Habitat III and the housing needs of half the world

The Manila Urban Thinkers Campus, which took place recently on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Housing Forum, focused on alleviating the “cycle of poverty housing” in the region.
A resident surveys the damage in Tacloban City, in the Philippines, in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, December 2013. Advocates in the Asia-Pacific region say disaster preparedness needs to be a top priority at next year's Habitat III conference. (Evan Schneider/UN Photo)

The housing backlog in the Philippines has left over four million families in need of decent shelter — some 5 percent of the population. Those families are forced into unsanitary and often unsafe conditions along the sides of roads or under bridges, even though many have incomes that would qualify them for subsidized housing.

To close this gap, advocates say, local governments must take steps to spur the production of affordable housing and make it accessible to vulnerable families. That was the message out of Manila during the fifth Asia-Pacific Housing Forum. While the forum took place principally in Hong Kong at the beginning of this month, satellite events also went forward in India and the Philippines.

[See: ‘Obliged to cooperate’: What Hong Kong’s experience offers Habitat III]

The convening in Manila was also an Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC), one of more than two dozen scheduled across the world in coming months to gather input for a document known as The City We Need. This process will in turn inform the drafting of the New Urban Agenda, the 20-year urbanization strategy that will be decided upon at the Habitat III cities conference next year.

“Our UTC was a platform for consensus between partners engaged in addressing urbanization challenges and proposing solutions to urban futures,” said Charlie Ayco, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Philippines. “It created an open space for critical exchange to tackle the cycle of poverty housing between urban thinkers who believe that urbanization is an opportunity and can lead a positive transformation.”

“The Manila Urban Thinkers Campus created an open space for critical exchange to tackle the cycle of poverty housing between urban thinkers who believe urbanization is an opportunity and can lead a positive transformation.”

Charlie Ayco
CEO, Habitat for Humanity Philippines

The Asia-Pacific region is the world’s largest, ranging from the two most populated countries in the world — India and China — to sparsely populated archipelagoes in the Pacific Ocean. Its housing needs are likewise diverse, needing to deal with everything from dense slums to rapidly urbanizing cities to human settlements threatened by sea-level rise and global climate change. According to Habitat for Humanity, some 20 percent of people in the Asia-Pacific region are considered living in extreme poverty.

Habitat for Humanity International sponsored the forum, which grappled with the complexity and size of a region that encompasses over half of the world’s population. The event brought together a variety of stakeholders, including local governments, private developers, financial institutions, manufacturers of building technology as well as representatives of the urban poor who could articulate their needs directly. Together, those present were the key actors needed to legislate, finance, develop and build sustainable and affordable housing for the urban poor.

[See: In Latin America, housing advocates set their sites on Habitat III]

The forum also provided a venue for housing advocates, many of whom see Habitat III as a key opportunity to place shelter front and centre on the global agenda. After all, Habitat III is officially known as the U. N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.

The forum and Urban Thinkers Campus resulted in eight recommendations for the New Urban Agenda:

  • Continue to prioritize housing

  • Work to implement the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, which will be finalized later this month

  • Prioritize security of tenure

  • Include the voices of local communities and their partners

  • Have measurable outcomes

  • Support market approaches

  • Prioritize access to urban basic services

  • Recognize the need to implement strategies around disaster preparedeness.

“For Habitat for Humanity Philippines, this opportunity provided us a practical platform for our mission of bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope, to the global stage,” Ayco said. “We believe that opening up debate and discussion, and reaching a consensus through our UTC, brings us one step closer to achieving our collective vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.”

[See: Connecting housing with sustainable urbanization in the New Urban Agenda]

Historically, Habitat conferences have included a significant emphasis on housing, with the focus on urbanization and urban development being a more recent trend. Certainly that was the case at Habitat I in 1976, which led to the creation of the U. N. Human Settlements Programme — better known as the UN-Habitat, the lead agency on next year’s Habitat III conference. The agency’s initial mandate focused squarely on housing.

A decade later, the U. N. International Year of Shelter for the Homeless was also deemed a follow-up to Habitat I.

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