By Suchitra Mohanty, Rina Chandran
Local authorities should consider converting empty government properties into night shelters for the homeless, India’s highest court said, amid growing concern about the number of deaths on the streets during winter months.
The judges said on Thursday that altering existing properties would be the “best option” to address the needs of the homeless as it would not require states to spend money on building shelters.
The court’s directive - which is not binding - came after a particularly cold winter in Delhi with 44 deaths reported in the first week of the year alone, according to Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal commenting on media reports on Twitter.
One activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the court’s directive was “positive” and it echoed the recommendation of her organization and other campaigners.
“Not only would this be a more durable solution, but it would also be more cost-effective for state governments,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of the New Delhi-based advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network.
Census figures from 2011 showed about 1.8 million homeless people in India, although activists believe the true number is at least 3 million.
This week’s directive follows a 2012 ruling in which the Supreme Court ordered states to build shelters for the homeless.
Few states have complied, however, citing the high cost of land.
Rakesh Kumar Singh, a lawyer for Rajasthan state, said on Friday that the Supreme Court had asked state governments “to explore whether government buildings can be used as night shelters for homeless people”.
Many of India’s urban homeless are migrant workers who come to cities in search of jobs, and are forced to live in flimsy shacks and under flyovers because of a critical shortage of affordable housing.
Some states such as Gujarat and Bihar are building shelters for migrant workers, with options such as long-term rentals, clinics and family rooms.
“However, shelters are only the first step on a continuum of housing rights, and government efforts must be directed towards enabling the homeless to access adequate housing,” Chaudhry said.
The government’s Housing for All program aims to build 20 million urban housing units and 30 million rural homes by 2022.
With several states lagging behind on their targets, freeing up surplus land owned by government agencies such as the railways and ports for affordable housing could more easily help meet the goal, experts have said.
Published on Reuters on February 8, 2018
By Leilani Farha
We are at a critical moment. Globally, housing conditions have never been this fraught. Most governments, national and local alike, insist on privileging the interests of a few over the needs of the many.
As a result, homelessness and its accompanying death toll are on the rise, while the number of vacant homes owned by corporate and high net worth investors continues to grow. Affluent countries stand as some of the worst examples. Last year, on an average night in the US, more than 550,000 people slept rough. One county in Silicon Valley saw a 164% increase in deaths of homeless people between 2011 and 2015, rising from 50 to 135. In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, the first nine months of 2017 saw 70 homeless deaths, the highest figure on record.
Meanwhile, investor homes sit empty: London reported 20,000 empty homes in 2016 and data from Australia indicates a whopping 1m vacant homes. In most cities, unregulated real estate speculation and commodification is making housing unaffordable even for the middle class, with those providing essential services, like nurses and firefighters, unable to live in the cities where they work.
With no other options, more than 1 billion people worldwide have resorted to living in informal settlements, encampments or on the streets without secure tenure or basic services.
Most disturbing of all is that these realities seem to be accepted as a fixed feature of our global socioeconomic order.
But before concluding that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, let’s recall that just two years ago, the world’s governments recognised these conditions as unsustainable and responded.
In committing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are “unequivocally anchored in human rights”, world governments undertook to ensure access to adequate, secure and affordable housing for all by 2030. By necessity, the SDGs catapult housing to centre stage.
To meet this ambitious commitment, governments will have to design housing strategies based on human rights. In light of the global scale and depth of homelessness and inadequate housing, and the roots of these problems in the failure of governments to regulate the financialisation of housing, it is no longer reasonable for governments to treat these realities as mere policy or programme failures.
Homelessness and inadequate housing are violations of human rights – and demand the appropriate response.
Rights-based housing strategies are not one-size fits all, but there are some key requirements that can be shaped to fit national and local contexts. As a starting point, housing strategies must guarantee that no one is left behind, which, among other things, means they must commit to ending homelessness by 2030.
This also means housing strategies must go well beyond the provision of housing. Strategies must have structural change as their ambition. They must aim to transform societies where economic policies and housing systems create and sustain inequality and exclusion, into societies in which housing is a means to ensure security and inclusion.
There are fundamental shifts that rights-based strategies must effect in order to be successful.
Strategies must transform how governments, at all levels, interact with those who are homeless and inadequately housed. Instead of viewing them as needy beneficiaries, objectsof charity, or, worse, as criminals, they must instead recognise that people who are homeless also have rights – and are active citizens who should be involved in decisions affecting their lives. This would ensure that strategies respond to people’s own experiences.
Strategies must also transform the relationship between governments and the financial sector. Because most governments rely extensively on the private sectorto meet housing needs, strategies must ensure that human rights implementation is the overriding goal of all investment in housing and residential real estate, and that the primacy of housing’s social function is never a subsidiary or neglected obligation.
One wonders if this is possible when the commitment to the human rights imperative is being challenged by governments themselves – and when, for instance, the UN commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, says he cannot continue in his job because the current geopolitical context is a threat to his integrity and independence. And the biggest assault on human rights is coming from Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon whose fortunes have been made from the rampant commodification of housing.
This does not bode well for the future of the right to housing or that of the people living in conditions that challenge human dignity and life itself.
But as we head into a new year, our choice is to either be complacent and allow our cities to become the playgrounds of the rich while the rest of us are priced out of our homes; or to recognise the urgent need for action, and declare 2018 the year of the right to housing, and every year thereafter, until governments are held accountable, cities become inclusive, and our housing accessible, secure, and affordable.
I choose the latter.
Published on The Guardian on January 2, 2018
By CATHERINE BENSON WAHLÉN
On World Habitat Day, UN leaders and others underscored the importance of achieving affordable homes for all in creating inclusive cities and advancing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Day marks the first anniversary of the adoption of the New Urban Agenda and the official start of Urban October, a month of citizen engagement and celebration on urban life around the world.
World Habitat Day focused on the theme, ‘Housing Policies: Affordable Homes.’ According to the UN, over 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing, including 1 billion people who live in slums and informal settlements. On the Day, the UN underscored the importance of addressing the housing needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, emphasizing the role of sound housing policies in tackling challenges related to climate change, energy consumption, mobility and resilience.
UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) Executive Director, Joan Clos, stressed the importance of housing affordability in development, equality and peace in a statement for the Day. Clos emphasized housing’s contribution to achieving the SDGs, explaining that including housing policies in national urban policies can help support strategies to tackle poverty, improve health and increase employment.
The UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) adopted the New Urban Agenda in October 2016. The New Urban Agenda emphasizes the link between urbanization and development, recognizing urbanization as a prerequisite for prosperity and growth and indispensable for development.
World Habitat Day aims to stimulate reflection on the state of cities and towns and the basic right of adequate shelter for all. Celebrations included urban breakfasts in Nairobi, Kenya, and Geneva, Switzerland, and discussions on urban challenges and solutions related to inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient cities for all.
Published on IISD on October 5, 2017.
A group of emerging entrepreneurs from Mexico has been sharing and brainstorming about these and other innovations to deliver affordable homes, clean water and sustainable energy to families with low incomes.
The entrepreneurs recently gathered at ShelterTech Mexico 2017, an intense three-month business-training workshop hosted by Village Capital, a global entrepreneur support organization, and Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter.
“The world’s housing deficit is much too large for Habitat to build itself out of,” says Patrick Kelley, the center’s global senior director. “The Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter is an initiative within Habitat to catalyze the private sector’s responses to the need for affordable housing.”
In Mexico, an estimated one in five families lacks safe housing and access to adequate water and energy. “Mexico’s vast need for better housing requires bringing ingenuity and innovation,” Kelley says. “The ShelterTech accelerator workshop brought together entrepreneurs to help cultivate their ideas and grow their plan for their companies.”
The Terwilliger Center is working to improve housing markets for low-income households in Kenya, India, Peru and the Philippines as well, Kelley says, and will seek to identify and support local entrepreneurs.
In Mexico, entrepreneurs attending the ShelterTech workshop represented nine start-ups developing innovations in core home construction, energy, and water and sanitation. “We were excited to work with Habitat to create this program and make their first investment in the selected companies,” says Ben Younkman, the program facilitator from Village Capital. He said that many non-governmental organizations “have historically seen ‘private-sector’ as a four-letter word. Habitat for Humanity is showing everyone a new way to achieve their traditional mission.”
The workshop provided the entrepreneurs face time with business and legal experts as well as potential investors. The biggest benefit, the entrepreneurs say, has been the input and inspiration they received from each other.
“It is really cool and empowering to share each other’s passions for making an impact. That is really like gasoline in our tank,” says Yusef Jacobs, founder and CEO of Vitaluz, a company that offers consumers a solar-generated and affordable system to purchase electricity.
The entrepreneurs evaluated each other in a number of key areas. The two companies ranked as having the highest potential for success received a financial investment from the Terwilliger Center.
“These entrepreneurs, like many, have innovative ideas and new approaches to old problems,” says Melva Y. Flores Dueñas, a member of Habitat’s Mexico team and a contributor to the ShelterTech curriculum. “What they often lack is the investment capital that is willing to take the high risks of a start-up aiming to work with low-income populations.” The $100,000 of capital the center has committed will help the two winners continue their business growth and hopefully attract other investors.
The Terwilliger Center launched with a generous commitment from former Trammel Crow Co. CEO J. Ronald Terwilliger. Other financial supporters to the work of the Terwilliger Center include MasterCard Foundation, Omidyar Network, USAID, Inter-American Development Bank, Citi Foundation, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, The Hilti Foundation, IKEA Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Published on Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org/stories/bringing-innovation-to-affordable-housing).