Housing deficit makes “vertical isolation” impossible, Brazilian researchers say | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Housing deficit makes “vertical isolation” impossible, Brazilian researchers say Research by the FAPESP-funded Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM) shows that it is not feasible to separate high-risk groups in low-income communities, where the majority of the Brazilian population live. The problem is especially acute in the Southeast region, with metropolitan São Paulo displaying the largest deficit (photo: Paraisópolis favela in metropolitan São Paulo / Vilar Rodrigo, Wikimedia Commons)

Housing deficit makes “vertical isolation” impossible, Brazilian researchers say

April 15, 2020

By José Tadeu Arantes  |  Agência FAPESP – In the context of the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), so-called “vertical isolation” consisting of quarantine only for high-risk groups (over-60s and people with chronic diseases, among others), with no restrictions on mobility for the rest of the population, has been contraindicated by health authorities worldwide. 

In a country with widespread poverty and deficient infrastructure like Brazil, selective social isolation is particularly inappropriate because high-risk groups cannot be separated in low-income communities. 

“Older people and people with chronic diseases share cramped living spaces with family members and even other families, often sleeping in the same room,” Marta Arretche, a professor in the University of São Paulo’s Political Science Department, told Agência FAPESP

Arretche heads the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM), one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) funded by FAPESP.

Overcrowding, with more than three people sharing a bedroom and/or two or more families sharing the same dwelling unit, reflects a housing deficit that makes any such “vertical” arrangement a non-starter.

Up-to-date numbers are hard to come by. The last national census was conducted in 2010 by IBGE, the national bureau of statistics. The next one should take place this year but has been postponed owing to the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, Fundação João Pinheiro, a think tank from the government of the state of Minas Gerais, produced a study based on IBGE’s national household sample survey (PNAD) for 2015.

“According to this survey, the housing deficit in Brazil then stood at 6,356,000 dwelling units, with overcrowded bedrooms accounting for 5.2% of the shortfall and multifamily units for 29.9%,” said Eduardo Marques, also a professor in the University of São Paulo’s Political Science Department and a researcher at CEM.

The problem is especially acute in the favelas, where about 11.4 million people lived at the time of the 2010 census. The housing deficit as defined by Fundação João Pinheiro is not limited to favelas and does not necessarily include all buildings in these communities, where habitability varies considerably, but encompasses low-income districts generally, as well as poor enclaves in middle- or upper-income neighborhoods.

“Counterintuitively, the Southeast has the largest deficit even though it’s Brazil’s wealthiest region. It’s also the region with the highest number of reported cases of the disease. The metropolitan areas top the list, with deficits of about 640,000, 340,000 and 159,000 dwelling units in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte respectively. In these areas, so-called vertical isolation is impossible in practice,” Marques said.
 

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