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

In open letter, 13 NGOs call for the New Urban Agenda to more directly address urban speculation, the social function of land and alternatives to private property.

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-eviction NGOs 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 “Habitat III 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 Habitat II, 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 2008.

“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.

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