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Q and A with Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing

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Miloon Kothari

Miloon Kothari is the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. In 2007, Mr. Kothari led a mission to Canada to evaluate its human rights record related to housing.

Q. Now that you have been away from your former role as the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, what are some of your reflections on how the international human rights system supports the right to adequate housing?

There continues to be tremendous support from numerous UN human rights bodies for the right to adequate housing. Particularly important is the monitoring and investigative roles played by these bodies. The recent peer review process from the UN Human Rights Council from the Universal Periodic Review has provided a space where all member states of the UN can be questioned on their record on implementing the right to adequate housing.

Q. What are some of the trends around the right to housing that you see currently?

At the constitutional, legal and policy level, recognition has grown in the last 10 years. But this has not led to perceptible improvement of the situation on the ground. Such an ironic situation arises because governments are failing to implement the right to adequate housing particularly for vulnerable groups. Some of the main trends that work against the realization of the right to adequate housing include speculation of land and property - basically a belief that markets can provide solutions to the affordability crisis. It is a sheer unwillingness of states to control speculation. Other obstacles are deepening poverty in many parts of the world. Continued large scale evictions due to land grabbing and mega-development projects are factors, and also the growing urbanization crisis.

Q. The Right to the City movement has taken on many forms and approaches around the world as a method to assert democratization and address socio-economic disparities related to decision-making around land use. What do you see as the possibilities and limitations of the Right to the City movement?

The possibilities of the right to the city movement are enormous. The concept can be a very powerful organizing principle around which the rights of vulnerable populations in cities can be realized. The work on the right to the city has advanced in countries from Latin America but is also being picked up in Africa and Asia.

The essential idea is that everyone who lives in the city has a right to what the city has to offer. The limitations occur when the collective concept runs against the vision of policymakers who view the city as a terrain for the accumulation of wealth - not a space where everyone can enjoy what cities have to offer.

Q. Since you visited Canada in 2007 and the release of your report in 2009, how would you characterize the effectiveness of governments in the implementing your recommendations - federal, provincial and municipal?

The recommendations from my report have not been implemented. There continues to be resistance from governments at all levels to sincerely implement human rights approaches to housing and other social policies. The inability to adopt a national strategy on housing and a national strategy to deal with homelessness makes it even more difficult to have a country wide perspective and as a result, there is no real and substantial impact from government policies.

Q. Having been to Vancouver several times, what are some of your observations of its housing situation, affordability and pace of gentrification that is happening in comparison to other places you have seen?

The face of gentrification is much faster in Vancouver than other parts of Canada. This does not seem to have changed. The alienation of low income groups continues to grow as a result of being excluded and it also includes middle income groups who are not able to rent or buy in most parts of the city. In such a wealthy city, substantial homelessness persists. Few attempts are being to look at affordable housing from a government perspective. They should not be enabling the market to provide solutions. It will have limited effect. The government should take responsibility and not rely on market forces to come up with the solutions.

Miloon Kothari will be speaking at SFU on July 9th at 7pm:


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