Opinion: Meeting the goals of the New Urban Agenda

Apartments in Hong Kong. Photo by: Kin / CC BY-NC

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, housing has moved from a relatively invisible problem to become a central focus on the world stage. Last Oct. 20, 167 countries officially adopted the New Urban Agenda, an action-oriented document that outlines what public and private entities should do to develop initiatives for sustainable urbanization for the coming 20 years.

In Asia-Pacific, as an example, it takes just a few moments for a new arrival to Hong Kong to realize that space is a valuable and often overpriced commodity. As a city that ranks as one of the most unaffordable in the world, and where 14.3 percent of the population live in poverty, it does not take much to imagine the dire living situations of many of its residents. Migrant families are cramped into small and illegal housing structures, elderly couples live in unsanitary conditions, and people who have spent their lives contributing to the local economy know they will never own their home. And all this within a city lauded as a prosperous beacon within the Asia-Pacific region.

Numerous studies have concluded that poverty, inadequate housing and poor health are inextricably connected. Safe, solid housing, on the other hand, eliminates many of the environments that pose health threats to children and parents alike. Similarly, studies indicate that stable housing leads to better education outcomes, and at Habitat for Humanity, we also see many instances of better housing resulting in improved income-earning opportunities and wealth creation.

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On a broader scale, we know that housing is a focal point for sustainable social and economic development, and is critical to the urbanization process.

Now that we have made the case for housing, however, our real work must begin. We must develop strategies to implement the emphasis of the New Urban Agenda.

► Affordable housing is an issue that both the developing and the developed world must address. However, the challenges are especially critical for low-income families, who face extraordinary barriers. For example, more than 90 percent of families worldwide can’t get any kind of a home loan from a bank. We must convince the financial sector to see the benefits of investing in affordable housing. Then we must help them develop products and systems that work for those living in poor conditions.

► Land tenure is another huge issue. Many people — especially women — face unjust evictions. We must advocate for policies and systems that guarantee secure tenure.

► And all proposed solutions must provide residents with a greater voice in creating the changes and improvements planned for their communities.

If we are going to begin to eliminate some of the barriers that low-income families face, leaders from the public, private and social sectors must come together to help those living in the poorest of conditions build the foundation for a new life, and thereby strengthen communities and broader economies.

One of the first occasions for many of the stakeholders throughout the region to come together to develop specific implementing strategies is the Asia-Pacific Housing Forum 6, taking place in Hong Kong in September 2017. At the forum, more than 300 housing practitioners will gather to seek solutions to inadequate housing issues and promote affordable housing as a driver of economic growth.

Taking place almost one year after the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, the event will be well placed to present a roadmap for implementation, identify challenges and collaboratively seek solutions.

Through the principles of the New Urban Agenda, global leaders have agreed on what we must do and have affirmed that the implementation must be people centered. Now, leaders in this region and worldwide must determine how to ensure sustainable and inclusive urban economies and environmental sustainability.

The Asia-Pacific Housing Forum takes place Sept. 4-7, in Hong Kong. For more information, visit aphousingforum.org

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About the author

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    Jonathan T.M. Reckford

    Jonathan T.M. Reckford is chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit Christian housing organization that, since 1976, has helped more than 5 million people construct, rehabilitate or preserve homes in more than 70 countries. Jonathan serves on the boards of InterAction, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Duke Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship and Industrial Heat. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Urban Steering Committee for the World Economic Forum.