Without Human Rights and Social Regulation of Property Markets Habitat III will fail!

Members of the International Working Group for the Promotion of Market Regulation and Market Alternatives at Habitat III today started Meetings in Berlin and issued this statement .

The 175 paragraphs of the ‘New Urban Agenda’ include many nice sounding general aims and well-known aspects of urban management. But we’re in doubt that they will bring any improvements to the people and the human settlements. The draft does not even set up clear quantitative targets in the style of the SDGs. Nowhere in the draft you can read statements like “until 2025 reduce homelessness by 50%” or “30% of new housing constructions should be social housing for people in need”. But what is missing most, is a clear language which expresses the obligation of states and all authorities to respect and realize the human rights by adequate measurements and instruments, – including effective interventions in real estate and financial markets.

If the Habitat III process does not address the fundamental economic causes of segregation, exclusion, inequality and crisis in human settlements and missing housing access or include corrective measures, we fear that the subsequent Agenda will be another failure.

We believe that real change should include the following instruments:

All public policies which directly or indirectly affect housing must be directed by the aim of realizing the human right to adequate housing for all. In this perspective housing first of all is a social good for social needs, a use value, and not an asset for private income, trade, accumulation and speculation. The socialisation of losses must be resversed.

The provision of rental housing as a  safe, stable and affordable option of tenure is a necessary element of any social housing policy.  This element includes the protection and rights of tenants in privately owned housing as well as the provision  of social rental housing, which is not oriented on financial returns, asset accumulation and income generation but directly serves social housing needs.

All states should guarantee the organization of a non-for-profit segment of accessible, affordable social rental housing of good quality, which is well managed and democratically controlled and whose qualities, locations and quantities satisfy the existing and developing local housing needs. In order to achieve this goal all states must strengthen, rebuild or newly create democratic non-for-profit structures which have the capacity to construct, maintain, renovate and facilitate this non-profit social housing stock. Public subsidies as well as the provision of land for constructions must support and privilege non-for-profit housing solutions for those in need. Public subsidies for new constructions as well as for renovations should lead to binding, lasting and publicly controlled social commitments of the benificiaries and their property. They can be organized in various ways according to national rules and local situations.

Instruments for the support of social housing must include rules for urban planning and land sales, which oblige all investors to use the land or a certain portion of it for needed non-profit rental housing and other forms of regulated  and needed  social infrastructure. By such instruments municipalities can avoid that limited resources get wasted and that urban investments lead to gentrification, ghettoization and expulsion.

The New Habitat Agenda must include a clear commitment to the right to stay put, which requires a principal of strengthening security of tenancy and tenure in its diverse forms in all countries. The global community must call for a ban on evictions without proper established safeguards, relocation in the same neighbourhood and respect all the human rights. The New Habitat Agenda should remind all stakeholders that forced eviction is a “gross violation of human rights, in particular the human right to adequate housing” and subject to prosecution of perpetrators and reparation for victims. It should include recommendations for the implemention of policies for concrete alternatives.

Rent control must be implemented for all tenants, for new rental agreements, as well as for sitting tenants.

Enforceable rights to adequate housing must be guaranteed by public institutions at different levels, which implies concrete policies in order to empower public institutions to uphold this human right in their relations to real estate and financial markets. This applies in both urban and rural areas, since we observe the same unfair trends affecting peasants and indigenous people, and not only city dwellers. Adequate Housing includes access and use of water, sanitation, energy and access to all basic services and livelihood.

In all countries, we need effective taxation of real estate transactions to reduce gentrification and speculation, and to generate revenue for public-housing support. Vacant buildings should be subject to special tax and penalty. Public requisition of empty buildings and squats should be considered as legitimate for meeting social needs.

The New Habitat Agenda should express commitments to social and collective (not only private-property-based) solutions for the regularisation of non-authorized “spontaneous” neighbourhoods. Tenants in “informal” neighbourhoods and in the regularization processes must be respected as citizens with equal human rights, not least the human right to adequate housing.

Social housing needs never can be met by private markets alone. People with low and medium income in all countries and cities need structures of housing provision that do not pursue profit maximization, but are directly dedicated to a social purpose. Therefore, the ongoing privatizations of public and social housing, publicly regulated housing finance, urban planning and development must be stopped and reversed.

There will be no solution to the housing and urban crisis as long as the dogma of austerity rules policies at all levels. We need massive public funding in order to overcome housing shortage. Mindful that popular housing solutions, by actual number of units, far outstrip both private and public sector production combined, we urge the recognition of “state-supported social production”.
Essential to the New Habitat Agenda are firm commitments with respect to the rights of all workers, as well as inhabitants, to express, organize, strike and collectively bargain and negotiate in order to achieve collective solutions. The New Habitat Agenda should recognize squatting, rent strikes and other forms of peaceful protest and self-help as elements of rights-based spatial development. This approach does not question, but underlines and supports both the authority and obligation of constitutional states to prevent and remedy all violations of the human right to housing.

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