Updated: Friday, 09 May 2014 10:52 | By Agence France-Presse

Sao Paulo slum stark contrast with swanky stadium

The People's Cup is the ironic name given to a new favela springing up almost in the shadow of the brand new Corinthians Arena, host for the opening game of the World Cup in Sao Paulo on June 12.

Sao Paulo slum stark contrast with swanky stadium

Copa do Povo camp is seen in eastern Sao Paulo, Brazil, where about 1,500 families of the Workers Without a Roof Movement (MTST) live, near the Arena Corinthians football stadium, on May 5, 2014 - by Nelson Almeida

A dusty patch of stony land with just a few trees dotted around for a nod to nature, the slum is a huge contrast to the hundreds of millions spent at the swanky stadium and other investments in the Cup.

A few miles from the futuristic stands of the new stadium, slum dwellers eke out an existence as they battle to put a makeshift but affordable roof over their heads.

Hundreds of families decrying property speculation in Brazil's giant business metropolis staged a protest at the site last Saturday. 

Residents organized the rally around the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), three days after some 1,000 MTST demonstrators clashed with police over delays in expanding affordable housing in the Sao Paulo metro area.

The mayor's office has conceded that the sprawling city of some 11 million is short of around 700,000 housing units.

The MTST is furious that Brazil's leftist government has spent billions of dollars on World Cup preparations rather than attending to the country's huge social and infrastructural needs.

"This land has lain empty for 40 years and we came to occupy it as every family needs a home," says Patricia Siqueira.

"These are the great contrasts in Brazil, which wants to show itself as a perfect country" during the World Cup, she says.

"But it isn't as we lack health, education and housing," MTST member Siqueira tells AFP.

The group said last weekend that Cup investments "are not reaching the people who need them most" while around a billion reais ($450 million) has been spent on the stadium.

"Families occupying the site are living in areas of risk, slum areas or are unable to pay rents owing to property speculation resulting from the construction of the stadium which will host the opening of the Cup."

By Monday, more than 1,500 families were at the site in eastern Sao Paulo and organizers of the protest expect more yet.

- Occupy the stadium -

All around, children can be spotted playing in makeshift playgrounds while their parents set up makeshift accommodation out of poles, canvas and plastic. 

"We ought to go and live in the stadium -- there we'd have toilets," says Jose Ferreira, 50, only half jokingly as he queues up for food.

Many taking part in the illegal occupation of the site share the views of Ferreira, who suffered a stroke several years ago and is unable to work.

The people say they love football but think the state should help them just as it has dug deep to invest in the World Cup.

"That's why we call this the People's Cup -- we want to highlight social inequality in Brazil. And because the Cup is not ours -- but this is," says Siqueira.

The new stadium meanwhile stands, not quite finished after a series of accidents and delays, in the distance,  a multimillion monument to a World Cup spending frenzy which saw the bill come in 18 percent over initial budget.

The overall Cup budget nationwide is more than $11 billion and that has sparked months of public protests.

- Put the pressure on -     

A group of women in the nascent slum spread over some 200,000 square metres prepare a meal of white rice with beans and sausage stew. Nearby, a banner reads "for dignified housing."

Families here hail from this side of town, many who have been living in extended families or who just cannot afford spiralling rents.

Patricia Alves, 40 and a mother of four, earns barely $410 a month.

Her rent is $350. 

"I came here with my sister and our kids. I look after them during the day and she does at night," she told AFP.

"This is the only way to put pressure on to get housing -- that's what we are fighting for," she says.

As they construct their temporary shacks the slum residents say they are urging the city hall authorities to build more housing.

Sao Paulo is Brazil's biggest and richest city -- but prices of accommodation have shot up in World Cup year.

"We're good with the World Cup and the stadiums -- but we want houses too," says Patricia.

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