Monday, September 12, 2005

Housing goals ‘not ambitious enough’ to match urban growth

Just read the first sentence of this dispatch from the Financial Times and tell me if the solution isn't to work with squatters: "New housing will need to be built at a rate of 4,000 units an hour for the next 25 years to meet the needs of the world’s burgeoning urban population, according to estimates by a United Nations agency."

Here's another key stat: more than 60 per cent of Africa’s urban population, and in many countries more than 90 per cent, live in informal settlements (aka squatter communities.)

There's only one way through the world's horrific housing future and that's to work with squatters to improve their communities incrementally. Squatters don't need our pity or our charity. They need hardnosed government programs that recognize the reality and give them the same rights that every other citizen has.

But instead, look:

It's shuffleboard in South Africa, as squatters who were relocated after a fire are now being targeted for eviction from the temporary housing they were given.

Authorities will hide their eyes in Bengal, as the government and the railroad fight over who has the responsibility to evict squatters who are creating traffic jams. And what about the people who live there? Doesn't government have a duty to plan for them as well as for the traffic flow?

And in Mumbai, the city is trying to evict people who are not squatters and are legitimate tenants, without making any provision for new permanent housing. And the developers are using the chaos and rot created by the recent monsoon flooding to push for an end to rent control.

Finally, in Kenya the government of Sweden has handed $6.3 million to the Kenyan government to support land reform. But according to this article in the East African Standard, the money "would be spent in availing land information in the informal settlements and enhancing communication within the slum-upgrading project." Come again? Availing land information and enhancing communication. Sounds like a guaranteed employment plan for non-governmental organizations and charities. What about simply buying out former owners and working with current residents to create better housing all across the community? What about, essentially, legalizing Kibera and other squatter communities in Nairobi? What about local control?

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