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UN expert urges action to end global affordable housing crisis

20 October 2023

NEW YORK (20 October 2023) – A UN expert today warned of a severe affordable housing crisis, despite housing being a fundamental human right long recognised under international law.

“The world is grappling with a situation where more and more people are unable to afford their housing costs. Millions lack the financial means to access safe, secure and habitable housing,” said Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.

In his report to the General Assembly, the expert stressed that thousands of people are evicted every day simply because they cannot pay their housing costs, contributing to rising homelessness.

He noted that a staggering 1.6 billion people around the world lack adequate housing and basic services, with projections that this could rise to 3 billion by 2030. It is estimated that 100 million people worldwide are homeless.

“States, intergovernmental organisations and institutions should make more concerted efforts to address the underlying causes of housing unaffordability,” Rajagopal said. He pointed to several causes, including housing financialisaton, lack of local government authority, and weak tax policies.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the ripple effects that occur when people are unable to afford housing, putting their well-being and physical and mental health at risk. “When their rights to security of tenure, livelihoods and access to energy, safe water and sanitation are weakened, it ultimately violates the right to a life in dignity,” Rajagopal said.

The expert outlined concrete steps that States can take to achieve the goal of affordable housing for all. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring affordable housing for all, and States should choose options that best suit their specific needs and circumstances,” he said.

“Inclusive participation can tailor responses to different needs,” Rajagopal said. He stressed the importance of pursuing policy and institutional options that hold the promise of better outcomes, including co-housing, land banks, and rent regulation.

The Special Rapporteur warned that the affordable housing crisis does not affect everyone equally, but falls disproportionately on vulnerable groups who already face discrimination.

He urged States to recognise affordability as an integral part of the right to adequate housing in their national or constitutional law, which is lacking in most cases.

“As a global call to action to counteract and prevent the negative effects of the escalating trend towards unaffordable housing, this report should serve as a major catalyst for achieving affordable housing for all,” the expert said.

Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal assumed his function as Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on 1 May 2020. He is Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A lawyer by training, he is an expert on many areas of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, the UN system, and the human rights challenges posed by development activities.

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.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.
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