At Habitat III, NGO makes major commitments to strengthen access to housing

Habitat for Humanity will seek to secure housing for 40 million people by 2020, among other pledges on land tenure.

An ethnic Bajau Laut girl cooks aboard her houseboat off Sabah, Malaysia, June 2016. (Papa Annur/Shutterstock)

QUITO, Ecuador — One of the world’s leading housing non-profits announced major commitments at this week’s Habitat III conference to increase access to housing for 40 million people by 2020.

Habitat for Humanity, which works in nearly 70 countries, used the occasion of the U. N.’s 20-year summit on housing and urban development to unveil new efforts around housing markets and land-tenure rights with an urban focus.

The NGO also announced a USD $15 million pledge to establish the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, which will serve as an entrepreneurial incubator and accelerator for financial products to enable low-income people to access housing markets.

Habitat for Humanity’s announcements mark one of the largest civil-society commitments to the Quito Implementation Plan, the voluntary platform where governments, cities and NGOs can pledge support for the New Urban Agenda, the global urbanization strategy that is being adopted this week as the outcome of Habitat III.

“We’re really excited about the focus on housing at the centre of the New Urban Agenda,” Habitat For Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford told Citiscope on Tuesday. “Too often housing has been left out of the conversation on urban growth.”

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

According to the NGO’s estimates, housing accounts for more than 70 percent of land use in most cities, but 1 billion people in cities around the world lack secure land rights. To that end, Habitat for Humanity launched the Solid Ground advocacy campaign earlier this year to raise awareness and improve policies with the goal of helping 10 million people secure access to land for shelter.

While Habitat for Humanity is well known for volunteer projects to build individual houses in distressed neighborhoods and communities recovering from natural disaster, the U. S.-based group hopes to move the levers of global housing policy in order to rapidly accelerate access to shelter at a large scale.

The blueprint for this effort is the New Urban Agenda’s provisions on housing, which were informed by a research paper co-prepared by Habitat for Humanity during the two years of preparation leading up to Habitat III.

[See: What have we learned from the Habitat III policy units? (Part II)]

The announcements mark a significant anniversary for the NGO, which was founded in 1976 just months after the first U. N. Conference on Human Settlements, better known as Habitat I, in Vancouver. Inspired by the world’s first global gathering to discuss pressing needs around shelter, co-founder Millard Fuller adopted the conference’s name for his new housing non-profit.

“Urbanization is the key global demographic trend,” Reckford said. Without significant change to public policy and private land markets, he added, “Cities can’t house their current population, let alone their projected population.”

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