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The right to adequate shelter

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

“Lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world, both in rural areas and in large cities, since state budgets usually cover only a small portion of the demand. Not only the poor, but many other members of society as well, find it difficult to own a home. Having a home has much to do with a sense of personal dignity and the growth of families’” (152, Laudato Si’)

Today, October 4, the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, is the final day dedicated to the Season of Creation. The theme is: Jubilee for the Earth.

A  jubilee is a time to “remember, return, rest, restore, and rejoice…a time to return to God our loving Creator. We cannot live in harmony with creation if we are not at peace with the Creator who is the source and origin of all things” (Pope Francis).

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, is also concerned about the impact of climate change/conflict/wars on those who have been made homeless; those who are displaced from within the borders of their own countries, and others who, as migrants and refugees, continue to search for peace in other countries.

Tomorrow, Monday, October 5, is World Habitat Day. The theme this year is: Housing For All: A better Urban Future.

The purpose of this day is “to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns” (UN).

It’s worth reading the Concept Note relating to this year’s theme. Inter alia, it states: “Housing is a fundamental human right. It has also been central in our battle against the spread of the COVID-19 virus where it can be a matter of life and death. The spread of COVID-19 is spotlighting as well as exacerbating a pre-existing global housing crisis. Without adequate housing, it is impossible to carry out social distancing and good hygiene practices—and around 1.8 billion people, or more than 20 percent of the world’s population, lack adequate housing. There are 1 billion people living in informal settlements and slums and more than 100 million people are homeless. By 2030, the numbers of people in inadequate housing could increase to 3 billion.

People living in inadequate housing conditions—in slums and informal settlements—are hit hardest during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to the stressful home stay environment in small and crowded housing, the disruption of social and protective networks and decreased access to services increase the risk of violence for women and children. The absence of basic services and the prevalence of stress and unhealthy living conditions also contribute to poor health…

Issues around housing must be at the centre of sustainable and inclusive urban development. COVID-19 has brought the housing paradox into sharp relief—at a time when people are in urgent need of shelter, millions of apartments and houses sit empty. Inclusive, affordable and adequate housing is the key to sustainable transformation of our cities and communities…

Cities must integrate the vulnerable, poor, and excluded in overall city development. Governments need to reshape policies, strategies and legislation for diverse housing solutions for all and respect, protect and fulfill human rights for all in cities. Governments must put people at the core of decision-making, ensuring equity and the fulfillment of the human rights for all.”

The Concept Note highlights the role of NGOs, public-private-people-partnerships, and research.

Hopefully, the recently sworn in Hon Pennelope Beckles, Minister of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Hon Adrian Leonce, Minister in this Ministry, will continue to work in collaboration with the Land Settlement Agency and the Office of the Commissioner of State Lands to implement the GoRTT’s Tenancy Policy which was launched in June. Squatting and homelessness remain issues to be addressed in T&T.

Habitat for Humanity rightly states that T&T’s main housing demand stems from socioeconomic inequity and population growth. In December 2019, the then Minister of HUD, Edmund Dillon, stated that 180,000 persons are waiting for HDC homes.

In June 2020, he talked about reassessing the needs of the HDC’s “client base and stakeholders in order to provide solutions that are sustainable, accessible and affordable”.

This must be linked to issues relating to employment, a living wage, costs of renting and so on. Let’s build the common good.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

St Teresa of Calcutta

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee