Habitat III urged to prioritize ‘social regulation’ of real-estate markets


A group of 13
international NGOs
has issued an open letter calling for the social regulation of real-estate
markets to formally put on the table ahead of the United Nations Conference on
Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, also known as Habitat III.

Under the mantra
“Habitat for People – Not for Profit!”, the coalition is calling for the New Urban Agenda, the outcome strategy of Habitat III, to more directly address urban speculation, the
social function of land and alternatives to private property.

The letter’s
signatories, led by the Habitat International Coalition, consist of housing,
tenants rights and anti-evictionNGOs
in Egypt, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Taiwan.
Many were active in 1996 during Habitat II and expressed concern that the current rhetoric in
the lead-up to Habitat III is a regression from 20 years ago.

[See: Developers
seek affordable-housing market in New Urban Agenda

Calling their missive
“HabitatIII Sins
of Omission”, the groups address their disappointments with the process thus
far to UN-Habitat
Executive Director Joan Clos, who is the conference’s secretary-general, as
well as to national ministers. The letter is dated 1 February.

“Habitat III could end in a total betrayal of the principles and
commitments already standing in the Habitat Agenda, as it is replaced by a
narrower and inferior ‘new urban agenda,’” the letter states. “This, we fear,
will produce another pretext for economic attacks on our commons, our
livelihoods, our neighbourhoods, our human rights.”

The Habitat Agenda
was the outcome strategy from HabitatII,
which is to be replaced by the New Urban Agenda that will be adopted in Quito
in October.

[See: Fractured
continuity: Moving from Habitat II to Habitat III

The groups cite the
global financial crisis of 2007-08 as a clarion call for the new action, citing
for instance the over 436,235 evictions that have taken place in Spain since

“The private-homeowner
and commercial mortgage-based model of housing provision has totally failed,”
the letter states. But governments continue to pursue such policies, the
coalition’s members argue, pointing to examples from East Asia, India and the
United Kingdom. “Market-driven megaprojects, land grabbing and urban renewal
projects displace people and destroy communities worldwide,” they warn.

Against this
backdrop, the groups say that Habitat III should be a bulwark against financial interests in
the urban development and housing sectors, rather than an enabler of market
forces. Yet they voice concern that key elements of the Habitat process — for
instance, the technical “policy unit” papers currently under development— do not address these topics. Those 10-member
expert groups do include one on “The Right to the City and Cities for All.”

[See: Habitat III must
rethink the role of housing in sustainable urbanization

The groups conclude
by urging the Habitat III outcome to cover these issues more forcefully and
to incorporate discussions of macroeconomic policies such as free trade,
austerity and structural-adjustment programmes. They also call for the creation
of a new policy unit on such issues in order to share experiences, proposals
and demands.

Read the full letter here.

* Original