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Last week, Global leaders, corporate titans and aid workers gathered in Brazil for the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20). The discussion centered on jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and disasters. While it’s heartening to know that within each of these categories some attention was given to substandard housing, the issue clearly deserved greater room at the table, given its profound impact on many of these areas on the agenda. Tackling substandard housing helps to make all those things possible.

Shelter is acknowledged as a basic human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is a fundamental catalyst in breaking the cycle of poverty. Living in a decent home means improved health for the entire family; children doing better at school and increased livelihood opportunities for parents. At Habitat for Humanity, we are witness to this transformational impact on families and individuals on daily basis.

An example of this “social sustainability”, and how Habitat for Humanity is successfully involved in the process, is the Varjada Project in Brazil.  By involving Varjada community leaders in decision-making, Habitat learned that, despite other suggested priorities, potable water was the most urgent communal need. The community as a whole understood the connection; water was significant not only for individual quality of life, but also for the women who invested many hours of their day gathering water from long distances—and therefore, vital to the sustainability of the entire community. 

Why the connection? Once the water issue was addressed, the women began to invest more time in other activities, such as the production and sale of handmade crafts. This, in turn, allowed families to increase their income and improve the quality of their housing, develop professionally, invest more in their children’s education and experience a higher level of self-esteem. Furthermore, through the marketing of their handmade goods, the women in the community organized into an association, through which they continue to push the overall improvement and development of the community.
This shows how housing-related solutions—potable water, safer structures, healthier bathrooms, and more—contributes to the long-term sustainability of communities  if human and social dynamics are taken into account. Similar stories relate to increasing employment opportunities and improving health. Addressing social needs, of which adequate housing is one, leads to greater health. This is as true in developed countries as it is in developing nations. A recent survey of physicians in the U.S. showed that 43 percent wished they could write prescriptions for housing assistance, as this would lead to improved health.

We can only begin to contemplate a sustainable future if the issue of substandard housing is elevated and given its due recognition – it’s the lynchpin on which so much else rests.

The relatively simple act of building a safe and decent home increases life chances. To tackle poverty housing on its massive scale takes bringing governments, the private sector and civil society together to find solutions. Rio+20 is one platform where this can happen, but with limited attention devoted to housing, it’s an opportunity missed.

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Republished with permission from COHRE.

16 August 2010 – It is estimated that in most countries in Latin America, between 30 and 60 percent of women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. The real figure is likely to be much higher, as many women don’t report these crimes.

The latest edition of the Centre on Housing Rights and Forced Evictions’ (COHRE’s) popular Bulletin on Housing Rights and the Right to the City in Latin America explores this crisis through the experiences of some of the activists working on this issue in Latin America, and details the main challenges and possible solutions for those women for whom the home has become a prison.

In her article, Elba Núñez, researcher at the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM Paraguay), presents some of the obstacles to the achievement of the right of women to adequate housing.

Patricia Guerrero, founder of the League of Displaced Women in Colombia, raises some of the solutions that have been proposed by local human rights organizations to the housing problems faced by women. In her article, Guerrero details the construction of the City of Women, a unique housing experience in the region developed by and for women.

As Victoria Ricciardi, author of a recent COHRE report on women and housing rights in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia explains in her article, the number of shelters for women victims of domestic violence in the countries she studied is extremely limited, and with possible periods of stay limited to less than six months, long-term solutions are almost non-existent.

To read the latest Bulletin on Housing Rights and the Right to the City in Latin America, please click here (also available in Spanish and Portuguese).

To see the full COHRE report on housing rights for women victims of domestic violence, published on 16 July 2010, please click here.

For more information please contact:
Eliane Drakopoulos | Director of Communications | COHRE – Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions | 83, rue de Montbrillant | 1202 Geneva, Switzerland | T +41 (0)22 734 1028 | M +41 (0)789 106 745 | |

“The way to address Haiti’s particular set of problems is with less architectural magic and more garden-variety diligence.”

For Build Change, Habitat for Humanity and others, low-tech, locally-driven solutions are the best way forward in Haiti.

Excerpt below from Rebuilding Haiti: Local people, using local materials, may be the best solution for the ravaged country. Read the full article by Karrie Jacobs at METROPOLISMAG.COM.

Every day brings another bright idea. The Bay Area architect Joseph Bellomo thinks a tube-shaped, steel-framed modular building he’d originally dreamed up as a studio for a client in Hawaii could be adapted for Haitian needs. The Orlando, Florida, hotelier Harris Rosen wants to send cute little steel-framed prefabricated sheds to Haiti. And Andrés Duany is promoting a modular, flat-pack, fiber-composite bunkhouse, a transitional shelter that can be expanded into a permanent home. (InnoVida Holdings, a Miami-based company, plans to donate a thousand of them.) There is no end to the innovative solutions that could, in theory, help relieve the suffering of the million-plus homeless Haitians, many of whom are currently making do with rudimentary shelter, often little more than plastic sheeting draped over sticks.

In a recent online debate that asked, “Is it OK to run architectural competitions for Haiti?” Cameron Sinclair, of all people, said no. Sinclair, you’ll recall, put Architecture for Humanity on the map by sponsoring ideas competitions in response to catastrophes, and has been a standard bearer for the appealing notion that the world’s worst problems have architectural solutions. But maybe not now. “At a time when needs are of an immediate nature,” Sinclair wrote on Building Design’s Web site, “unproven concepts can be inappropriate and a distraction to the task at hand.”

He might have a point. As you may recall from New Orleans, the bright ideas, though exciting and inspirational, didn’t wind up housing more than a handful of people. Brad Pitt’s Make It Right, for example, boasts about a dozen completed houses so far. The situation in Haiti is, of course, far worse. Even before the earthquake, 80 percent of the population was living in dire poverty, often on less than two dollars a day, in concrete houses that were intended, through sheer bulk, to be hurricane resistant. Sadly, unreinforced concrete is not what engineers call “ductile,” and in earthquakes it crumbles. “One of the things that really killed a lot of people were these very thick, heavy concrete slabs that they use as roofing,” Mario Flores, a civil engineer and the director of disaster response for Habitat for Humanity’s field operations, says a few days after his return from the stricken country.

An initial reconnaissance report on the disaster, written by the Bay Area engineers Eduardo Fierro and Cynthia Perry, notes, “The most striking aspect of the Haitian earthquake is the complete absence of seismic detailing in Haitian construction, from informal housing to recent multi-story buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince.” But although much of the death toll can be pinned on badly built masonry structures, Fierro and Perry conclude that a type of low-cost construction called “confined masonry” is also the solution. “Seismic resistant” structures, they maintain, “can be built utilizing the same concrete, steel, and concrete block used in Haiti.”

The way to address Haiti’s particular set of problems is with less architectural magic and more garden-variety diligence. And that diligence can be taught. At least that’s the underlying premise of Build Change, a nonprofit that worked in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, in Sumatra after the 2007 earthquake, and in China after the 2008 earthquake. Careful seismic engineering can be broken down into simple rules that can be followed at relatively low cost. The organization, founded by the UC Berkeley–educated engineer Elizabeth Hausler, comes up with a seismically engineered house plan based on the local architectural vernacular. “People are already using materials and techniques that can be earthquake resistant, but there are some small changes that need to be made in order to make a house so that it’s not going to collapse,” says Hausler, who visited Haiti in late February.

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By: Mario Andrés Ojeda Casanova, Architect.
Masters candidate in Habitat, National University of Colombia, Bogota.


“…José Arcadio Buendía, who was one of the most enterprising men ever known in the village, had positioned the houses in such a way, that from any one of them a person could reach the river with an equal amount of energy and arranged the streets with such good sense that no house would receive more sun than another during the hottest hour of the day…”

-Gabriel García Márquez
100 Years of Solitude.1

Habitat can be defined as the combined physical, natural, spatial, social, cultural and economical characteristics that make up the experiential context of a community.2

The particular interest of this brief synthesis of a more extensive conceptual work is to identify the process of appointing the term “informality”3 to the socio-spatial configuration present in the formation of the city within a context such as ours, with a special focus on the construction of habitat.

Within an understanding of the dynamics of city growth, are the differences that mark the diverse surroundings, customs and traditions of each territorial space, reflected in the production and generation of housing and the manner in which these are lived in by their occupants. Medium-sized cities with a high potential for population growth are highly susceptible to the diverse relationships in the region and the alternative contexts different from its own particular manner of development.

Self-built, informal communities knit their territory into an ever more complex design; in which large sectors of the population take part. This construction is a reflection of the city that, in great part, is the common denominator in urban Colombia and Latin America. Its physical expression is clearly manifested in the economic, social and political situation, in the conception of imagination and culture as a framework for intangible expressions that become apparent in the social construction of habitat by these individuals, and the form of collectively inhabiting this space.

Rather than chaotic or improvised, this form of city development has its own logic, coherent with the necessities and possibilities of its inhabitants. They shape the space within particular methods of social interaction – alternative to those within the formal housing system, and thus create a connection to “normalized” society, making possible Manual Castell’s conclusion, “the shape of the space is a result of social relationships.” 

To inhabit, is the art of expression of a particular group (such as a community) in its process of construction of a territory with the self-taught, experiential abilities of its people. It is the art of the evolution of its “habitational” niche, forged by experience, trial and error, with the intent of creating individual and family shelter and to weave links among society.

The constitution of habitat, its appropriation and the manner of living within it, as a social community system.

Habitat: physical support /
Inhabit: relationships and processes

The human being, in the construction of his territory, mixes and superimposes time and space, reproduces elements and images that project his vision of the future with the grounding of his past. The construction of his habitat is a social exercise, identifying the existence of a memory and its expression within a social framework in the context of culture and identity.

Habitat implies living in a place, to inhabit is to affirm the presence of life on the land.4

In the development of major cities, particularly the production of habitat, the practices parallel to the proposed solution are characterized by the order of government and legal logic used by the predominant conception of the ideal urban complex. In the outskirts and within the city itself, an alternate city exists—built and modified day after day; produced outside the margins of public policies, real estate products and assistance from private initiatives.

This “other” city, framed by the formal city, is created with tremendous physical, economic, human and social effort. Families and the communities within this characteristic environment have produced a great variety of settlements. In each they generate their own housing solutions, and thus contribute to the supply of housing needed to overcome the housing deficit and, above all, doing this according to their economic condition (typically characterized as low-income).

This nearly anonymous process, often hidden from view, creates the “informal city.” It is spontaneous and dynamic, and due to these characteristics presents signs that indicate a condition of emergency.  What stands out most is that its conformation is unfinished, and for this reason progressive—little by little managing to expand the house, expand the neighborhood, and in consequence develope the community as a whole.

Thus, in the search for a production of social habitat, there is a lack of understanding and comprehension of the complexity of the social processes involved in the construction of spaces framed by this condition. The phenomenon and the magnitude of informal human settlements prove, without a doubt, the efforts of a population that is facing the need for a place to live—and the impossibility of acquiring that place within the market for adequate housing as related to their particular purchasing power—have resulted in a self-built solution, constructed over time with diverse models, methods and combinations of these.

The phenomenon that take place in informal settlements has concrete expressions and manifestations in economic terms. It is necessary to know, gauge and contextualize these processes, in order to “formulate hypothesis oriented towards the establishment of disciplines and incentives through public policy and economic market forces that drive a settlement to overcome the limitations of social production in terms of quality productivity and urban sustainability.”5

In other words, what is coined “the social production of housing,” has to be specified, quantified and analyzed in economic terms in order to understand its magnitude and its processes, and to democratically elucidate the best options for public policy and incentivation tools that will strengthen and improve the capacity and quality of social production in a symbiotic manner and with the joint responsibility of society, State, city and citizen.6

This potential rule as a concept of quantification of the quality of life does not begin to describe the relationship between the management of informality and spatiality to the social phenomenon under which it is developed. It only describes the economic, financial and physical aspect, when the added-value of these settlements is the social cultural richness based in cooperation, interpersonal relationships and social construction—characteristics fundamentally present all the way through to the process of consolidation. Security and coexistence are included within these virtues in the first phases of growth—factors that are unfortunately lost when maturity is achieved, thanks to these same virtues—but through which the same abandonment by the public class, the distancing of urban articulation, the localization of the settlement and the need of a few in control of the territory in any way possible stand out.

The final objective should be to provide elements that allow another lesson to be learned from this phenomenon. From a critical perspective, but yet concrete in effectiveness that begins with a recognition of the efforts and tangible and intangible contributions of inhabitants as a vital resource to be oriented and utilized as efficiently as possible for the benefit of low-income settlements and from societal partnership.

Diverse imaginations, customs and habits combine to create a diversity shared among the people that build their daily existence. The informal city responds to no more than the percentage needed for the development of the people who inhabit it. This type of housing production is closest to being equitable in terms of the physical distribution of construction, however often lacks in open green and public spaces that are present in formal urbanizations. Informal settlements live and interact by taking ownership of the street and other spaces as part of the living space of the home, integrating them into the neighborhood as an integral system of  habitability.

For this reason, self-generated development methods have been closest to the demand and housing needs of the groups that produce them. The families themselves have carried out the work, according to their ability, capacity and needs. These settlements present the best conditions of habitability, sustainability and, due to their gradual construction process, generate social cohesions different from those present in the formal city. They create a sense of “membership” with the space and a relationship to place (topofilia).

Thus, the examination that should be given to habitat as such, understands it as a complex system where diverse factors unite and affect, condition and delineate the optimal functionality of this system—where habitat is not only understood has a housing problem-solution (which is a very important and prime part among other factors). Programs should be applied that re-enforce this basic system of generation and provision of shelter at which inclusion into the city is at the center (both as a physical action and society as a socio-cultural complement).

In relation to this, the notion of habitat should be integral, and applied not only to the treatment of housing (in all of the ways that it is developed, being informal, formal, emergency, relocation, etc.).  Habitat is the combination of systems—housing, education, public space—with social logic within the framework of systematic development that includes economic commitment of each actor (employment opportunities and social security), for the integral growth of urban actors. For this reason, the sole treatment of housing as the final solution is not enough—even less in the context of medium-sized cities with limited resources, an expectation of growth and great potential for a population in a state of informality.

In conclusion, plans, programs and projects should be integral in the sense that the practices of housing generation and relocation geared towards this sector of the population should be inclusive, with constant follow-up in terms of pedagogy and cultural development. The capacity and social value of the men and women who day after day build an alternative community should be praised. These spatial and urban projects make up this physical and social link, where urbanization generates urbanity and is the platform of integration with these housing satellites—the outskirts and marginality—in the real search for SOCIAL HABITAT.

What are the interventions that should be taken, and what is the best method? This will not be discussed in this brief introductory reflection on the housing “problem,” the proposals of which are, for example, the expression of life in informality, should be created with collective participation and not just by technicians and professionals. They should instead be facilitated by government and the same inhabitants that model and live day to day in our cities, where respect for social richness and the order expressed in informal settlements is not ignored. They should attempt to use these virtues as a bridge for equality and understanding based in the diversity of official options as popular options to resolve the problem of a qualitative housing deficit.

*Article based on the research project, HABITARTE: Study of the Appropriation of Housing and its Context in Processes of Neighborhood Formation, Expansion and Consolidation in Self-Produced Settlements in Ladera. Manizales 1990 _ 2005.

1 GARCIA MARQUEZ, Gabriel. Cien Años de Soledad. Editorial Oveja Negra. 1984.

2 Seminario de Investigación, Línea de Profundización en Arquitectura y Hábitat, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Manizales. Documento Trabajo de Grado Posadas Nativas, Hábitat Transitorio de Ocio. Luís Eduardo Cerón Portilla. Mario Andrés Ojeda Casanova. 2005.

3 Informalidad esta referida a todas las actividades en desarrollo en forma paralela y/o alterna a las tradicionalmente
establecidas. Generalmente, estas están relacionadas al los aspecto económico en mayor medida, incluyendo para el caso el empleo, la educación y la vivienda.

4 Saldarriaga Roa, Alberto. Habitar como fundamento de la disciplina de la arquitectura. Revista al Hábitat. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Febrero 2006. Pág. 4_5.


6 ibíd.


· BOLLNOW, Otto Friedrich. HOMBRE Y ESPACIO. Editorial Labor, S.A. 1969.

· CERÓN PORTILLA, Luís Eduardo. OJEDA CASANOVA, Mario Andrés. Seminario de Investigación, Línea de Profundización en Arquitectura y Hábitat, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede Manizales. Documento Trabajo de Grado Posadas Nativas, Hábitat Transitorio de Ocio. 2005.

· CLIFFORT, Geetva. LA INTERPRETACION DE LAS CULTURAS. Descripción densa: hacia una teoría interpretativa de la Cultura.

· DUHAU, Emilio. HÁBITAT POPULAR Y POLÍTICA URBANA. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana. México 1998.

· HEIDEGGER. CONSTRUIR, MORAR, PENSAR. Ciencia y Técnica. Editorial Universidad Santiago de Chile. Santiago, 1993.


· ROMERO, Gustavo. LA PARTICIPACION EN EL DISEÑO URBANO Y ARQUITECTÓNICO EN LA PRODUCCIÓN SOCIAL DEL HÁBITAT. Red XIV “Tecnologías sociales y producción social del hábitat”: subprograma para viviendas de interés social HABYTED del programa iberoamericano de ciencia y tecnología para el desarrollo. CYTED México, 2004.

· SALDARRIAGA ROA, Alberto. Habitar como fundamento de la disciplina de la arquitectura. Revista al Hábitat. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Febrero 2006.

· SANTOS, Milton. LA NATURALEZA DEL ESPACIO. Técnica y Tiempo, Razón y Emoción. Editorial Ariel S.A. Barcelona, 2000.

· TAPIA, Ricardo. Vivienda progresiva y procesos de participación. Conferencia proclamación II concurso de vivienda social CONVIVE II. Revista ESCALA, SOCIEDAD COLOMBIANA DE ARQUITECTOS. Bogotá, 2007.

· UN-HÁBITAT. HÁBITAT Y DESARROLLO HUMANO. Cuadernos PNUD. Investigaciones sobre desarrollo humano. CENAC, UN-HÁBITAT, PNUD Colombia.

· YORY, Carlos Mario. TOPOFILIA O LA DIMENSION POETICA DEL HABITAR. Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Segunda edicion marzo 2007.



By Flora Calderón-Steck

“Housing should not be interpreted strictly as physical shelter, nor considered exclusively as a commodity, but as the right of all people, whatever their economic situation or social position, to live in security, peace and dignity.”

Adequate housing is a widely recognized human right, expressed in more than 20 international documents (UN-HABITAT, 2006). Despite the continued recognition by the international community of the fundamental role of equal access to adequate housing, the overwhelming reality is that millions of people lack this right. The situation is accentuated in urban areas, where more than half of the world’s population resides.

On a world-wide level, UN-Habitat estimates that in urban areas alone some one billion people experience housing-related problems (UNCHS, 2001). Including rural areas, the number of people living in inadequate housing condition could double. Among developing regions, Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized, with 77 percent of the population residing in cities (UN-HABITAT, 2008). In the region with the greatest level of economic inequality in the world, the expansion of Latin American cities has been disorganized and umbalanced. Consequently, there are currently 26 million houses that in inadequate conditions, and 28 million additional units are urgently needed in order to reduce overcrowding and inferior standards (Jha, 2007). The inability of formal markets and state policies to guarantee adequate conditions for this growing urban population has resulted in 128 million people living in informal settlements (ibid). This statistic represents one-third of the urban population of the region (UN-HABITAT, 2004). Informal settlements—often called slums—that emerge from this reality are characterized by conditions that work directly against the health and safety of their residents, ultimately violating their human right to adequate housing.

In the context of this flagrant violation of the right to housing, Habitat for Humanity International has been dedicating efforts to confronting this challenge since the late 1970s. The organization directs these efforts towards the transformation and strengthening of communities through, among other programs, the construction, improvement and financing of economically accessible housing.

The right to adequate housing
Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the right to adequate housing has been explicitly recognized in a wide gamut of international documents.

The Declaration establishes that:

“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, medical care and necessary social services.”

In 1966, the right to adequate housing is reaffirmed and elaborated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The United Nations appointed the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to monitor the fulfillment of the Covenant by signing nations and interoperating its contents.

Within this role, in 1991 the Committee issued “General Observation Number 4: The right to adequate housing,” which created an integral definition of this human right. The Committee notes that the right to housing is intimately linked to other human rights and the fundamental principles that serve as the premises of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Among these are the concepts of human dignity and non-discrimination. In conclusion, housing should not be interpreted strictly as physical shelter, nor considered exclusively as a commodity, but as the right of all people, whatever their economic situation or social position, to live in security, peace and dignity.

Gender perspective
It is important to pause for a moment to take note of the discrimination confronted by vulnerable groups, especially highlighting the case of women. Although both men and women suffer from unmet needs due to umbalanced urban development, women face certain additional legal, cultural, political and economic exclusions.

A reflection of the injustice which subjugates women is their over-representation in the majority of Latin American countries among the ranks of people living in conditions of poverty. At the same time, women-headed households tend to be more vulnerable. Daniela Zapata, consultant to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, points out that the percentage of women-headed households in the region has increased in the last decade. In 2002, between 18 and 30 percent of households were headed by females, while the percentage of women-headed households in conditions of extreme poverty was between 21 and 54 percent. In other words, women-headed households are over-represented among poverty-stricken groups (Zapata, 2007).

Unfortunately, in her report on the millennium development objectives from a gender perspective, Zapata does not analyze objective number seven, which touches on the subject of housing. Nevertheless, we know that on a world-wide scale the number of women-headed households living in slums is rising. These are areas characterized by limited sustainable livelihood options (UN-HABITAT, 2008).

In regards to the right to land and secure tenure, there continues to be a gap between the formal and legal equality between women and men and the practical success of gender equality. This continues to be the reality in the region, even in Latin American countries that have formally modified their civil codes and constitutions (Marqués Osorio, 2006).

Since the 1970s, much of social science discourse has acknowledged the many ways in which women in the region have organized in order to provide for their families and demand the state to recognize their rights as citizens of society (Radcliffe y Westwood, 1993; Kaijser, 2007). A focus on human rights demands that we do not lose sight of the diverse experiences among distinct groups, and adopt a gender perspective as a transversal framework.

The concept of “adequacy”
Returning to the work of the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in General Observation 4, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee utilizes the concept of adequacy to interpret housing in a wider sense—taking into account the diverse aspects of housing that  should be protected and guaranteed. Even when social, economic, cultural, climatologic, ecologic and other issues affect adequacy, the committee maintains that it is possible to identify the basic elements that make housing adequate.

Among other possibilities, the committee highlights the following seven elements that constitute the right to adequate housing. Even when a person does not lack shelter, a home that lacks any of the following elements cannot be considered adequate housing.

  1. Secure tenure: legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.
  2. Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: permanent access to natural and community resources, potable water, electricity, heat and lighting, sanitary installations, sewage and emergency services.
  3. Affordable costs: housing expenses should not impede nor compete with the satisfaction of other basic necessities.
  4. Habitability: adequate space for its occupants and protection from cold, humidity, heat, rain, wind and other health threats, structural risks and communicable illnesses.
  5. Accessibility: housing should be physically accessible for all people, with priority to groups in situations of disadvantage (physical or mental handicap, old age, youth, victims of disaster, etc.).
  6. Location: access to employment options, health services, childcare, schools and other social services. Outside of areas of environmental contamination.
  7. Cultural suitability: the expression of cultural identity and diversity.

By way of this statement by the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in the last several decades the international community has taken important strides to deepen understanding of the legal right to adequate housing. In 1996, the United Nations hosted the Second Conference on Human Settlements, known as Habitat II, in the city of Istanbul. As a result of this conference, the Habitat Agenda was adopted by member nations. This document establishes the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right, and outlines necessary actions and measures that need to be carried out in order to achieve this right (UNCHS, 2001).

The Habitat Agenda guides governments and civil society to putting human rights at the center of the formulation and implementation of housing policies. It calls for enabling housing processes; in other words, governments have a responsibility to establish and facilitate and favorable environment that supports all stake-holders in housing development and construction (UNCHS, 2001).
Four years after Habitat II, the United Nations Millennium Declaration announced a global consensus among member nations and key international development organizations to reach a series of goals aimed to reduce global poverty in its diverse manifestations by the year 2015. The declaration outlines eight fundamental objectives that subdivide into 18 specific goals. Housing falls under Objective 7, Goal 11, which assigns a significant improvement in the lives of 100 million slum dwellers. Maintaining the proportion of the population in the region to the world, 13.8 million of these pertain to Latin America and the Caribbean—representing 11 percent of the population that was living in slums in the region in 1990 (Quiroga Martínez, 2007: 68).

Citizen solidarity and commitment to the cause is essential to achieving the goals agreed upon by the international community in regards to the human right to housing. In its contribution to this work, Habitat for Humanity Latin America and the Caribbean seeks to mobilize groups of people who advocate and take action for the cause.

What’s your opinion?

Can the objectives and goals set forth by the international community be achieved?

What needs to happen in our region for the right to adequate housing to become a universal reality?

Jha, Abhas K. 2007. “La vivienda popular en América Latina y el Caribe”.
Marques Osorio, Leticia. 2006. El derecho humano a la vivienda adecuada en América Latina: de la teoría a la práctica. En Derechos económicos, sociales y culturales en América Latina: Del invento a la herramienta. Alicia Ely Yamin coordinadora. México: Plaza y Valdés, SA de CV. Pp. 235-254.
Quiroga Martínez, Rayén. 2007. “El séptimo objetivo del milenio en América Latina y el Caribe: avances al 2007.” Serie Estudios Estadísticos y Prospectivos. No. 57. División de Estadística y Proyecciones Económicas. Santiago: CEPAL.
Radcliffe, Sarah A. & Sallie Westwood. 1993. ‘Viva’: Women and Popular Protest in Latin America. London and New York: Routledge.
UNCHS 2001. Position Paper on Housing Rights.
UN-HABITAT. 2004. UN-HABITAT Feature/Backgrounder, State of the World’s Cities—Trends in Latin America & the Caribbean: Urbanization & Metropolitanization.
UN-HABITAT. 2006. No.2 International instruments on housing rights (HS/639/01 E). Nairobi.
UN-HABITAT. 2008. State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities. London: Earthscan.
Zapata, Daniela. 2007. “Transversalizando la perspectiva de género en los objetivos de desarrollo del Milenio”. Serie Estudios Estadísticos y Prospectivos No. 52. División de Estadística y Proyecciones Económicas. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL.

Download the complete document (in Spanish):
Percepciones sobre la problemática de la vivienda y de la marca Hábitat para la Humanidad

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“In Latin America, volunteerism should be a paradigm-changing movement, in which the individual is empowered, conscious of their problems and confronting their own reality. Combined with community involvement, this becomes part of an active solution. Without doubt, volunteerism in Latin America and the Caribbean is a revolutionary movement that moves us away from the paternalistic concepts in which one waits for the government or other more developed countries to solve problems.”

Luis D. Madrid
National Work Teams and Global Village Coordinator
Habitat for Humanity Honduras


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“You don’t have to travel half-way across the world in order to make a difference. Many of the issues that one would see in another country can also be found in his or her own backyard.”

My name is Charles Adams and I would like to share my volunteer experience with you. On March 18th, 2009, I arrived to Asuncion, Paraguay. As soon as I set foot onto the Paraguayan soil, I immediately knew that my life would change…for the better of course.

In January of 2008, I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Ghana with my alma mater, Elon University. While in Ghana, I was introduced to some of the appalling conditions that exist in the world. I also gained an understanding of how strong people could be.

When I returned from Ghana, I told myself that I had to go back to Africa, should I be provided with another opportunity. About a month later, my sister Catherine approached me and asked if I wanted to go with her on a mission trip to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. I immediately said YES, without getting any of the details…or even asking my parents.

Those trips, along with my personal interests, led me to the concept of volunteering and offering my time to others. When I decided that I wanted to volunteer, I also knew that I wanted to spend time abroad. I have always had a passion for traveling and getting to know other cultures; doing this enables a person to become well-rounded and opens his or her mind to new possibilities.

I searched the Internet like I was on a mission. Eventually, I came upon Habitat for Humanity and learned about the International Volunteer Program. Afterwards, I sent a great deal of emails trying to find out more about the position, what I would be doing and to determine if volunteering was what I really wanted. After much consideration, I later decided that I had taken the right steps and doing the right thing.

For my entire life, I’ve been willing and eager to extend a hand to those in need. I know that I have been privileged to do a lot of things in my life while others, unfortunately, have not been so lucky. Just walking to the kitchen, grabbing a cold glass of water from the fridge and drinking it is an everyday task that appears simple. It’s not, and we often take this for granted.

I was called to come here to Paraguay and be a long-term volunteer with the Global Village Program. I am the Volunteer Mobilization Assistant, and help plan, organize, and implement the trip logistics for international and national volunteers. Because there are two of us in Paraguay, we are able to split the work load, and I can focus primarily on the international volunteers. We speak with the team leader(s) of each group and find out what they would like to do with their time here. Then, taking their preferences into account, we make the day-to-day plans for their trip.

Being a part of this program has been very exciting. I have been able to make friends from all over the world. I now have friends in Ireland, Australia, Paraguay and North America.

My time here has taught me how to survive on my own and has given me a new-profound confidence. I have been able make a home from nothing. Granted, this process is done easily when you are surrounded by wonderful people who open their arms and homes to you. If you are from the U.S., you might be coined as the Yankee, Gringo, Americano, Norte Americano, Extranjero that lives in the neighborhood. The people here have been incredibly friendly and warm, enabling me to fully enjoy my time here.

Right now I am in the process of arranging my plans for the coming year. My time here has been so great that I’ve decided to come back and work in the country for another year. Accordingly, I’ve had to invest time in writing emails to companies and talking with various people about possible vacancies. Through this process, I have had to apply the skills that I learned in college about business, but adapting to my current surroundings. Meaning I have done all of this in a second language. I now know that if I can go to various businesses and inquire about positions and be interviewed in Spanish, when I eventually get back home and have interviews, I shouldn’t worry. If I can do this in a second language then doing an interview in my native tongue should be a breeze!

Before I continue, know that when I say that these people “open their homes to every person” …they literally open their front door. More specifically, they open their kitchen. YOU CANNOT go to someone’s house without entering their kitchen and having something to eat. It does not matter if you just ate, or if you’re planning to eat an hour later, you are going to eat. When they ask you if you want something, it is not really a question, it is more of a demand; you are going to eat the empanada like your life depended on it. You can’t be rude and deny the request. So, when you go home and your friends and family happen to notice that your face is a little thicker and you have a new hole on your belt, don’t worry! You have an excuse. All you have to say is that you were taking part in the culture and you did not want to be perceived as rude or ignorant.

Not only have I made new friends and increased my confidence, but I’ve also learned how to truly live and appreciate the things that I have. I’ve spent an entire year with just the bare necessities, and nothing more. You soon learn that in the end, you survive. For example, having gone a year without Subway, or all-you-can-eat chips at Chili’s, air conditioning, or watching any of the NFL football season has been tough, but I’ve gotten by. Knowing that my team (the Washington Redskins) has had a horrific season, the burn is not as bad as it could be. Either way, a true fan wants to watch his or her team play, even if they lose. An important lesson that I have learned is as follows: don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about having all the things that you have. Embrace it, be thankful for it, and then do what you can to give back.

When I think about my time here, I think particularly about a group that we had here in July, when we hosted three Global Village groups at the same time–a logistical nightmare. We had to make a ridiculous amount of plans, taking into account every detail. Luckily, we were able to arrange for all the groups to work on the same construction site. In total, there were 31 people from Ireland (17), Canada (12), and Australia (2). I can honestly say that not one second of time was lost with these groups; there was also something going on that caught your attention. 

Then again, when you are looking after 31 people (some of which were three times my age), something is always going on. We worked in Itapúa, Paraguay and constructed eight houses in only five days. I chose this group from Ireland because they were very unique. Within the group of 17, only eight were actually from Ireland. The others came from  Spain, Zimbabwe, Poland, South Africa, Moldova, Austria, Vietnam, Romania and Italy. The leader of the team, Fergus McCabe, runs an organization that helps the at-risk youth in Ireland and many of those from the countries listed above are helping Fergus with his work.

Throughout the week, the group became best friends. To keep things fresh and to bring taste of Ireland to Paraguay, Fergus and some of “the boys” brought their guitars and mandolins with them. There was literally a concert every night at the hotel, a new song always brought to the table. In the week’s time, we had sung The Boxer, Take Me Home (Country Road), American Pie, The Galway Girl, Whiskey in the Jar, You Are Not Alone, Let It Be…the list goes on.

In addition to singing songs (and oh yeah…building houses) we played several soccer matches. Most of these matches took place inside a gym, each game involving its own story.

Should anyone be interested in volunteering, please keep in mind that you don’t have to travel half-way across the world in order to make a difference. Many of the issues that one would see in another country can also be found in his or her own back yard.

I would imagine that if you drive around your city, you would see poverty, homelessness and people starving in the streets. Many of us have been fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, have food on the table every day, and have someone to love us and to take care of us. Volunteering is something that you should do on your own, when you expect to receive nothing in return.

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Paraguay has been a remarkable experience and I hope that those of you who are reading (if you are still with me) will consider doing the same thing in the future. The memories, the friends and the experience is worth every minute and dime spent. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and good luck to you all in your future endeavors!

Blessings from the heart of South America,

Charles (Carlos) Adams.


On the occasion of World Habitat Day 2009 celebrated by the UN-Habitat with the motto “Planning our urban future”, the International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI), the world-wide network for housing rights with no frontiers, has issued a critical communiqué launching the World Zero Evictions Days to support resistances and alternatives for participating cities, a concrete foundation for a new Urban Social Pact.

At its heart: the demand for a world-wide moratorium to evictions; and funding for housing and habitat in a “New Green Deal” for at least a billion people. This funding would be based, among others, on the investment of an important part of developmental aid as well as on the annulment of external debt, transformed into a Popular Fund for land and housing.

This is the concrete enactment of the agreements made by all international networks for housing and city rights at the WSF 2009, the next step in the unifying process of building the World Assembly of Inhabitants on 2011.

Read the entire article on the IAI Web page.


This Public Service Announcement is being aired (in Spanish) on the Latin American cable channels SONY, CANAL SUR and CNN. If you’ve seen it, please send us a comment!

I will not wait for someone else
to tackle the problem of inadequate housing in the world.
I have the power to change our world today.

Whether I am a student, a business, a non-profit,
I will never fall victim to inaction.

I will take up  active residency in my community,
I will build it with my own two hands.

I will catalyze and inspire,
I will advocate and partner,
to make the state of housing an urgent cause.

I will make our world a home.


By the year 2030, an additional 3 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour.

One out of every three city dwellers – nearly a billion people – lives in a slum. Slum indicators include: lack of water, lack of sanitation, overcrowding, non-durable structures and insecure tenure.

Because of poor living conditions, women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than their rural counterparts, and children in slums are more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illness.

Housing formation generates non-housing related expenditures that help drive the economy.

Investing in housing expands the local tax base. Each year 35.1 million new housing units are needed to house the urban population growth between now and 2030. This does not include replacements of deteriorated and substandard housing stocks.

In 2007, the world’s urban population outnumbered the rural for the first time.

Almost 180,000 people are added to the urban population each day.

95 percent of the world population growth in the next decades will occur in the urban areas of developing countries.

The poor are urbanizing faster than the population as a whole, reflecting a lower than average pace of urban poverty reduction.

Substandard housing, unsafe water and poor sanitation in densely populated cities are responsible for 10 million deaths worldwide every year.

Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world, with 75 percent of its population living in cities. According to the United Nations, 27 percent of these urban residents—more than 117 million people—suffer from precarious housing conditions, living without adequate sanitation, with irregular or no electricity supply and without adequate security.

Raising awareness and advocating for change are the first steps toward transforming systems that perpetuate the global plague of poverty housing. World Habitat Day serves as an important reminder that everyone must unite to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent place to call home.  Please advocate for adequate housing on World Habitat Day and throughout the month of October.

KenyaNairobi, Kenya
With an estimated population of more than one million people, Kibera is the largest slum in all of Africa.
© Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

ArmeniaMy Tho, Vietnam
Houses crowd the banks of the Mekong River.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

ArmeniaArmavir, Armenia
Ellada Manasyan and her three young children live in this deserted and crumbling Soviet-era building.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

El SalvadorSan Salvador, El Salvador
A young boy plays in front of his family’s shack, in the Las Victorias squatter community on the outskirts of San Salvador.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

BrazilGoiania, Brazil
Favela dos Trilhos.
© Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

Sources: UN-Habitat, Kissick et al 2006

Want to blog about World Habitat Day and poverty housing?
Visit our World Habitat Day resource page.


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