29 March 2011

The barriers to entry

As we are all subject to the conditions of what variously passes for modernity, post-modernity, most-modernity, etc., our notions of self are irrevocably buried within the borders and boundaries of the nation-state. I’m not sure that I possess any one object more valuable than my passport. As a foreigner, when asked a question of origins, one typically does not give family or regional affiliations, but rather the nation of birth and/or citizenship. In Brazil, I try to side-step the symbolic colonization of the Americas by USAmerica by saying that I’m a Texano (even though I was born in Vermont and don’t feel particularly Texan). Sometimes people respond with, “Oh, Americano.” Then, begins the discussion of why there is no word in Braziliian Portuguese to refer to a citizen of the United States of America and that everyone born in the Americas could be considered an Americano. In Spanish there is estadounidense, which could also refer to someone from the Estados Unidos de México,  but by the time I get through explaining this no one is listening. In addition to boring people to death, this is a prelude to the conceptual and physical barriers that define our geographic lifeworlds.

As some of you have commented (or not), I am searching for an apartment in Rio de Janeiro in an era of unprecedented demand, scarcity, and cost.  There are multiple and intersecting reasons that explain my increasing state of desperation. In the last post I described the relationship of a fiador to a renter. Having a fiador with documents at the ready is the key that most readily unlocks the black-box of the formal housing market in Rio. BARRIER. That or many hundreds of thousands of Reaís to buy something. BARRIER.

Absent of a fiador, one has to turn to secondary mechanisms of convincing your potential landlord that you are good for the rent. In any case, you have to provide documents that prove you have an income that is directly deposited into a bank. This eliminates most people who make a living in informal economies or who are artists with intermittent spurts of income. BARRIER. In order to guarantee the landlords their increasing rents, most of the corretores (real estate agencies) are in bed with a private firm called Porto Seguro. Porto Seguro will guarantee your rent, but they take their pound of flesh. From what I can figure (and I haven’t gone through the process so can’t get a direct quote), for a typical 30 month contract one pays between 4 and  6 months extra rent. So, if your one bedroom apartment goes for R$1700 a month (US$1000 ish + condo fees +taxes), you will pay Porto Seguro between R$6.800 and R$10.200 to guarantee that you will pay your rent. You will never see this money again. BARRIER. I ask you, what is the incentive to pay rent for the last six months of one’s contract? The wheels of the Brazilian justice system turn very slowly, so by the time they come rolling down your street the contract will be up and you can leave.

There is an option offered by many of the banks in which you do get your money back. I am trying to do this with Banco do Brasil, but it is incumbent upon me to convince the corretores  to convince the propreitário that the carta fiança of BB is as valid as the seguro fiança of Porto Seguro. Why is this difficult other than having to keep a mouthful of technical terms at the ready? Because it is more than likely that the corretores receive a percentage of the money that you are giving to Porto Seguro, so what is their motivation to convince their clients of alternative financing guarantees? BARRIER.

As I scour the paper and zap.com.br and call to schedule visits to apartments,  I’ve been getting good at making a little speech to the corretores about the insanity of the seguro fiança scheme. No one will give me answers about how much money they get from Porto Seguro and will say things like oh senhor esse não está comigo (that has nothing to do with me) when I suggest that Porto Seguro is a mafia and that their company is implicit in perpetrating spatial injustice on a metropolitan scale. Nossa. Then today, I was told that I wasn’t eligible for an apartment because the landlord doesn’t rent to foreigners. BARRIER.  I was able to practice a very different kind of speech on this corretor, the kind of speech I learned in the stadium.

Another BARRIER is conceptual. I am limited by desire to live in a certain part of the city. I have a choice of where to live so don’t want to just live anywhere or in apartamento qualquer. There are plenty of spacious places in Tijuca, Zona Norte, the Baixada Fluminense, Zona Oeste that are affordable and very nice. But I don’t know anybody in those neighborhoods and with the transportation mess in Rio it’s not worth overcoming the spatial BARRIER to go to the university, socialize, see shows, go to the beach, play footy, etc. Even in the geographic regions, neighborhoods, streets, buildings where I would like to live, there are some truly awful places, or apartments that are very nice but out of my price range. I had a great opportunity to take over the lease on a two bedroom place in Laranjeiras, but the rent + condominium fees+tax+bills would have been around R$3000 a month. BARRIER.

So if a university professor is having difficulty entering into the formal housing system of Rio de Janeiro because I lack the personal history, personal wealth, and connections, how difficult must it be for people who don’t have bank accounts getting replenished at the beginning of each month? The incentives to enter the informal market are the pull forces that respond to smashing up against the multiple BARRIERS to entry. That these informal housing solutions are then surrounded by physical BARRIERS (such as the walls around Rocinha and the acoustic BARRIERS along the highways in Maré) begins at tragic-comic-ironic and terminates in their “pacification” by the Military Police. The possibilities of entering the informal housing market are open to everyone but it is rarely accomplished under the conditions of one’s choosing.

The key that really unlocks the black box of finding an apartment so that one can begin to surmount all of the above mentioned BARRIERS appears to be personal conversations with porteiros. The BARRIER here is that one has to have the time to run around the city, going to the neighborhoods, streets, and buildings where one would like to live and have conversations with the people that work in the building. If you manage to find something, you can put your feet in the blocks and race the other people to the corretor to see who can file their paperwork first.   

Back to where I began, our notions of self and belonging are not only bound and determined by the socio-political-spatial conditions of the nation-state, but by the ways in which we move through space and the conceptual frameworks that structure that movement. This movement is in large part determined by our ability and willingness (sacrifice, desperation, need) to overcome spatial, temporal, or social BARRIERS. I can live here or there, more or less well, formally or informally because I have the resources and knowledge and passport that give me nearly acrobatic spatial facilities.  To choose where one wants to live is a luxury, but is complicated and defined by many of the same problems and BARRIERS that define relationships of class, race, and power.  


Kike said...

Chris why not just go ahead and buy an apartment? If you are a renter who will not destroy the place and will stay there for a few years, you will probably be better off anyway.

The Danish rental market is also full of BARRIERS, so I just said to hell with it and bought a place (which required taking over a bank loan) after one year of living here and a couple of months of frustration. Apparently the key here is "knowing people," kind of like your porteiro deal.

And to be fair, when I lived in the US in an apartment managed by a rental agency, I actually had to get my dad (?!) to be a "co-signer" before they would give it to me. But otherwise it was a lot easier over there.

In general, it seems like being a foreigner puts you on the losing side of the rental market.

Dr. Christopher Gaffney said...

Thanks for the comment Kike. I would like to buy a place, but the prices have doubled since November of 2009. A modest one bedroom flat is in the R$350.000 range. Too much for someone that spent one year living on savings while trying to overcome the bureaucratic BARRIERS to entry into the formal labor market. This is the worst it has even been in Rio in terms of real-estate availablity and price gouging. There's a bubble that will burst, but it will not likely be as devastating as what happened (and is happening)in the USA.

BuddhaWake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angel Pereira said...

I'm sure prices are way over inflated because of all the going ons in the upcoming years and inflation. is bound to burst but if its like the US, then the barriers to secure something would be higher since everyone would be too paranoid to lose money. I'm also surprised that it being an american doesn't have an advatage by people assuming that you must have money since you are a norteamericano.

Funny about the americano thing, since I'm Puerto Rican and it seems that everywhere else I'm americano but when I try to tell them that I'm really not then I have to explain 100 years of Puerto Rican/US history so in places where it might be to my advantage not be from the US I can't get away with it.

BTW, loved your book. Great read, looking forward to your future works.

Dr. Christopher Gaffney said...

Thanks Angel! I'm trying to get something out the door asap, but I think it's likely to be an academic article and then translating my book into Portuguese. but there are a few other books in the works.


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