The Campaign for dignified housing for all: The International Phase
Charlie Smith | Update 120. 31 March 2007
"We demand acknowledgement that access to dignified housing is a fundamental human right."
Federacion de Organizaciones Vecinales de Lima y Callao (FOVELIC - Federation of Neighbourhood Organizations from Lima and Callao).
Inadequate, badly designed housing policies, funds dominated by private interests, corruption, external debt commitments and lack of political will mean the right to dignified housing in Peru is far from guaranteed, especially for the poorest sectors. Whilst the majority of Peruvians may have somewhere to live, their homes are in deplorable conditions, falling far below international minimum standards established in human rights agreements.
In the April- May 2005 Update, the PSG featured the Campaign for Dignified Housing for All (www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/archive/news_109.html#articles), a Peruvian initiative created by NGOs, social organizations and community leaders from human settlements to campaigns for basic housing rights. Its objectives: to lobby for the passing of 2 laws written by the campaign, firstly for access to land and secondly, for a popular housing fund. They have recently initiated international advocacy work to promote debt swap for housing.
The Fight for the Access to Land Law
The original focus was the access to land law. After over 100 awareness raising assemblies, principally in Lima (and La Oroya due to its particular housing problems related to adverse environmental conditions generated by the mining industry), more organisations and leaders have become involved and there are now approximately 30 organisations participating.
Throughout 2005 the Campaign staged mass marches, with approximately 4000 participants a time, to draw attention to the need for the new law. These led to the opening of a dialogue group on human settlements, meetings with Congress's Housing Commission and promises of laws and rights which almost always, after the initial impetus wore off, stagnated until the Campaign marched again. However, at the end of the year, Congress finally placed the discussion of the law on its agenda.
In early 2006, the Housing Ministry, seeing the attention paid to the issue and the popularity it could bring, presented their own law which was approved the next day. Whilst the Campaign feels this slightly stole their political victory, there is no doubt that without the months of hard work and lobbying, this law would not have passed so easily. The law luckily includes most of what they were asking for. As Carlos Escalante, the Campaign coordinator says, you never achieve the 100% of what you ask for but this is pretty close.
Now begins the struggle for its implementation. A by product of the campaign has been the creation of FOVELIC and their ongoing work in this area is fundamental, not only to ensure the legal framework, but also to work on other housing rights and the legalisation of their land.
Debt Swap for Housing: The Popular Housing Fund
Alongside this, the Campaign is looking to its second objective: more accessible financial mechanisms via a law to create a Popular Housing Fund to provide resources for micro credit and subsidy programmes as part of a decentralised system of support to the social production of housing and the city, taking into account the fact that the settlers and their organisations are the principal producers of housing and the city itself.
It is difficult to achieve government support as it requires money. It is hoped the Fund will be created from the National Budget, existing funds, international cooperation and finally, debt swap. The Campaign has joined with Red Jubileo Peru to advocate debt swap for participative housing policies orientated towards the most disadvantaged social sectors; i.e. cancel external debt to contribute to the alleviation of internal social debt.
The project hopes to run a series of pilot initiatives such as the relocation of people under serious environmental risk in La Oroya; the Kuelap municipal housing programme for the victims of a human settlement housing collapse; the construction of housing using alternative technologies produced by women in Pachacutec; slum improvements in the centre of Lima or support programmes for families threatened with eviction, among others.
Through media work and the publishing of studies on related topics they hope to raise international awareness for the right to housing and the different social processes in Peru that have led to the existing conditions in order to create a favourable climate for debt swap.
This phase began by identifying Sweden, Norway, Italy, Spain, Holland and the UK as potential partners. They now hope to construct civil society solidarity networks with each country to help advocate for debt swap with their governments.
The road is not easy. Firstly, all Campaign members, used to working on local issues, need to understand the global picture. Then Peru and the countries involved have to agree to the idea and measures necessary to put it into practice. If the swap is agreed, then comes the even harder part of ensuring that the government uses the swap for housing and not for other gains.
The UK's involvement
According to information from the Peruvian Ministry of Economics and Finances updated December 2006, Peru's debt with the UK is $123,712,000.
Last year, Rocio Valdeavellano, European Network on Debt and Development and Paul Maquet, CENCA, both active Campaign members, travelled to the UK and met with the University College London Development Planning Unit, the UK Jubilee Debt Campaign, CAFOD and the PSG. They also met with MP Anne McKechin, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Debt, Aid and Trade, who was very supportive of the initiative.
However, after basic research it would appear there are specific difficulties around debt swap with the UK. As it involves export credit debt run by the Export Credit Guarantee Department, it cannot be swapped straightforwardly but would have to be effectively "bought" by DFID who could then carry out the swap. However, DFID no longer gives bilateral aid to Latin America, therefore this would go against their policies.
Although there are possible obstacles, which depend on political will, a swap is not impossible. The Campaign and UK counterparts hope to determine the UK government's official position and research all possibilities. In other cases, debt to the ECGD has been bought by external buyers (e.g. a company planning a debt for equity swap or an NGO preparing a debt for development swap) and then swapped. Another option would be to obtain EU funding to buy back the debt from the UK to then swap.
Whatever the case, the Campaign hopes to obtain as much support as possible from the UK government and civil society in order to make the idea a reality. They hope a debate on housing issues can begin to raise public support for the importance of housing and cities for human development and Peru as a whole. They aim to continue contact with members of the UK government, run a seminar with UCL, organise a travelling exhibition on housing in Peru throughout the UK and to start a pilot project to illustrate the idea can function.
We believe this valuable issue deserves much support. To build up the civil society solidarity group and to raise awareness, the Campaign has written an open letter which they hope that UK organisations interested in debt and housing issues will sign, as a way of pledging their support. If you are interested in subscribing to this letter, please visit the campaign's website.
By Charlie Smith, PSG Advocacy Correspondent