamper thousands of athletes in Barra da Tijuca, the western Rio suburb that’s the centerpiece of the games.
It also reinforces complaints that South America’s first games are being run by powerful construction and real estate interests, oblivious to the city’s sprawling favelas (slums) and stark inequality.
The village is mammoth: It has 31 17-floor towers with 10,160 bedrooms that will sleep 18,000 athletes and staff for the Olympics.
“All of the visitors here, the ex-athletes and athletes who know many villages, say this village is amazing,” said Mauricio Cruz Lopes, the chief executive officer of Ilha Pura, in an interview with The Associated Press. “We are doing our best to convince all the 10,000 athletes to stay in this village and avoid staying in hotels.”

Just a short walk from the Olympic Village sits the newly created Olympic Square, which sits on land that once was occupied by one of Rio’s notorious favelas, slum-like dwellings with little in the way of security or basic sanitation. Ninety percent of the favela was destroyed to make way for the Olympic Square, the AP reports, with a few families still resisting eviction.

In 2013, Forbes reported that 1.4 million Rio residents live in the favelas. If those people formed their own city, it would be the ninth largest in Brazil.

Those people are unlikely to get much benefit from the Games, one researcher told the AP:

Christopher Gaffney, who spent 5 1/2 years in Rio researching the 2014 World Cup and Olympics, called the village “a transfer of wealth program from the public (treasury) to private construction firms.”
“Beyond the floodlights, the Olympics are always about real-estate speculation in the local context and Rio, with its already major problems of housing stock and social polarity, is definitely no exception,” said Gaffney, an American who teaches geography at the University of Zurich.

The situation in Rio sits in contrast to what has happened in London, where the Olympic Village for the 2012 Games has been retrofitted to become a massive residential area in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Of the 2,818 new apartments that were created, 1,379 were reserved for low-income Londoners. According to the AP, that program has faced obstacles, as some of the affordable housing is still too expensive for many people.