Statement of the German Forum on Environment & Development on Habitat III


31 July 2015

The German Forum
on Environment & Development 
founded in 1992 after the UN conference in Rio on environment and development.
Its purpose is to coordinate German NGOs in international political processes
on sustainable development. It was strongly involved in the preparation and the
civil society processes of the Habitat III Conference in 1996 in Istanbul. The
Forum is closely linked to environmental and developmental organizations in
Europe and is aiming at a change of the current wasteful economy and lifestyle
of industrial countries.

We welcome …

  • … the organization of a further global Habitat
    conference of United Nations, because it may help to remind governments
    and societies to keep their Habitat II promises by realizing the goals of
    adequate shelter for all and sustainable urban settlements in our
    urbanizing world.
  • … the interest to actualize and concretize the
    urban dimensions of the post-2015 development goals.
  • … the opportunity for a critical review of the
    1996 Habitat Agenda, for a global reflection on the reasons of its
    (non)implementation and for a shared analysis of new challenges and forces
    towards just and liveable cities for all.
  • … the many ideas and views already expressed
    in 22 draft issue papers presented in six policy areas, because this
    productivity may encourage urban social movements across the world to
    raise their own voices and propose their own goals, visions and proposals
    for a sustainable development of settlements aiming to defend and realize
    human rights, justice and equality.

From our point of view, there are some
missing points in the papers and debates: We miss …

  • …a clear commitment to the achieved agreements
    on main goals of the 1996 Habitat Agenda, especially the commitment to the
    realization of the right to adequate shelter and to equitable human
    settlements as principles of sustainable development.
  • … a serious reference to the practice of
    forced evictions and the destruction of people’s settlements. These
    inhuman practices increasingly impact millions of people in African and
    Asian cities, and are strongly present in other continents, including
    Europe and North America. Forced evictions are serious violations of Human
    Rights and a constant threat for all inhabitants of self-built settlements
    as well as for low-income tenants.
  • … policy proposals to stop and revert growing
    social inequalities which are the main reasons for urban poverty and
    social exclusion, for autocratic governance and insecurity, for
    unsustainable urban growth and transformations, for real estate speculation
    and economic instability.
  • … specific attention on gender discrimination
    as well as on the exclusion of disabled, elderly and other groups. All
    these problems need specific approaches and should not be mixed under one
    umbrella of “inclusion”.
  • … a reference to the negative role of
    austerity policies (for instance as elements of structural adjustment
    policies) imposed on many countries and cities by governments,
    international agencies, supranational institutions and international
    treaties, which substantially reduced the provision of decent housing and
    other basic services and had an extremely negative impact on equity and
    liveability of human settlements.
  • … the issues of privatization and deregulation
    of social and public rental housing and its consequences on exclusion and
    the access to housing.
  • … a critical review of impacts of public
    private partnership (PPP) agreements – as recommended at Habitat II – and
    of the privatisation of essential public services like water, transport
    and electricity on service quality, costs, municipal finances and the
    living conditions of citizens, specifically those with lower income.
  • … an adequate reflection on the disastrous
    consequences of subprime lending, mortgage securitisation and private
    equity or hedge funds on housing and land markets. The 2008 crisis showed
    to which extend that can dramatically influence the security of tenure of
    millions, private and public debt, urban economy, employment, and
    municipal finances.
  • … reporting on the consequences and risks of
    existing and planned international free trade agreements (like TTIP) on
    housing and cities.

We have serious concern …

  • … that Habitat III might forget many of the
    international agreements on a human rights orientated urban development,
    on equitable human settlements, on local participation and social
    sustainability which had been achieved at Habitat II, and that Human
    Rights obligations of governments might be neglected and substituted by
    technocratic approaches to reshape the cities for future challenges, middle
    class needs and business opportunities.
  • … that the “New Urban Agenda” could put a
    strong focus on the restructuring of cities in view of climate changes,
    but might not seek sufficiently for solutions which combine that focus
    with the big social and economic questions like poverty and inequality,
    homelessness and insecurity of tenure, discrimination and social
    exclusion, expropriation and expulsion.
  • … that climate adaption could become a pretext
    for anti-social legislations, urban transformations and profitable
    business strategies.
  • … that elements of the New Urban Agenda
    arguing for the need of restructuring the cities for climate adaptation
    might be misused by governments to justify evictions.
  • … the world community will fail to discuss the
    urban roots of the 2007 ff. crashes and will do nothing to correct the
    destructive path of commodification, privatisation and deregulation of our
    urban commons, of land, housing and infrastructure.
  • … that public and social housing, social
    control of urban land use and the public provision of basic services –
    measures which could reduce the growing social inequalities in cities and
    societies – will not play a serious role at Habitat III.
  • … that “inclusion” and cohesion without
    presenting instruments and policies on how to substantially reduce social
    inequalities will remain symbolic.
  • …that the reality of urban poverty could be
    merged and forgotten under the inclusion

We propose that the Habitat III conference in its
final declaration …

  • … takes up the legacy of the Habitat Agenda
    and reaffirms the importance of the Right to Housing, as it is put down in
    the International Covenant on ESC Rights from 1966, including all aspects
    as “security of tenure; availability of services and infrastructure;
    affordability; habitability; accessi­bility, especially for disadvantaged
    groups; adequate location and cultural adequacy
    .” States are obliged to protect, respect and
    fulfil this right with appropriate state budgets (or development funds)
    sufficient to address urgent housing problems. A thorough survey of the
    housing situation of all population groups is required as well as the
    participative development of short and long term strategies for overcoming
    specific housing deficits.
  • … confirms that sustainable urban development
    is an approach towards the realization of human rights, equity and
    justice; that it depends on the active participation of all inhabitants
    and cannot be achieved without seriously addressing the reality of lower
    income citizens.
  • … clarifies that technical solutions for urban
    resilience and smart cities can never replace the holistic approach of
    sustainable development and social human rights and that the adaption of
    cities to climate change shall never serve as a pretext for anti-social
    urban developments,
  • … includes a clear statement in favour of the
    urgent need to democratically control the use of urban land and to provide
    sufficient land for social housing purposes in city centres, close to job
    opportunities and to social, cultural and recreational facilities.
  • … discusses the options of democratically
    organized public and social housing models at broad scale – including
    rental, cooperative and collective tenure – as a fundamental instrument of
    a rights based housing provision for all, defining production pattern,
    management models, funding needs and roles of state, cities and civil
    society in that social production of habitat.
  • … includes in its discussions the necessity to
    regulate mortgage, real estate investments and financial industries.
  • … considers the need to overcome the austerity
    dogma and to allow social and poverty oriented public investment
    strategies in housing, services and infrastructure.
  • …reviews the impact of free trade and workfare
    on cities.
  • … recognizes the big number of tenants
    inmost kinds of settlements, including informal settlements, and supports
    measures to improve their legal security of tenancy.
  • … questions the idea that private property
    deeds are always the best solution and strengthens the development of
    alternatives – also in regard to the regularisation of informal
  • … sends a strong worldwide signal condemning
    the inhuman practice of forced evictions as a serious violation of Human

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