Briefing on homelessness and landlessness


There were 1.6 billion inadequately housed people across the world and an estimated 100 million who were completely homeless, comprising 20 to 40 million in the urban areas and about 60 million in the rural areas, Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, said at a Headquarters press briefing this morning.

Briefing on homelessness and landlessness, the subject of the annual report he had presented to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April, he said that the driving forces behind homelessness were poverty; rapid economic globalization, which had worsened inequality in housing and land ownership; increasing trends towards privatization and land speculation; lack of affordable housing options; unplanned and involuntary urban migration; large-scale development and infrastructure projects, including dams that led to mass displacement; and ongoing conflicts around the world.

He stressed also the inequality in global land ownership, citing recent figures which showed that a mere 2.5 per cent of landowners controlled nearly three quarters of all private land. The main concern was a phenomenon of urban apartheid taking place across the world, partly due to an urban gentrification process – seen very strongly in New York City — and a colossal gap in the supply of formal-sector housing. There was also a trend across the world towards reducing public housing expenditures and subsidies. For example, the budget authority for federal housing assistance in the United States had dropped by about $28 billion between 1976 and 2002.

Mass evictions were another phenomenon of major concern, he said, noting that about 90,000 dwellings had been demolished in Mumbai, India, between November 2004 and February 2005, rendering some 400,000 people homeless and without provision of resettlement. There was also a lack of legal provisions to enable communities to inhabit or own land, as well as a growing tendency to criminalize the homeless and the landless. The annual report contained recommendations concerning the need for States to apply diligently their human rights obligations and to control land speculation and land mafias and cartels operating across the world.

The report pointed to a worsening of those trends in Australia, Canada and the United States, he said. Recent figures showed that 840,000 Americans were homeless at any given time. Some 2.5 million to 3.5 million people were homeless over the course of a year, of which about 1.35 million were children.

Referring to a progress report he had presented to the Commission on Human Rights concerning a global study on women, housing and land, he said that lack of secure tenure, information and affordable social services, as well as discriminatory cultural and traditional practices were among the critical factors affecting womens right to adequate housing and land. In addition, there was a very clear link between violence against women and their lack of adequate housing. With respect to discrimination, there was a culture of silence regarding womens rights to housing, land, property and inheritance. Even where there was growing constitutional recognition of those rights, customs and traditions were normally dominant.

He said he had presented two mission reports, one on Kenya, where there had been historic discrimination against women, as well as land grabbing. Recent human development reports showed that less than 5 per cent of Kenyans owned land. Men traditionally controlled both access to and ownership of land, even though women bore the burden of developing and maintaining the home. While there had been a number of positive developments, including policy steps consistent with the Governments human rights obligations and the establishment of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, there was a need for greater attention in tackling such problems as forced evictions.

The second mission report concerned Brazil, which, like Kenya, had a long history of homelessness, landlessness, housing inadequacy and historic discrimination against particular communities, he said. The current Government had taken many positive steps and needed to shift the focus from enacting policies and laws to their implementation. Also, there was a need to de-link investment in the infrastructure of housing, water and sanitation from the countrys debt repayments.