Habitat International Coalition
Global network for the right to habitat and social justice
HIC Statement at the European Habitat Conference
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Source: HIC-GS

Statement by Knut Unger, Habitat International Coalition Member

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak.

We very much welcome that housing is a prominent topic on the agenda of the European Habitat conference, but in the draft for the Prague declaration we are missing a clear reference to the human right to adequate housing. And we do not mean a symbolic reference but commitments to concrete policies and appropriate funding. Rights based action requires the empowerment of people, social regulation of private markets, and social alternatives to market.

Habitat International Coalition was founded at Habitat I in Vancouver 1976 and works in the defence, promotion and realization of human rights related to housing and land in both rural and urban areas, to ensure the right of everyone to a secure place in which to live in peace and dignity. From that background, we do not demand a "New Urban Agenda" but a renewed Habitat Agenda, based on a review of the Habitat II Agenda, which was approved in Istanbul in 1996. Some of the positive aspects of the Habitat II Agenda were a clear reference to housing rights and its components, also the reference to the right to access to related services like water, sanitation, transport, health, and education. The Habitat II Agenda promised to meet these social needs by enabling markets. We must say that nowadays this concept has totally failed. Instead of enabling markets to meet social needs, the policies of the past 20 years have enabled markets to transform social goods into financial assets.

Many social housing stocks and entities, public infrastructure and services were privatized. Existing housing laws, taxations and limitations of property and capital transactions have been deregulated. Social housing provisions were heavily reduced as part of austerity measures. In some of the countries in the UNECE region, public housing policies have totally disappeared.

The consequences of these pro-market policies have been disastrous for the housing conditions of the poorer parts of the population. People in many cities have suffered from soaring rents and housing prizes. We experienced more gentrification and social segregation, condo-conversion and evictions. We saw new ways of global speculation with mortgages and the crash of this system resulting in the ongoing financial and economic crisis. Our cities and municipalities today are missing the capacities to provide the needed housing, for the existing population as well as for the immigrants. The actors who are able and willing to build the needed affordable houses are missing. At the same time the commoditization and financialization of housing and cities goes on.

In order to overcome the housing crisis as well as to contribute to a real solution, we need a real shift in the policies. Let me put it into three principles:

1. Non-private markets must be enabled; people and communities must be enabled and empowered

2. New forms of social regulation of land and housing, of property and mortgages are needed, including for example rent control and better security of tenancy and tenure, better protection of mortgage debtors and taxation of transactions.

3. Municipalities and public housing actors must be strengthened and enabled to meet the housing needs. We need more new alternatives to markets like revolving social housing funds, non-for-profit housing and community land trusts.

Only with such a principal shift in the basic orientation of policies we can overcome the housing crisis and at the same time contribute to more economical stability and sustainability.

Thank you.


Habitat International Coalition
General Secretariat