Skip to main content

Published:4 August 2015
Author:Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing
Presented:At the General Assembly’s 70th session
Link: A/70/270


In the report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, outlines how the right to adequate housing must guide the development and implementation of a “New Urban Agenda” to be adopted at the UN Conference on Sustainable Urban Development - Habitat III in October 2016.

At a time when more than half the world’s population lives in cities, with the majority of urban dwellers facing homelessness, lacking security of tenure or living in inadequate conditions, and a third of them living in informal settlements, the Special Rapporteur argues that the change needed is a new “urban rights agenda” with the right to housing at its core.

The report discusses five critical cross-cutting areas that must be given priority: (a) social exclusion: stigmatization and housing status; (b) migration; (c) vulnerable groups; (d) land and inequality; and (e) informal settlements. The report highlights how the right to adequate housing establishes accountability and facilitates access to justice and the participation of marginalized groups in decisions that affect their lives.
In the Special Rapporteur’s view, the New Urban Agenda could be an opportunity for States and other relevant actors to enhance their capacities and commitment to utilize a human rights framework in future development planning. 

Key recommendations

  • The New Urban Agenda should be based in human rights, with the right to adequate housing as a pillar.

The New Urban Agenda should:

  • Commit to enhanced regulation of private actors and markets consistent with the recognition of housing as a human right. In particular, measures should be adopted to prevent forced eviction, land grabbing, speculation and leaving homes or lands abandoned that could otherwise be used.
  • Reflect the experiences of city residents and establish a process of ongoing participation and engagement, particularly with those who currently lack access to adequate housing.
  • Firmly commit to the elimination of homelessness and forced evictions, as two of the most serious systemic violations of the right to adequate housing in cities.
  • Focus on eliminating social exclusion, inequality and discrimination as human rights violations and prevent the criminalization and stigmatization of people on the basis of their housing status. Particular housing experiences and needs of all migrants, displaced persons, persons with disabilities and women, children and youth in situations of vulnerability should be addressed.
  • Include a commitment to realize the right to adequate housing with clear goals and timelines for: a. Reducing and ultimately eliminating homelessness; b. Ensuring security of tenure and prevention of all forced evictions; c. Providing the full protection of law for residents of informal settlements; d. Ensuring access to adequate housing for all, including for residents of informal settlements.

Access the report A/70/270 in all 6 official UN languages.

New Urban Agenda

On 20 October 2016 the UN Habitat III conference adopted the New Urban Agenda which was afterwards endorsed by Member States on 23 December 2016 by UN General Assembly resolution 71/256.

While not all recommendations of the Special Rapporteur found their way into the final text of the New Urban Agenda, States have made several important commitments to human rights, equality, non-discrimination, participation and the right to adequate housing in the document. These commitments provide opportunities for human rights advocacy in the field of housing and urban planning.

Human rights in the New Urban Agenda

Below are selected paragraphs of the New Urban Agenda that include references to human rights, non-discrimination, equality, participation, eliminating homelessness, improving security of tenure, universal access to water and sanitation and non-discriminatory access to other services.

11. We share a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all.

12. We aim to achieve cities and human settlements where all persons are able to enjoy equal rights and opportunities, as well as their fundamental freedoms, guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including full respect for international law. In this regard, the New Urban Agenda is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome. It is informed by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development.

13. We envisage cities and human settlements that:

(a) Fulfil their social function, including the social and ecological function of land, with a view to progressively achieving the full realization of the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, without discrimination, universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation, as well as equal access for all to public goods and quality services in areas such as food security and nutrition, health, education, infrastructure, mobility and transportation, energy, air quality and livelihoods;

(b) Are participatory, promote civic engagement, engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants, prioritize safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces that are friendly for families, enhance social and intergenerational interactions, cultural expressions and political participation, as appropriate, and foster social cohesion, inclusion and safety in peaceful and pluralistic societies, where the needs of all inhabitants are met, recognizing the specific needs of those in vulnerable situations;

(c) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decisionmaking, by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value, for all women and by preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces;  […]

14. To achieve our vision, we resolve to adopt a New Urban Agenda guided by the following interlinked principles:

(a) Leave no one behind, by ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including the eradication of extreme poverty, by ensuring equal rights and opportunities, socioeconomic and cultural diversity, and integration in the urban space, by enhancing liveability, education, food security and nutrition, health and well-being, including by ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, by promoting safety and eliminating discrimination and all forms of violence, by ensuring public participation providing safe and equal access for all, and by providing equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services, as well as adequate and affordable housing. […]

26. We commit ourselves to urban and rural development that is people-centred, protects the planet, and is age- and gender-responsive and to the realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, facilitating living together, ending all forms of discrimination and violence, and empowering all individuals and communities while enabling their full and meaningful participation. We further commit ourselves to promoting culture and respect for diversity and equality as key elements in the humanization of our cities and human settlements.

27. We reaffirm our pledge that no one will be left behind and commit ourselves to promoting equally the shared opportunities and benefits that urbanization can offer and that enable all inhabitants, whether living in formal or informal settlements, to lead decent, dignified and rewarding lives and to achieve their full human potential.

28. We commit ourselves to ensuring full respect for the human rights of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants, regardless of their migration status, and support their host cities in the spirit of international cooperation, taking into account national circumstances and recognizing that, although the movement of large populations into towns and cities poses a variety of challenges, it can also bring significant social, economic and cultural contributions to urban life. […]

31. We commit ourselves to promoting national, subnational and local housing policies that support the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing for all as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, that address all forms of discrimination and violence and prevent arbitrary forced evictions and that focus on the needs of the homeless, persons in vulnerable situations, low-income groups and persons with disabilities, while enabling the participation and engagement of communities and relevant stakeholders in the planning and implementation of these policies, including supporting the social production of habitat, according to national legislation and standards.

33. We commit ourselves to stimulating the supply of a variety of adequate housing options that are safe, affordable and accessible for members of different income groups of society, taking into consideration the socioeconomic and cultural integration of marginalized communities, homeless persons and those in vulnerable situations and preventing segregation. We will take positive measures to improve the living conditions of homeless people, with a view to facilitating their full participation in society, and to prevent and eliminate homelessness, as well as to combat and eliminate its criminalization.

34. We commit ourselves to promoting equitable and affordable access to sustainable basic physical and social infrastructure for all, without discrimination, including affordable serviced land, housing, modern and renewable energy, safe drinking water and sanitation, safe, nutritious and adequate food, waste disposal, sustainable mobility, health care and family planning, education, culture, and information and communications technologies. We further commit ourselves to ensuring that these services are responsive to the rights and needs of women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and local communities, as appropriate, and to those of others in vulnerable situations. In this regard, we encourage the elimination of legal, institutional, socioeconomic and physical barriers.

35. We commit ourselves to promoting, at the appropriate level of government, including subnational and local government, increased security of tenure for all, recognizing the plurality of tenure types, and to developing fit-for-purpose and age-, gender- and environment-responsive solutions within the continuum of land and property rights, with particular attention to security of land tenure for women as key to their empowerment, including through effective administrative systems.

36. We commit ourselves to promoting appropriate measures in cities and human settlements that facilitate access for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment of cities, in particular to public spaces, public transport, housing, education and health facilities, public information and communication (including information and communications technologies and systems) and other facilities and services open or provided to the public, in both urban and rural areas.

40. We commit ourselves to embracing diversity in cities and human settlements, to strengthening social cohesion, intercultural dialogue and understanding, tolerance, mutual respect, gender equality, innovation, entrepreneurship, inclusion, identity and safety, and the dignity of all people, as well as to fostering liveability and a vibrant urban economy. We also commit ourselves to taking steps to ensure that our local institutions promote pluralism and peaceful coexistence within increasingly heterogeneous and multicultural societies.

48. We encourage effective participation and collaboration among all relevant stakeholders, including local governments, the private sector and civil society, women, organizations representing youth, as well as those representing persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, professionals, academic institutions, trade unions, employers’ organizations, migrant associations and cultural associations, in order to identify opportunities for urban economic development and identify and address existing and emerging challenges.

105. We will foster the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living. We will develop and implement housing policies at all levels, incorporating participatory planning and applying the principle of subsidiarity, as appropriate, in order to ensure coherence among national, subnational and local development strategies, land policies and housing supply.

106. We will promote housing policies based on the principles of social inclusion, economic effectiveness and environmental protection. We will support the effective use of public resources for affordable and sustainable housing, including land in central and consolidated areas of cities with adequate infrastructure, and encourage mixed-income development to promote social inclusion and cohesion.

107. We will encourage the development of policies, tools, mechanisms and financing models that promote access to a wide range of affordable, sustainable housing options, including rental and other tenure options, as well as cooperative solutions such as co-housing, community land trusts and other forms of collective tenure that would address the evolving needs of persons and communities, in order to improve the supply of housing (especially for low-income groups), prevent segregation and arbitrary forced evictions and displacements and provide dignified and adequate reallocation. This will include support to incremental housing and self-build schemes, with special attention to programmes for upgrading slums and informal settlements.

108. We will support the development of housing policies that foster local integrated housing approaches by addressing the strong links between education, employment, housing and health, preventing exclusion and segregation. Furthermore, we commit ourselves to combating homelessness as well as to combating and eliminating its criminalization through dedicated policies and targeted active inclusion strategies, such as comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable housing-first programmes.

109. We will consider increased allocations of financial and human resources, as appropriate, for the upgrading and, to the extent possible, prevention of slums and informal settlements, with strategies that go beyond physical and environmental improvements to ensure that slums and informal settlements are integrated into the social, economic, cultural and political dimensions of cities. These strategies should include, as applicable, access to sustainable, adequate, safe and affordable housing, basic and social services, and safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces, and they should promote security of tenure and its regularization, as well as measures for conflict prevention and mediation.

Read the full text of the New Urban Agenda in all six UN languages.

Inputs received

To inform her report the Special Rapporteur received the following submissions:

National Human Rights Institutions

UN agencies