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/

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