The Campaign for Dignified Housing for All:
Alex Tilley | Update 109. 31 May 2005
The Campaign for Dignified Housing for All:
Access to Land Rights and Debt Exchange for Investment in Housing
Although the right to adequate housing was removed from the Peruvian constitution during the Fujimori government, minimum housing standards are defined as fundamental rights in international human rights treaties. As such there is an obligation on the part of the Peruvian Government and the wider international community to work towards achieving adequate housing for all Peruvians. However, this is currently far from being a reality. Obstacles to development include government social spending compromised by commitments to external debt service, poorly designed government housing policies, and housing funds that are unduly influenced by vested interests.
Because of these failures, alarming conditions continue to be encountered in urban settings throughout Peru. According to official statistics, Peru has a deficit of more than 1.2 million houses (families that are inadequately housed or lack housing), while 8 million Peruvians lack basic sanitation. This deficit is most visibly apparent in Lima where human settlements sprawl throughout the city, extending into the desert and up the sides of surrounding hills. Conditions in these settlements can be very poor, falling way below minimum standards set by international bodies such as UN habitat. This has prompted the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing - Miloon Kothari - to state in the report of his mission to Peru, that "... the general housing situation in Peru requires that, in certain cases, the Government adopts immediate measures and proportions emergency assistance."
An initiative, the "Campaña por Una Vivienda Digna" (Campaign for Dignified Housing), has been set up by Peruvian civil society. It is supported by several international institutions, with an holistic approach toward achieving the realisation of basic housing rights. The campaign committee is made up of NGOs and of community leaders from the human settlements in Lima and throughout Peru. It works at a local level on emblematic cases of urgently needed assistance, nationally in lobbying for policy change, and internationally in lobbying for debt relief and investment in housing. The campaign coordinator, architect Carlos Escalante, explains the national policy problems thus: "numerous very low income families lack legal mechanisms to regulate the ownership of the land that they occupy, … while, on the other hand, the housing policies don't have sufficient reach, nor are they properly adapted to the real possibilities of the population."
The issue of land ownership is crucial, as once properties have an official title, the state is obliged to provide basic services of water, sanitation and electricity. Formalisation also raises the value of the property, provides legal security and permits access to credits. At present many communities (200,000 people in Lima alone) are left marginalized, unable to formalise their property because they are settled on land which has antiquated communal ownership or because it is retrospectively owned privately. After having successfully passed a law to decentralise the formalisation process, the campaign is now lobbying congress to approve a law which will grant property rights to all families who have occupied their home since before December 2001, including families who are settled on private or communal land.
Working in synergy with the formalisation reforms, the campaign proposes the creation of a new 'popular housing fund'. This would use transfers of a percentage of resources from existing government housing funds and from external debt exchanged for development. This fund will provide micro-credits and technical assistance for people to improve their own houses. It will promote small scale local development, oriented towards lowest income families, rather than the restricted access, large scale construction contracts that the government funds currently favour. The credits will be channelled through local micro-credit institutions, selected by public competition.
Technical assistance will be provided by local government in cooperation with universities, NGOs and other professional bodies. The campaign proposes the use of debt relief to part finance the 'popular housing fund', as an accountable way to redress the imbalance in much needed social spending and inflated debt service, channelling funds to benefit the people who need them most.