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02 November 2008

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alun griffiths

G-20: Build a Global Social Pact for Equitable and Sustainable Habitat now!

editorial staff

13/11/2008 2:45 pm

On the occasion of the financial summit of the G 20 in Washington International housing rights alliances call for fundamental change of global financial architecture and financing habitat

We, the undersigned civil organizations and individuals

* dedicated to the defence and realization of the human right to adequate housing and habitat;
* fighting for many years for the right to decent housing against the consequences of neo-liberal policies and financial markets,
* alarmed by the cruel and crude consequences of the financial crisis manifesting itself through mass foreclosures and evictions,
* in accordance with the moral principles and legal human rights enshrined inter alia in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the corresponding norms of UN human rights instruments and in accordance with many UN decisions and documents, such as the Kyoto Protocol,
* in parallel with the many related statements submitted by civil society organisations and trade unions (1),
* being aware of the emergency character of the current financial and economic crisis,
* being aware that many local authorities are already deeply affected by the current crisis,
* being aware that the fundamental character of the crisis requires fundamental far reaching change,
* understanding the many interdependencies of the financial crisis with development, energy, climate and employment,
* being aware of the serious threats this crisis presents to social cohesion, democracy, peace and freedom,
* hoping for a world leadership which is able and willing to replace discredited paths of development with a new global economic architecture and vision in accordance with the principles of human rights, democracy and international justice and in effective cooperation with civil society,
* stressing the provisional character of this statement,

Call on the G 20-governments to

* include the countries beyond G 20, including the Least Developed Countries, into the process of redefining the global financial architecture,
* include trade unions, local authorities, civil society and inhabitants organizations in negotiations for development and habitat financing,
* undertake immediate assessments in order to reduce the social, spatial and economic consequences of the current crisis and to change the wayward path of neo-liberal financial governance,
* cautiously analyse the housing and habitat factors which have contributed to the crisis,
* be aware of consequences of the crisis and of state reactions affecting housing and habitat,
* immediately develop a coordinated emergency programme in order to limit negative consequences of the crisis on housing conditions, environments, habitat and local economies,
* egulate financial markets globally without excluding people from access to adequate housing,
* support and develop alternatives to private mortgage and ownership based housing systems,
* develop new financial mechanisms for the improvement of the living conditions of at least one billion people worldwide who live in indecent and inhuman housing conditions,
* include the financing of housing and habitat into a necessary “Green New Deal”,
* develop international bodies and instruments which promote access to land by the poor and social regulations of land markets, which are in accordance to sustainable development standards and human rights, also respecting land rights of indigenous people,
* carefully examine the below observations and suggestions,

We like to remind governments and partners on housing and habitat development that

* affordable decent housing for all and liveable human settlements never can be provided by markets alone, but require consistent public regulation and interventions into the market, including pro-active and equitable land-use policies, public financing and housing provision, rent regulation and legal security of tenure,
* neo-liberal policies since the 1970’s,by undermining and abolishing these interventions, by privatisation and deregulation, have contributed deeply to the global crisis of habitat and housing, forcing more than one billion people to live under slum conditions,
* the same neo-liberal policies, through unequal patterns of trade, structural adjustment programmes and currency speculation, have forced countries into unsustainable debt and have deeply weakened state capacities to meet housing and habitat needs of their populations,

* accompanying neo-liberal regional and urban development policies, even in Least Developed Countries, did not provide satisfactory access to land and housing, which particularly affects poor and vulnerable groups, such as women and children,
* the same neo-liberal policies, through tax reduction on high incomes and wealth accumulation, the creation of tax havens, the privatisation of pension funds, reduction of real wages, dumping of surplus production and many others have impoverished states and ordinary people, cause an unconscionable concentration of private capital seeking speculative and unsustainable investments in the liberalized financial markets,

* under these conditions, the tremendous deficit of affordable and decent housing has been one of the key factors in the development of the subprime-housing-bubble in the United States,
* additionally, speculative investments in privatised housing assets have fired up and brought financial speculation to a new art form,
* one-sided promotion of mortgage lending and homeownership instead of direct public investment in social and and other rental housing solutions have been a key structural factor in the development of the current crisis,

* foreclosures and evictions already have made ordinary inhabitants into principal victims of the crisis.

Therefore, we warn governments that

* a socialisation of bank losses at the cost of state programmes for housing and (not only urban) development aid will further deepen the housing and habitat crisis,
* the economic crisis will also reduce people’s incomes and make affordable housing more necessary than before,
* bankruptcies in other housing sectors affected by the financial investment industries can be expected to multiply,
* the credit crunch will infect larger parts of housing and urban infrastructure,
* a huge wave of disinvestments in housing and the built environment is likely while – for social and ecological reasons – the opposite is necessary and desirable.

At the same time, we like to raise awareness that housing and habitat-related action can be factors and elements of reforms toward solutions if they include:

* emergency action limiting damage from the crisis,
* a more stable financial architecture,
* a reduction of the economic vulnerability of local communities and territories,
* the creation of jobs, mass income and economic stability alongside poverty reduction and sustainable development.

In this context we believe that housing and local infrastructure has to play an important role in a sustained “Green New Deal”.

As regards essential emergency and immediate action, we call governments to

* immediately implement measures that prevent forced evictions after foreclosure or because of unpaid rents due to the economic crisis, for instance by a legal moratorium or by bail outs for victims of foreclosures,
* restructure at-risk mortgages as affordable to and sustainable by existing homeowners, wherever possible, with losses absorbed by predatory lenders and investors,
* ensure that homes, apartments and underlying securities acquired by governments as they address the crisis are disposed of in a manner which preserves their affordable character and the security of tenure for the inhabitants, including maintenance of local rent controls, use restrictions, and subsidy contracts, with participation by the inhabitants and local communities in the disposition process,
* avoid bailing out banks without securities, but to nationalize foreclosed housing or the lending corporations in order to keep the land and housing under public control,
* provide alternatives for the public management of housing stocks controlled by Hedge Funds, Private Equity Funds or Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs),
* ensure that illiquid and bankrupt states immediately get enabled to fulfil their public duties once again.

Turning to the need for a more stable financial architecture we are adding to the numerous proposals submitted by other social actors and stakeholders that

* a satisfactory housing system with secure tenure, socially or publicly owned or regulated, is the best guarantee for stable and non-speculative mortgage markets,
* privatisation of public housing, land, infrastructure and services must be stopped and reversed, democratising public services,
* housing and infrastructure must be protected against the invasion of short term financial investments,
* private corporations controlling housing or infrastructure must be transparent and be based on regulated and sustainable equity capital,
* housing finance must be separated from investment banking and requires specific standards for transparency, capital requirements and securitization,
* mortgage systems must be transparent, publicly controlled and orientated on long term lending against fixed interest rates with adequate reserve requirements,
* highly speculative financial products based on derivates on underlying mortgages must be banned,
* leverage in mortgage and housing business must be strictly limited,
* highly speculative funds such as Hedge Funds must be banned,
* REITs must be replaced by more sustainable business models,
* states must provide public financing and lending for needed housing and habitat investments at low interest rates, refinanced in part by a graduated anti-speculation real estate transfer tax, with higher taxes based on extent of gain and rate of turnover,
* significant parts of increased development aid must be invested directly in public housing and habitat or socially controlled domestic systems for financing housing and habitat,
* the World Bank has to be decentralized or to be replaced by other more accountable mechanisms, dedicated in practice to poverty reduction, global welfare and equality, with a specific programme line for financing housing and habitat,
* public and collective land owner ship should be promoted generally.

Taking into account

* the urgent, fundamental and multi-dimensional character of the crisis,
* the multiple benefits of improving habitat and housing conditions,
* the duty of states to implement and guarantee social human rights

opposing any measure

* which continues to undermine public and social control over land, housing, public infrastructure and services,
* which nationalizes the costs of the bank crisis by privatising the benefits to shareholders,
* which leads to authoritarian forms of governance,
* which reduces development aid and social expenditure,
* which do not consider and empower the local capacities,

we demand

the building of an International Social Pact for Financing Habitat, which

* is coordinated among all countries under the umbrella of the UN,
* is integrated in the necessary fundamental change of international financial mechanisms and institutions including the development banks,
* is founded on the full implementation of international housing rights standards,
* substantially contributes to a rapid improvement of the living conditions of at least one billion slum dwellers and homeless,
* directly reduces the number of people who daily – by growing poverty, precarious housing solutions, anti-poor urban developments and evictions – are forced to live under totally inadequate and inhuman conditions,
* supports the construction and renovation of needed homes and liveable habitats under public and/or social control in all countries,
* supports the development of stable domestic mechanisms for financing and promoting social and community housing solutions and habitat,
* directly contributes to social solutions for inhabitants threatened by foreclosures and evictions,
* everywhere promotes sustainable patterns of living, production and consumption, by amongst other things the use of renewable local resources, strengthening food sovereignty including urban agriculture and reduction of transport needs,
* especially in industrialized and “emerging market” countries, is based on housing and housing renewal solutions with reduced consumption of non-renewable resources,
* eliminates financial support by development banks and other institutions for large scale projects leading to forced evictions and weakening of the local housing standards,
* refinances the habitat programme by inter alia a harmonized progressive taxation of wealth and income, taxation of international currency and real estate transactions, closure of tax havens and increased ODA,
* transforms parts of external debts into public land and housing funds.

Accompanied by public regulation of global capital flows, financial speculation and real estate and land prices, such a "Global Pact on Financing Housing & Habitat" would contribute to the solution of the global housing crisis, counter wrong paths in the world economy and global governance since the 70ies, and reduce financial speculation. Investments, made possible by the cancellation of external debt and taxation, would be directed into needed activities to create jobs and increase incomes in all countries.

Such a Pact would thus stabilize domestic economies worldwide and open another, more sustainable path of development in accordance with human rights.

In order to achieve these necessary and urgent objectives the undersigned international housing networks propose to mobilize local and global inhabitants organizations, urban stakeholders and their allies.

Signatories

Habitat International Coalition (HIC),

International Alliance of Ihanbitants (IAI),

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)

November 2008

(1)See i.e.:

* “The global economic crisis: An historic opportunity for transformation. An initial response from individuals, social movements and non-governmental organisations in support of a transitional programme for radical economic transformation Beijing, 15 October 2008” http://casinocrash.org/?p=235
* “Trade Union Statement to G20 Crisis Summit - THE GLOBAL UNIONS “WASHINGTON DECLARATION” Nov. 2008 http://casinocrash.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/unionstatement.pdf

Let's debate & sign on: RECLAIMING SPACES: housing & crisis

Jennifer

Could you explain why protectionism is not the solution to the present crisis?

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John Ross

  • Is Senior Fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China

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