Civil society organizations propose the implementation of the “Right to the City” to Latin American and Caribbean housing and urban development authorities


From September 3 to 5, 2008 the XVII MINURVI Assembly the annual assembly of Latin American and Caribbean housing and urban development authorities will be held in San Salvador, El Salvador.

In preparation for this weeks meetings, Latin American civil society organizations (CSOs) who focus their work on housing and human rights have come together to emphasize the importance of implementing the concept of the Right to the City in Latin American urban policy. The right to the city involves the creation of public policies that ensure access to land, adequate housing, infrastructure and social services, and the mechanisms to obtain sufficient and sustainable sources of funding for housing.

The Declaration submitted to the Assembly has been coordinated by COHRE-Americas Programme, HIC-AL, and HFH-LAC and has been signed on to by 95 organizations[1]. It incorporates both practical and conceptual elements and particularly emphasizes concrete measures to achieve the right to the city such as changes in public policy and legislation, as well as the appropriate and sufficient distribution of resources. The importance of this Declaration arises from the concern that civil society shares over the state of Latin American cities today:

  • Latin American cities are areas of segregation, marginalization, exclusion and even criminalization of the poor. As a result, public policy has failed to recognize the poor as key actors in the social production and management of their habitat and has also left limited space for the participation of CSOs in defining the future of cities.
  • Due to accelerated urban growth, access to urban land and housing has become increasingly difficult for the poor who are often forced to settle in high risk areas.
  • Credit and subsidy policies for mass housing projects can lead to serious consequences for the poor such as increased socio-spatial segregation, rising costs of land, and a lack of secure tenure.
  • Urban renewal projects continue to take place in cities. This leads to the expulsion of the poor from urban centers to areas where they end up not only segregated from their social networks, but also with limited access to public services of sufficient quality. An increasing trend towards the privatization of public services leads to inaccessibility by the poor due to rising costs.
  • The persistence of practices that violate human rights demonstrates the inadequacy of domestic legislation to meet international standards.

Based on the concerns stated above, the Declaration also lists a series of concrete measures to be adopted by States, at different levels and fields of government, with the goal of promoting, protecting, and guaranteeing the right to the city for all inhabitants of Latin America. These include:

1. Strengthening the processes of self-management of habitat: To promote policies that recognize the active participation of citizens in shaping their habitat.

2. Democratization of land management and access to land and real estate: Convert urban and territorial planning into a public activity and promote legislation that encourages and guarantees participation by citizens in the formation of policies and programs.

3. Regularization of tenure and access to public services: Implement mechanisms to ensure the legal and social recognition of settlements characterized as informal throughout the city. It is also necessary to promote a regulatory framework for public services in order to ensure controlled and differentiated costs depending on the income of inhabitants, without letting this affect the quantity and quality of supply in lower income neighborhoods.

4. Harmonizing national and local legislation with international standards and commitments in the area of human rights: Incorporate UN standards on the right to housing, evictions and the right to water with the domestic legislation of individual countries. Equally important is the establishment of training programs for civil servants, particularly those in the judiciary, regarding this subject matter.

The organizations that have signed on to this Declaration hope to encourage the housing and urban development authorities (MINURVI) attending this weeks Assembly to create the necessary institutional spaces that will enable the full participation of civil society in the decisions affecting both the present and future of Latin American cities.

[1] The coordinating organizations include: Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions Americas Programme (COHRE-Americas Programme), Habitat International Coalition Latin America (HIC-AL), and Habitat for Humanity Latin America and the Caribbean (HFH-LAC).