Housing as a basic human right

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”[1]

“By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”[2]

How far are we today from making this demands come true or are these only dead letters?

World population is increasing day by day, just as the number of city population and the number of people who can not afford appropriate housing for themselves. At the moment, over 900 million people are living in slums, in conditions undignified for a human life. Making the dream to

ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services come true seems further away than ever before.  

Most housing problems originate from housing commodification and placing them on the market, where the prices of the real estate are increasing thanks to the financial scheming, despite the constant construction. The price of a square meter is going up and the flats are becoming unavailable for the majority.

I will use as an example of my home town (Jagodina, Serbia) where in the years between 1971 and 2002 the numbers of housing units and households in the very city were approximately the same, as Table 1 shows. There were very few empty or emptied flats, until the number of flats drastically increased in the years between 2002 and 2011, which was not matched with the increasing number of households. Although the statistics initially seems encouraging and seems to suggest that the construction is effective, the background of the data is quite different.

Out of 17.488 currently existing flats in the city, 4.000 are empty and over 2.100 are used on the basis of various leases, renting, family relations and so on. The great number of empty, mostly newly built flats, can statistically support the fact that it is safer to invest in construction, even if those flats cannot be sold at the moment.

Year 1971 1981 1991 2002 2011
Population 27658 35488 37560 35589 37282
Households 8948 11676 12768 12987 13844
Flats 8281 11067 13203 13695 17488

Tabela 1. Uporedni pregled broja stanovnika, domaćinstava i stanova Jagodina[3]

And while a smaller number of individuals owns a large number of real estate, ordinary people can only dream of buying a flat, since the average salary is 35.000 RSD (300 euros) and the price of a square meter is around 600 euros. We should also bear in mind that average market basket is larger than the average salary. In the end, the question is: for whom are those new flats being built for, if the majority of the population cannot afford them?

At the moment, the share of public flats in the total number of housing units in city is around 0,6%[4] . It is among the lowest in Serbia and very small even in comparison to western countries, since it is so popular to compare with them these days. The share of public flats in the total number is 10 per cent in England and the Netherlands, and a French law states that at least 20 percent of flats should be social housing. Social housing is still desirable and attractive for living in these countries.

In order to reach the goal set at the beginning of the text, a new mass investment in the public and social housing for everyone is necessary, especially for those who cannot afford housing in the current market game.

 

/Predrag Momcilovic

Project manager at Serbian Green Youth, research associate at Belgrade University, Serbia 

[1]    .The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, chapter 1.

[2]    .Sustainable development goals, Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

[3]    .Republic statistical office Serbia, http://www.stat.gov.rs/

[4]    .Republic statistical office Serbia, http://www.stat.gov.rs/

The role of storytellers in development policy

Generally the aid policy has been based on donor’s conditions and interest through decades. Though all evidence show that the domination of donor countries perspectives in aids policies is a huge obstacle that still has to be overcome in order to provide a solid foundation for sustainable development.

The Swedish newspaper, Götebors Posten, published an important debate written by a few researchers from Gothenburg University, Professor Fredrik Söderbaum et al, on June 29th 2016.  In this debate they emphasized one of the major issues on aid policy within the framework of development policies:

“Policy framework fails to adequately take into account the poor people’s ability and power to themselves create the development they want for themselves, their families and their countries. Research on the driving forces behind development emphasizes people and their organizations and institutions – from trade unions to religious organizations and cooperatives to local history societies and diaspora groups – are the most important development resource and thus the main driving force for social change.”

 

This important issue has already been discussed internationally by many scholars during the last decades and are relevant to Sweden’s aid policy as well as other countries. Although the successful actions for change on this major issue have not yet been taken, there is further need to improve the next step of critical approach to the aid policy. Further critical approach on aid policy is needed to provide a profound and comprehensive knowledge on the power relations of the recipient countries. For instance one of the key issues regarding power relations in recipient countries are: whose voices are heard and whose voices are unheard in shaping in recipient countries? What are the diverse narratives or stories among the people?

The fact that there are greater socio-economic gaps and social injustice within the developing’s world compare to the rich world, should be taken into considerations by donors countries. Due to the great gap in socio-economic, social status and power relations in recipient countries, the voices being heard are often the strongest voices.

 

Thus, the constant question that should be asked in analysis framework and action planning should assume: whether or not the donors reach out to the civil society’s real representative? Have the donors reached all the storytellers and strengthen all the voices?  How could the donors reach the divers storytellers in order to include different part of the civil society in problem analysis, needs assessment and action plan?

Refugee situation demands change in life style in rich countries

On 25 May, the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven presented his refurnished government. In his speech he emphasized – as a matter of top priority for the government ­– that the Swedish version of a European welfare state shall be reinforced, not dismantled. His statement must be seen with Sweden’s more restrictive refugee laws, put in place half a year ago, as backdrop; Sweden will not allow a growing number of refuges jeopardize the welfare for its citizen.

At the very same day news also reported about riots in Southern India, due to a draught which experts said climate change most likely had worsened.

These two occasions captures in a nutshell the challenge that we in the rich world face, if we really mean what we say about working for a sustainable world for all; the consequences of our life style (e.g. more refugees due to climate change effects) eventually will hit back on us and challenge the way we live.

The political crossroad is between safe guarding, at any cost, the wealth we have accumulated – or being foresighted and realize that a future stable society rests on the fact that wealth is spread more evenly over the world than today. The former means amongst other things building higher and higher walls around our countries. The latter implies sharing what we have, and in doing so accept that some of the privileges we have grown accustomed to must go.

Transports for example. In a sustainable world The Holy Car cannot be every man’s and woman’s property. Instead sharing will be the norm; public transports as the standard transporting system and if absolutely necessary using a car through a car sharing organisation. Cycling to work and no more flying to Hong Kong for a shopping weekend.

Food is another example. If everyone on earth shall have a fair share of food, vegetarian food must become the norm, with fish and meat as rare complementary dishes.

This change is under way, but for a large group of people the change will be painful. I’m thinking primarily about blue collar workers with no higher education. This is the group within which right wing nationalistic parties have been recruiting support the last couple of years. In Sweden, but also in the rest of Europe and in the USA.

This group have fought hard within labour unions to achieve the wealth the enjoy today. They should rightfully be proud of their efforts. Many of the reforms they have participating in establishing, now forms the basis of the welfare state. When our prime minister emphasizes that the Swedish welfare state shall not be abandon, but developed, he signals to them that they are not forgotten.

That is a necessary step in order to pull this group back from the nationalists. But at the same time it puts us greens, not least, in a dilemma; much of the consumption culture that the working class today can be part of must be the very target for change if we want to build a more sustainable future.

To unlock this dilemma, I believe that greens in Europe need to work closely with social democratic parties and movements. Even when bearing in mind that a large part of union members views us as evil on earth. But if we don’t have the working class on board we will never achieve real change in our societies.

The way to go about it is through close alliances with other parts of the social democrats; the internationalists, the people that for century have fought for disarmament and sustainable development. Moreover, and in the same spirit as the Icelandic reforms after their big banking scandal, every reform should be designed so that it puts more burden on richer people than on low paid workers and unemployed.

Working together with social democrats will put us greens in many difficult situations, where our credibility as agents for sustainable change will be questioned. But waiting until we grow big enough to be the dominant party in government will simply take too long.