RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — When it rains, the dirt floor of the home where Taina Ferreira lives with her three small children turns to mud, and the contents of the open sewer that cuts in front of her front door sweep into the house.
Ferreira, a 25-year-old single mother who works odd jobs as a maid, is one of an estimated 220,000 Rio de Janeiro residents trapped by the city's chronic housing deficit. Rio, which is hosting the 2016 Olympics, is in the throes of a real estate boom that has seen rental prices in some areas spiral to New York or Paris levels.
But there are simply not enough affordable houses to meet demand in this city of 12 million.
So when Ferreira and her neighbors in the Terra Prometida, or Promised Land, slum saw that a low-income housing project that went up nearby was empty, they decided to take it over.
Several hundred families carried their possessions — including washing machines, refrigerators and mattresses — the approximately 200 meters (yards) that separate the slum from the multistory housing project.
Ferreira and her kids moved into an apartment on the ground floor this month. But their stay would prove brief.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes insisted the squatters had to go through the proper channels to receive public housing and he ordered the group to leave. After 10 days in the project, the squatters lugged their possession back to the slum.
"Now, we are going back to live like animals," Ferreira said as squatters left the building under the eyes of several hundred police officers. "I have an open sewer at the door and also I have to keep away my kids from the rats."
"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said.
Similar dramas play out across Rio state on a near-daily basis. In late October, the Homeless Workers Movement helped organize the invasion of an empty lot in the impoverished suburb of Sao Goncalo, where some 700 people set up tents and built rudimentary lean-tos.
"I can't rent a place to live because I only have a minimum wage from my retirement," said squatter Nilton Santos, 60.
Less than a month after the initial take-over, Santos and his fellow squatters abandoned the lot after officials promised to include them in an upcoming housing project.