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Rio's slums attract young, hip European immigrants looking for cheap housing

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) People walk up a steep hill past murals on the walls in favela Vidigal, on September 14, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This favela is gentrifying and attracting foreigners - making rents go up. Favelas are informal settlements, traditionally without electricity, water and sewage services.

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Tatiana Coelho quit her job in Porto, Portugal last year working as a producer at a concert venue. She sold all of her belongings and relocated to Rio de Janeiro to try a new life as an artist, experimenting in various media – especially photography. But it was not the beaches of Ipanema or Copacabana that she could afford. Instead she moved to the foot of a favela, the name that hillside slums are given in Brazil.

On a recent lazy Friday, Ms. Coelho walks up the steep incline that winds through the cheerfully gentrifying collection of simple one- and two-bedroom homes now seen as real estate diamonds in the rough. Only a few years ago this was a dangerous shantytown. Today, she greets the hotdog vendor. The fruit seller hands her a banana. She hugs a small child in school uniform whom she met at the community center where she practices capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.

“There is more humanity here,” she says of the community, called Vidigal, “it is less superficial. This is where, if you need money for the bus, someone will give it to you.”

Coelho is not alone. She estimates that some 50 other foreigners, all European, call the favela home: French, British, Hungarian, German, and Portuguese.

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