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  4. March 1996 - Volume 3
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FOCUS March 1996 Volume 3

Housing Right

Existence of economic opportunities cause millions of people to migrate to urban areas. Those who can afford to pay will have to compete for limited housing facilities. For the rest, the poor, they have to survive with what can be made out of the materials and places which are not fit for housing purposes.

The reality of slum communities in most Asian cities reminds us of the kind of development paradigm that has been adopted by governments. Urban-centered development concentrates economic opportunities; health, education and social services; government facilities and other resources in the limited confines of urban areas. Increased population without increased facilities for housing create a natural coping mechanism to survive in places where economic opportunities are found. Slum communities are the best proofs of survival strategy.

International human rights instruments provide for the concept of housing right. Just like any other human right, governments are obligated to take appropriate steps to realize this right. In practice, however, there is a general amnesia about this international human right principle. Slum communities are being evicted on grounds of protecting the property right of landowners, or giving way to commercial projects, or constructing public facilities. Some slum dwellers, after being evicted, are left to fend for themselves as governments would consider their situation as caused by their own fault. Others are given housing facilities in places that are far away from the urban areas and without employment opportunities or social services. In both cases, the problem of slum dwelling hardly gets resolved.<

In view of the fact that reversing the urban-centered approach to development would take years to happen (if ever such decision has been made), the realization of housing right of slum dwellers will have to take place in the urban setting. NGOs involved in housing right issues advocate for a way of maximizing the limited space in the urban areas that will satisfy the right of the slum dwellers, and government and private sector's development plans. This means finding the best way of easing the hardship of living in slum areas through the development of their present sites as housing projects.

The Asian Coalition on Housing Rights (ACHR) has been implementing programs that support the slum dwellers' right to decent housing. It has been organizing workshops that bring together representatives of slum dweller organizations, NGO workers and relevant government agency representatives to share and learn on the experiences of resolving slum issues. There is a distinct focus on finding the most practical and appropriate means of realizing housing right through the joint efforts of the affected slum community, the NGOs involved and the government. Their latest workshop was held in Osaka, Japan in October last year. Housing projects implemented by the local government in Osaka became the subject of study.

The housing right issue is given prominence at the international level with the holding of Habitat II conference in Istanbul, Turkey on June 3-14 this year. This conference is crucial as a means of widening support from governments for programs on decent housing especially for the poor. This conference will hopefully affirm once and for all the existence of a human right to housing which the United States is bent on avoiding for its own purposes.