More equality, less speculation: What is missing from the New Urban Agenda of Habitat III

UN member countries are discussing a New Urban Agenda, which aims to set international standards for reducing the number of households without housing and achieving sustainable urban development over the next 20 years.

A New Urban Agenda is being discussed at the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), which is taking place in Quito, Ecuador from October 17-20. This agenda seeks to set international standards for reducing the number of households without housing and achieving sustainable urban development over the next 20 years. But for this to happen, states will have to abandon the current model that prioritizes profit over people.

The prevalence of this logic in Latin American urbanization processes has resulted in the violation of millions of people’s human rights, including the right to safe drinking water, to health, to education and to land. CELS and many other social and territory-based organizations from the region are participating in Habitat III to ensure this reality is not ignored.

The urban agenda being discussed in Quito highlights the need to regulate the real estate market, to take specific measures to “combat and prevent speculation” and to capture the increase in land and property value generated by “urban development processes, infrastructure projects and public investments.” But this is insufficient, because it does not pose the need for states to profoundly intervene in the market dynamics that have exacerbated levels of segregation and territorial inequality.

In line with the statement entitled New Urban Agenda Must be Based in Human Rights, we believe the states gathered at Habitat III should have seized this opportunity to spur public policies that promote inclusive urbanization and prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable populations. In that sense, the statement issued by 12 human rights experts and rapporteurs underscores: “The human rights responsibilities of local and subnational governments cannot be fulfilled if developers, contractors, and investment funds continue to use housing and land as investment for personal gain without regard to the human rights consequences of their actions, and if multilateral banks and financial institutions continue to fund urban projects and infrastructure developments that lead to forced evictions, displacement, ghettoization and further exclusion.”

The outcome document of Habitat III also fails to recognize the “right to the city,” a valuable concept for understanding cities as spaces that offer privileged conditions for accessing the goods, services and infrastructure that provide a good quality of life. This concept is widely recognized by civil society and social organizations, as reflected in the World Charter for the Right to the City.

In this scenario, we highlight the proposals set forth in the National Consensus for Decent Habitat (Consenso Nacional para un Hábitat Digno), an initiative that CELS led within the Habitar Argentina collective of organizations. The Consensus promotes a set of public policies aimed at achieving territorial development with social justice, environmental sustainability and respect for local cultures. Some of its core focuses include the regulation of property markets and redistribution of the income generated by them, the regulation of rental markets, social production of habitat, and universal access to basic services and social infrastructure.