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UN expert on housing issues report on the financial crisis

9 March 2009


GENEVA -- The UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, on Monday presented a report to the Human Rights Council on the financial crisis, its causes and its relation to the right to adequate housing.

In her report, the Special Rapporteur provides an analysis of the sub-prime crisis and the subsequent financial crisis worldwide. “While political discussions are on-going, I believe it is important to consider the linkage of the crisis with human rights, especially to look at the causes of the crisis and avoid repeating the same mistakes in any new national and global agenda” she stated at the Human Rights Council.

“One of the fundamental errors has been to consider housing only as a commodity and an investment asset”. In this perspective, according to the expert, the provision of housing was too often left only to the private market and financial capital. But she believes that markets alone cannot provide adequate housing for all.

In her presentation to the Council, Ms. Rolnik stated that in order to provide adequate housing for all, there is a need for various housing options: homeownership cannot be the single way to achieve security of tenure. This option led countries to rely heavily on private loans and mortgages to facilitate access to housing. “Credits were attributed by the private sector to households that – in normal circumstances – would not be eligible for loans”, said the UN expert to explain the subprime crisis. “That means that not only the risk for private companies increased but also low-income households were made even more vulnerable to economic and financial changes.”

The Special Rapporteur also argued that the reduction of the role of the state in housing resulted in a decrease in public housing stocks and a reduction of housing options, with an important impact on people in need of affordable housing, especially those that cannot afford market prices and mortgages.

Rapid increases in the price of housing led to excessive borrowing and thus to the massive expansion of the financial system. The “biggest bubble in history” was foreseen, but little or nothing was done by Governments to prevent it. For Ms. Rolnik, “The current crisis has resulted in housing becoming even less affordable for many people around the world. It is a blunt reminder that it is not just the poor, but also low-income and -- increasingly -- middle-income groups, who find it difficult to raise enough money to buy or rent adequate housing. The discrepancy in the rise in incomes and in housing and rental prices leads households to constantly live in fear of losing their homes through default in payments of their rents or mortgages.”

The Special Rapporteur expressed her concern that human rights have been largely ignored in major international meetings and events related to the financial crisis. “I believe that the current crisis represents an opportunity for reflection, and to consider how to improve housing systems, policies and programmes so as to ensure adequate housing to all.”

ENDS

Ms. Raquel Rolnik was appointed as "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", in May 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. The UN first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to adequate housing in 2000. Her mandate involves reporting annually to the Human Rights Council on the status of the realization of the right to adequate housing throughout the world, and identifying practical solutions and good practices towards this end. An architect and urban planner, Ms. Rolnik has extensive experience in the area of housing and urban policies.

For further information on the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, please consult the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/housing/index.htm

For inquiries and media requests: please contact +4122-917 91 77 or srhousing@ohchr.org