Maimunah Mohd Sharif.

An Interview.
By Karin Zauner & Zmary Gharwal 
Co-Founders of Housing4Europe.Org

Q: Why do politicians fail to provide their citizens with decent and affordable housing worldwide? From your perspective, what are the most considerable obstacles?

Maimunah Mohd Sharif
The lack of affordable and adequate housing is a global issue which directly affects the well-being of people and has been on the rise in recent years. For example, Eurobarometer recorded that housing is increasingly a matter of concern for European citizens and the leading national issue in countries such as Luxembourg and Ireland, and second most concerning issue in Malta and Germany.

The lack of affordable solutions often pushes people, particularly low-income households, migrants, young people and the elderly, into sharing overcrowded and unsafe houses, or moving into areas with little access to employment and education opportunities, healthcare, or green spaces.

Since its foundation, UN-Habitat has worked to promote the realisation of the right to adequate housing, for all as one of the transformative forces that can lead the world to overcome challenges related to poverty, exclusion, and inequality, and positively influence cities to embark on a path to inclusive, planned, and sustainable urbanization.

There are many obstacles to the full realisation of the right to adequate housing.

  • Lack of recognition of the central role housing plays in urban development. Housing, far from being just a roof and four walls, is central to creating socially just, economically viable and ecologically sustainable, healthy and resilient cities. Housing drives access to basic services and impacts the health and opportunities of households. Affordable, well-located housing supports gender equality and reduces inequality. Sustainable housing construction process can support climate goals and be a vector for economic development and a potential source of job creation.
  • Absence of effective urban planning integrating land use and infrastructure planning, including mobility and transportation.
  • Absence of public direction and regulation. Financial markets and corporations have become dominant players in the housing sector around the world. There is a need for a shift to a human rights-based approach to housing as well as cooperation between private and public actors. Government interventions, including investments in social housing programmes, are necessary to balance interests and put the people at the centre of the discussion on housing.
  • Lack of cooperation and coordination among the different stakeholders. Achieving the right to adequate housing for all depends on strengthened and coordinated efforts by national and local governments with other stakeholders such as civil society organisations building partnerships with residents; private sector mobilising resources to supply housing options including rentals, housing maintenance and rehabilitation and donor community elevating visibility and mobilizing support for housing in the international development agenda.
  • Insufficient analysis of the specific needs and priorities of people and social groups, which often results in a mismatch between the houses that are built and those that are needed.

Q: How can UN-Habitat contribute to affordable and decent housing worldwide?

Maimunah Mohd Sharif
UN-Habitat provides technical assistance to governments to support policy reforms, improved governance, and enhance the capacity of stakeholders in addressing constraints to the provision of affordable housing. This is done through the analysis of the housing delivery system and the identification of bottlenecks, gaps and opportunities, particularly through assessments and analysis of the national housing sectors and public policies. This analysis is then used to develop evidence-based housing policies and implementation strategies.

UN-Habitat also raises awareness of governments and all stakeholders of what constitutes the right to adequate housing.

The agency is also strengthening knowledge, data collection and evidence basis to inform initiatives to end homelessness. In May 2019, UN-Habitat organised, in cooperation with UN’s Department of Economics and Social Affairs (DESA), an Expert Group Meeting on Affordable Housing and Social Protection Systems for All to Address Homelessness. The discussions and recommendations of the meeting informed the first-ever UN resolution on homelessness, recognising that homelessness is a complex issue that requires a multisectoral approach and integrated responses. The resolution encourages national and local governments to improve access to affordable housing through integrated housing policies and social protection measures, as well as strengthening and harmonising data collection. UN-Habitat is working with partners, such as the Institute of Global Homelessness, to strengthen knowledge and tools to help drive data-informed decisions on homelessness interventions.

Finally, UN-Habitat cooperates with several partners globally, including UNEP and the One Planet Network, to support governments in transforming their buildings and construction sector to become a resource-efficient, low-carbon and climate-resilient sector, through coherent policy support and results-focused programming. UN-Habitat also works on raising awareness and strengthen the capacity of national stakeholders to advocate for sustainable buildings and construction-related benefits and opportunities with an emphasis on material efficiency.

Q: In the UN-Habitat Strategy Plan 2020-2023 chapter outcome number two, a Global Housing Strategy is mentioned. What are the goals? How should such a strategy be developed?

Maimunah Mohd Sharif
The UN-Habitat Global Housing Strategy is a collaborative global movement towards adequate housing for all and the improvement of the living conditions of slum dwellers. Its main objective is to assist the Member States in working towards the realisation of the right to adequate and affordable housing.

The Strategy aims at putting housing at the centre of sustainable development.

At the national level, the Global Housing Strategy envisions a national housing strategy as a pillar of a national urban policy and development strategies, comprising of agreed sets of activities and programmes towards achieving adequate housing for all. It establishes guidelines, policies, planning and programming of investment, management and maintenance activities in the areas of housing, slum upgrading and slum prevention.

At the local level, it focuses on reinforcing the link between housing and urban planning and integrating it into the urban fabric. Appropriate densities are encouraged to achieve better mobility and to reduce the urban footprint. Participatory approaches and the mobilisation of stakeholders are critical to take social and cultural needs into account.

Currently, UN-Habitat is building on the outcomes of the Global Housing Strategy to establish a new alliance of housing stakeholders and a knowledge hub on housing to contribute to achieving the target of Sustainable Development Goal 11 on the right to adequate housing for all.

Q: Last year UN-Habitat launched a campaign called “Housing for All”. Why are such campaigns so important?

Maimunah Mohd Sharif
Launched during the global observance of World Habitat Day on 5 October 2020, the HousingforAll Campaign was a platform that allowed UN-Habitat to mobilise national and local governments, civil society organisations, private sector, financial institutions and research centres to amplify their Housing for All solutions and inspiring others to commit to ensuring housing for all.
The Campaign, through its trailer created by the critically acclaimed movie director Boris Bertram, carried its key messages on the right to adequate housing to more than 2.3 million viewers.
Building on the momentum generated by the Housing4All Campaign UN-Habitat is establishing the new alliance of housing stakeholders.