Living in a favela in Rio de Janeiro

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When I first arrived in Brazil, I settled in a rented room near my office. After a few months, I had to move and I wondered how to find another place to live. There were two main options: to rent a room in an apartment with an elevator and an address or to live in a favela in a separate apartment. The price of a studio in a nearby favela was approximately equal to the price for a rented room in an ordinary house.

Of all the factors that could have influenced my choice, independence from neighbors was my priority, so I went on a quest in the favela.

How to rent an apartment in a favela?

The search looks like this: you go to a favela that you liked and start asking everyone in a row if they or someone from their acquaintances rent out an apartment. You have been kicked for a long time from Pedro to Anne-Carolina, from Anne-Carolina to João, from João to Louise and, if you’re lucky, you will eventually find something that you like.

favela rio

My main selection criteria were:

  • not very high rise (a large number of steps to the apartment along the numerous lanes significantly reduces the price, unless this is an apartment with a stunning ocean view).
  • reasonable renovation
  • fair price

Advantages of living in a favela

Another plus of living in a favela is that the owners almost never ask for a deposit or a guarantor (a guarantor can be a person who has his own property in Rio and is ready to vouch for you in writing if you do something with a rented apartment. in an unfamiliar country is not easy). Why is there no deposit? Firstly, there is no furniture that can be broken, and secondly, in favelas, people with lower than average income rent apartments, so if you overstate the bar and ask for a lot, you risk getting nothing at all.
So, literally on the second day of searching, I found my separate studio apartment right on the main street, just on the second (conditional) floor and for quite reasonable money. Everything turned out very simple. I met the owner, looked at the apartment, paid for the first month, and moved on the same day. My happiness knew no bounds. But the favelas, or as they are called in Brazilian “communidages”, have their own characteristics, which I want to talk about. You should know favela rules!

Disadvantages of living in a favela

The favela where I lived is very small and borders one of the most prestigious districts of Gavea. It is called Vila Parque Cidade.

If you look at it on Google maps, you will notice there are not any numbers on the houses.


A few years ago, the buildings did not even appear on the map, while the satellite image clearly showed that there are a lot of buildings. There are only two streets on the map, and they outline the favela around the perimeter. But in fact, it is dotted with streets and stairs that twist and twist from the foot to the top of the hill, allowing you to get into even the most remote nooks and crannies. What’s the secret here?


The thing is that these buildings are semi-legal, that is, at some point, some person saw a piece of land (there was nothing on it) and decided to build a house. He laid his first brick there and automatically became its owner. But in fact, the bureaucratic process of approving an already built house can take years, or even decades, that is, it is officially believed that there is no house until all the formalities with its registration have been settled, that is, there is no address either. And since a huge number of such houses were built in the 70s in large cities throughout the country, no one wanted to bother with the approval of all of them, and the bureaucracy in Brazil is still. So they stayed: there are houses and people live in them, but there are not houses for the government. Before the widespread digitalization, this was not even a particular problem: conditional (unofficial) names for streets and house numbers still existed, and letters and parcels came to the general post office, where you could pick them up yourself. Or they were carried by the local postman, who knew the favela like the back of his hand.

If it was necessary to indicate an address in a bank or at work, they wrote it by hand and no one went into details about its “officiality”. But with the advent of computers in our life, all addresses began to be checked in a common database by index. That is, if the address itself does not appear in the input line when you enter the index, you will not be able to drive it in by force, the system simply will not let you do it.

Water interruptions

Another common problem in favelas is systematic water shutdowns. Despite the lack of an address, water is supplied to these settlements with the same regularity as to all others, but in order for it to get into an apartment, it must be “raised” to a certain height under pressure. For this purpose, pumps are installed in each house, which several times a day are turned on by someone and fill special tanks installed on the roof of each house.

water in favela

And already from the tank, water enters the apartments.

Also, each favela has a main pump, which is responsible for supplying water to local pumps.

It was with this pump that something unimaginable was happening when I lived in Parque da Sidade. It broke almost once every week.

The first time he overheated in the sun, the second he ran out of gasoline and nowhere else in the area was there such a special fuel. In the third, some important detail was broken and we waited it from the USA. In general, it was repaired and after a week or two everything was repeated again. Meanwhile, the entire favela were without water. People bought water in cylinders or watered themselves from bottles. Imagine all this in a 40-degree heat, and in addition to this, you have to cook, wash the dishes and flush in the toilet, and often people do not live one by one, but in two, three or large families. I had to go to wash up to my friends, to the gym shower at the university or to neighbors who lived down the slope below me and the problem of pumps did not concern them so sharply.

favela rio

My personal experience in living in the favela

I made up my own addresses to be able to open a bank account, conduct the Internet or register with the federal police. Sometimes I forgot the number of my fictitious house and in the next instance came up with another one. So I accumulated about five different addresses, so that I myself was completely confused later where I called which address (and when you call the bank, they often check the authenticity of your identity on a number of questions, among them is your home address, once I was even suspected of fraud and the bank blocked my account).

And with the popularization of online shopping, this has generally become a serious problem. It looks like this. You order a delivery to fictitious address, which is located approximately next to your house. In the message, you indicate that courier should call at the entrance and then I will go out to meet the courier. In fact, it works even worse. After the courier has pretty much driven through the streets in the favela, because your message has not reached him, an operator from the central office calls you and informs you that the courier has a dead phone / zero balance / some other problems and he cannot call, but if you show the operator some landmark (bamboo tree / red gate / rusty post) – they will describe this place to him and there you can meet. After another half hour of such ordeals, the meeting, if you’re lucky, will take place and he will hand you the longed-for purchase.

As a result, I lived in the favela for 4 months and said no, I will no longer live here

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