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Habitat III: “It’s not about conferences, but people” – UN expert calls for big ‘Shift’ in approach to housing

QUITO / GENEVA (21 October 2016) – Current perceptions of housing as a commodity, of development at any expense, and the exclusion of the most vulnerable, remain dominant in the global approach to housing, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha, warned.

“Globally, there is an interest in housing – but not as a human right, or an issue requiring urgent attention to assist the most vulnerable groups in cities around the world,” Ms. Farha said at the end of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, that took take place this week in Quito, Ecuador.

“Despite the ever increasing rates of homelessness, forced evictions, insecure tenure, commodification of housing, land and property speculation, and gentrification of cities in a context of rapid urbanization, the international community has failed to place the right to adequate housing at the centre of its debates,” she noted.

The human rights expert explained that the conclusion of Habitat III has left global leaders, organizations and community members poised with many questions about the direction of housing policy for the next twenty years. “However,” she stressed, “a critical challenge remains: implementing the New Urban Agenda within a vibrant human rights framework – a framework that has been embraced by civil society, social movements, and cities throughout the world.”

The Special Rapporteur, along with international partners the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Cities and Local Governments, brought together a budding global alliance to push an international initiative on the right to housing through the event ‘The Shift’, which was “an opportunity to test the appetite for moving popular discourse away from housing as an investment or economic driver, to housing as a human right.”

“The millions who have been rendered homeless or forced to live in intolerable housing conditions have been treated as the ‘problem’, Ms. Farha stated.  “The Shift demands a different paradigm: those who are homeless and inadequately housed must be treated as rights claimants and key actors must implement the right to adequate housing in a new urban rights agenda.”

With over 100 participants from all sectors, ‘The Shift’ affirmed a common desire for change – to make the world a more human place in which to live.

“Habitat III was a symbolic moment when diverse stakeholders came together to commit to a global change grounded in human rights, but we are facing a steep hill ahead,” Ms. Farha said.  “We are challenging those with huge wealth and power; we are challenging the dominant understanding of who counts and who doesn’t; we are challenging dominant perceptions about who cities are for.”

“This is only a first step, but I know, it is not conferences that make change, it’s people,” the UN Special Rapporteur underlined.

Ms. Leilani Farha (Canada) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. She took her function in June 2014. Ms. Farha is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa, Canada. A lawyer by training, for the past 20 years Ms. Farha has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact Patricia Varela (+41 22 928 9234 / pvarela@ohchr.org) or write to srhousing@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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