Why adequate housing is crucial to sustainable urbanisation
As participants at the United Nations’ Habitat III conference in Ecuador in October 2016 develop strategies for sustainable urban development over the next 20 years, they must look for ways to build cities that will be engines of opportunity for all, and housing must be a critical part of the conversation. By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas. Based on current estimates, that translates to 6.7 billion people (roughly the entire global population in 2010) who will be living in cities. As demand for housing soars, so too will the costs, and having a home will become less and less affordable. Left unchecked, rapid urbanisation will bring about unfettered growth of slums and other unplanned settlements worldwide as people search for somewhere – anywhere – to reside. Housing often gets left off the table in the discussion of social issues because it is a relatively invisible problem. Those who have always lived in adequate housing may not have seen firsthand the struggles that many people in the world endure every day just to survive. At Habitat for Humanity, we know that having a decent place to live is foundational for helping families and communities build strength, stability and self-reliance. We see time and again the relationship between stable housing and better health, improved education outcomes and new livelihood opportunities. The language in early versions of the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document resulting from the Habitat III process, is absolutely correct in declaring that housing is inextricably linked to economic development and transformation at the local and national levels. While the agenda promotes solid principles at its core, we are calling on the global leaders to ensure that four key principles are included. The New Urban Agenda must: 1. Emphasise adequate and affordable housing 2. Prioritise security of tenure 3. Promote community-led development; and 4. Set specific and accountable measures of success. Housing is an issue that both the developing and the developed world must address. You needn’t look beyond cities like San Francisco, Mexico City or Mumbai to see how the difficulties of accessing land and affordable housing impact millions of people. However, these challenges are especially critical for low-income families who face extraordinary barriers that prohibit them from accessing affordable housing. Land tenure is a huge issue worldwide, with many people – especially women – facing unjust evictions. How can people feel safe and secure if they don’t feel confident that they can remain on the land where they live? Financing is another hurdle. Housing markets do not work at all for low-income families. Globally, 95 to 97 percent of families can’t get any kind of a home loan from a bank. Accessing materials for shelter can also be difficult in some areas. If we are going to begin to reduce some of the barriers that low-income families face, the New Urban Agenda must call upon leaders from the public, private and social sectors to come together and have conversations with families and communities about how to improve their living conditions. Governments should address tenure issues, and financial institutions should realise that investing in housing for low-income families can be profitable just like for higher-income clients. Local businesses and entrepreneurs should also take advantage of new markets by making products and services available to low-income customers. These approaches can help countless families lift themselves out of poverty and thereby strengthen communities and broader economies. As a global community, we’ve seen that goals without measureable targets can yield missed opportunities. As we move forward from Habitat III, specific and accountable metrics are crucial to ensure we make our shared goals a priority. Collecting and sharing data will enable us to learn from our cooperative successes and failures and work together for a better world. May we never lose sight of the fact that behind all the numbers are individuals who share similar goals and desires. Every child should have the opportunity to grow up and thrive in decent shelter; every parent should have the dignity of providing their kids with a safe home; and every family should have the chance to build a decent life and create multi-generational assets.
By Jonathan T.M. Reckford
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Photo: Habitat for Humanity Philippines