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Promoting the Right to Housing to protect people and life in urban environments

Our Committee brings together local governments’ defending the right to housing. When exchanging points of view on the subject, the challenges presented by participating municipalities are normally shared by all the rest, regardless of their size or origin. This may refer to the lack of adequate housing stock, the struggle to regulate private real estate market, or even their willingness to carry out slum upgrading incorporating a human rights approach. When acting as a network in the framework of our Committee, they are able to go further and advocate for a shared, global agenda: one that agrees on the challenges faced; poses the need to count with more resources and better coordination mechanisms; and reclaims housing as a fundamental right and a basic condition to fulfill the right to the city.

[ Promoting the Right to Housing in international and local governments agendas ]

The increasing commitment of our member-local governments with the notion of the right to the city led to a renewed focus on the role that housing plays in guaranteeing social cohesion and an adequate standard of living for all in worldwide cities. Our members defend sound, human rights-based housing strategies in parallel to the localization of f the 2030 Agenda. After 2016, this commitment has been solidly advanced in the framework of initiatives such as "Cities for Housing" or the global campaign "The Shift".

Housing played a prominent role in defense of social, economic and cultural rights carried out by the first editions of the Forum of Local Authorities – FAL that preceded the creation of our Committee. Its conception as a right would nonetheless gain special importance after the advance that the right to the city lived in the agenda of our Committee in the last decade.

“All city inhabitants have the right to a) Decent and sanitary housing in a living space with features of urban centrality; b) Security of legal title over their home and plot of land; c) Unconditional access to a registered address; d) Migrants have the right to settlement areas adapted to their needs. The city reconsiders its approach on land use and housing development, to adapt them to the economic, social and cultural needs of the population as a whole, particularly the most vulnerable groups.”

Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City (2011)

The Global Charter-Agenda would provide a specific action plan for local governments interested in working for the right to housing at the local level. In the years that followed the adoption of the Charter, our Committee organized two international seminars of local governments for the right to the city that saw specific attention placed in the issue of housing. As posed by the final declaration of the 2015 Mexico City Seminar, the Right to the City refers to:

“Cities as common goods for all inhabitants, where human rights take precedence over the process of privatization, of speculation which inevitably lead to the exclusion of the majority of the population, and where the rehabilitation of historic centers do not result in their gentrification”

Final declaration of Mexico City’s International Seminar of Local Governments for the Right to the City (2015)

The Habitat III fostered an unprecedented level of attention to the issue of the right to the city and the right to housing and set the ground for further campaigning in international and local governments agendas. In the framework of the audiences to local governments held at the UN headquarters after the publication of the first draft of the New Urban Agenda, Patrick Braouezec (co-chair of our Committee) addressed the issue of housing in the following terms:

“Among the main strengths of the draft, we can find (…) the recognition of human rights in the city and the willingness to promote strong public policies regarding housing and urban land (…) The Quito summit will nonetheless have to address several challenges, among which reducing inequalities and poverty by providing local authorities with a strong tax system allowing them to develop public policies in this regard”

Intervention of Patrick Braouezec (Co-Chair of our Committee) at the UN Headquarters (2016) 

As a partner organization, the Committee supported the Global Platform for the Right to the City call to defend the recognition of the right to housing in the New Urban Agenda:  

“The fundamental premise for this report needs to be the fact that housing is a human right, recognized and upheld in international law, especially the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (…) International law needs to be the legal basis and the point of reference for the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing and for developing national housing policies”

Global Platform for the Right to the City inputs to the policy papers on housing policies (2016)

On the occassion of the Habitat III process, our Committee also organized specific local government meetings to assess homeless people human rights in the New Urban Agenda and the role of local finances in fulfilling the right to the city for all. As a direct consequence of international advocacy led by international civil society and local authorities representatives (among which our Committee), the right to housing was included in the New Urban Agenda:

We envisage cities and human settlements that fulfil their social function, including the social and ecological function of land, with a view to progressively achieving the full realization of the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living

New Urban Agenda (2016)

The Habitat III final conference held in Quito in October 2016 was also the occasion for the Committee to get involved in the largest initiative conducted for the right to housing in all its history: The Shift, a multi-stakeholder campaign promoted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing to reclaim the implementation of the right to housing. The Committee took part in the presentation event of the initiative and has been fully involved in its promotion from then onwards, articulating its debates and initiatives with UCLG constituency and consultation mechanisms.

Why housing?

Housing tends to be one of the most pressing issues local authorities face in regards to guaranteeing social cohesion and an adequate standard of living for all. As more than half of today’s global population lives in cities and the rate of increase hasn’t stopped in the last years, coping with housing demand and ensuring that several conditions are met in order to guarantee adequacy standards in the process is usually at the heart of local government priorities.

Depending on the levels of decentralization, local authorities may count with several mechanisms to carry out housing strategies. They may develop urban planning under principles of social inclusion and participation; make efforts to improve urban habitat and public space; take action to upgrade slums or tackle homelessness through rights-based lens; or even lead the fight against gentrification. It should be noted, however, how making a difference in this regard is always a challenge, as strong coordination mechanisms and sound local finances are required in the process.

Furthermore, the later global housing crisis and the rising takeover of financial markets over local housing markets has aggravated the situation even more. According to a 2017 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, “the expanding role and unprecedented dominance of financial markets and corporations in the housing sector” have led housing to “become the “commodity of choice” for corporate finance”. According to the Rapporteur, “the pace at which financial corporations and funds are taking over housing and real estate in many cities is staggering”.

In perspective, it has been due to phenomena such as housing commodification, but also the existence of inadequate housing conditions or the relationship between one’s housing and access to local public space, that housing has recently re-emerged and been re-framed by local and global agendas on sustainable urban development. Closely linked with the notion of right to the city, the human rights-based approach has gained ground as a comprehensive vision and a call to action to tackle the aforementioned challenges and make sure that housing remains a vehicle for social inclusion.