As part of a HFHI delegation I was privileged to participate in one of the biggest global conferences on housing, the World Urban Forum, organized biannually by UN- Habitat. Between two Europe and Central Asia Housing Forums it was a perfect opportunity to meet old friends and partners from Habitat, UNECE, IFRC, International Union of Tenants and CECODHAS, to get inspiration from a wide range of speakers on the many different aspects of poverty housing, and to map new trends and opportunities in housing advocacy in Europe. As there were thousands of participants, hundreds of events and 30 parallel sessions, my brief summary will be quite subjective and biased.
The 15-member Habitat delegation was greatly involved in networking sessions, trainings, panel discussions and looking after the Habitat booth in the exhibition area. I took part in 2 panel discussions based on my housing advocacy experience in Hungary. I contributed to a session sponsored by Habitat for Humanity and the Inter-American Development Bank on “Enabling Good Housing Policies Informed by Evidence-based Research”.
It was a very inspiring academic discussion about the importance of different indexes and criteria in framing and developing housing polices, for example, the Global Housing Indicators. I could present how in Hungary we started to use the UN criteria for adequate housing consistently in all our statements and communications. Interestingly enough, Claudio Acioly from UN Habitat was referring to the same criteria in his contribution. The audience was very excited when they learned that Shlomo Angel, who was a pioneer introducing housing indexes to poverty housing related research, was also present. It was great to be part of a community of practitioners who really make an effort to develop a common language and understanding which should be the basis of all future advocacy initiatives.
The second panel discussion I contributed was organized by the Open Society Institute about “The Lessons Learned from the U.S. Forecloses Crisis”. I was asked to give a European perspective by presenting Habitat Hungary’s flagship advocacy initiative, the Introduction of Social Rental Agencies to improve the social rental sector. It was fascinating to reflect that the problem of vacant housing can be regarded as a great opportunity in very different cultural and economic contexts.
I also attended very inspiring sessions hosted by the International Union of Tenants, where speakers strongly advocated for renting as a real alternative not just a necessity. There were strong arguments why housing can and should on the EU level agenda. It seemed to be the start of a new European movement which we should follow closely.
Best practices shared from the experience gained from social cooperatives in Latin America presented yet another alternative to address poverty housing issues with a strong community development focus, where I was very excited to listen to the Mrs. Raquel Rolnik, United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing who gave a very emotional, charismatic testimony of why neo-liberalism and the market approach are not adequate in many poverty housing related situations. Slum upgrading and city rehabilitation projects were presented from Sweden, France and Brazil where the common thread was participatory planning and involvement of the residents throughout the whole process to make these projects sustainable.
I stayed at a small hotel in the bay of Naples. It took me a day to realize that when I’m walking along the bay what I can see is the Vesuvius on the left and Capri on the right. Sometimes, you need to have a bigger perspective to really understand your own context. And that’s why we need these huge global meetings.
By György Sümeghy