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close this bookThe Human Settlements Conditions of the World's Urban Poor (HABITAT, 1996, 233 p.)
close this folderV. Reaching the urban poor
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. The changing international policy context for urban development and shelter
View the documentB. The sites-and-services programme in Zimbabwe
View the documentC. Brazil: the FUNACOM programme in São Paulo
View the documentD. An evaluation of the Employees’ Housing Programme (EHP) in the Republic of Korea
View the documentE. India: An evaluation of a series of Slum Improvement Programmes
View the documentF. Conclusions: Assessing the experience of projects/programmes aimed at improving the human settlements conditions of the world’s urban poor

A. The changing international policy context for urban development and shelter

There is a wealth of empirical evidence to show that shelter programmes conceived along the lines of Western democracies, with strong state involvement in the design, construction and allocation of housing targeted towards the urban poor, have not worked well in developing countries. In analyzing the effectiveness of such programmes, UNCHS (1991c) concluded that there were at least five major weaknesses of past shelter strategies in addressing the needs of low-income groups. These were, firstly, that governments had been much too concerned with producing formal housing programmes rather than facilitating inputs such as land and credit into the housing process. Secondly, there has been a mis-allocation of resources in the form of subsidies to land, infrastructural provision and towards housing itself, which has gone to those better able to pay for such services than the poor. Thirdly, “there has been a consistent failure among official land, housing and financial agencies to reach those who need assistance most of all” and the review of shelter circumstances in chapter IV illustrates that this is not only a continuing problem in many parts of the developing world, it is also a growing problem. Whilst there have been some successes in shelter programmes, however, these have generally been on a very small scale in comparison with the overall magnitude of the problem; and finally, coherent and coordinated local shelter strategies have been the exception rather than the rule which has made it very difficult to adopt consistent and effective policies towards the needs of low-income groups (UNCHS, 1991c).

But the policy context for shelter programmes is changing. Since the adoption of the GSS in 1988 both the World Bank and the UNDP have published important policy documents which have refined and developed their approaches towards housing and urban development in a global context. Both agencies published very similar ‘urban agendas’ for the 1990s (UNDP, 1991; World Bank, 1991), and their respective policies have subsequently been influenced by UNCED in 1992.

The GSS embodies a number of basic principles:

· the need to adopt an “enabling approach whereby the full potential and resources of all the actors in the shelter production and improvement process are mobilized”;

· the requirement to develop sustainable shelter strategies which are realistic in terms of implementation and the consumption of natural resources;

· the need to formulate explicit policies for housing the poor as a central component of the shelter strategy;

· the importance of acknowledging and enhancing the role of women over decision-making on shelter issues; and

· the importance of instituting a monitoring and evaluation programme to ensure that the effectiveness of the strategy is regularly reviewed.

Translating such a strategy into action was seen to demand new perceptions; the importance of cities in contributing towards the overall growth of the economy; an acknowledgement of the shelter sector as an important part of the economy; the need for a scaling-up of production programmes drawing on all sources, including the informal sector; a balance between shelter upgrading and new provision; a need to acknowledge the significant role which may be played by the private rented sector; as well as a realization that programmes for the poorest groups will continue to require a direct role for the state.

The subsequent urban agendas of the international agencies were responses to prolonged economic recession, continued infrastructural deficiencies and environmental degradation, and the growing problem of urban poverty. The World Bank emphasized its analysis of these problems in terms of the low productivity of urban areas and set out a four-fold programme accordingly:

· The need to improve urban productivity by strengthening the management of urban infrastructure; streamlining regulations, encouraging privatization and market competition; improving the financial and technical capacity of municipal institutions, and enhancing the capability of institutional finance to facilitate urban development.

· The alleviation of urban poverty (outlined in World Bank, 1990). This strategy included the concept of a ‘safety net’ for the poorest sections of the community including the physically and mentally handicapped, the elderly, uncared for children and destitutes. At the same time it advocated the generation of employment opportunities in order to improve the productivity of the urban poor (especially women), improvements in shelter and the provision of basic services.

· Developing effective responses to the growing urban environmental crisis by improving the information base and enhancing awareness and understanding of the processes involved; developing city-wide strategic responses to combat environmental deterioration by adopting realistic standards of regulation and enforcement and working in partnership with others.

· The need to increase understanding of urban issues through a reactivated programme of research.

The UNDP strategy paper outlined a similar series of issues as the main concerns of its agenda for the 1990s. These included:

· a series of measures aimed at alleviating urban poverty and promoting income-generating activities for the urban poor (e.g. supporting informal enterprises to improve productivity; vocational training and community activities; encouraging the participation of women in shelter finance initiatives);

· strengthening urban local government and administration by encouraging the decentralization of powers and functions, and enhancing the capacity to plan, manage and finance urban development capabilities;

· promoting the involvement of NGOs and CBOs;

· providing urban infrastructure, shelter and services, especially to women and the urban poor;

· improving the urban environment through upgrading of solid-waste disposal, pollution control and slum upgrading programmes; and

· promoting the involvement of the private sector in the provision and maintenance of shelter and urban services.

UNCED was also influential on current thinking. Agenda 21 (United Nations, 1993a) identified a number of important concerns which were relevant to human settlements development and shelter provision. It calls on member states of the United Nations to:

· improve the quality of human settlements management in order to ameliorate living conditions, improve natural resources, support rural development and accelerate national growth;

· adopt national shelter strategies which support the efforts of poor and vulnerable groups; facilitate access to land, finance and building materials; reform codes and regulations; and promote the regularization and upgrading of informal settlements;

· pursue integrated urban development programmes which encourage employment generation measures for the poor through the provision, improvement and maintenance of infrastructure and services and support informal sector activities;

· promote sustainable land use planning and management policies and in particular urban land resource management plans;

· promote integrated provision of environmental infrastructure and give particular attention to water-resources management, solid-waste disposal, and the reduction of health risks from environmental pollution;

· develop sustainable construction industries which utilize local materials and labour-intensive construction methods; seek to render materials affordable and develop credit schemes to assist small builders;

· increase public awareness of the need for sustainable development, promote training and human resource development; and

· seek to develop guidelines and strategies to increase equality in society, to advance the role of women and to develop partnerships in achieving sustainable development.

The conference was particularly effective in promoting the issue of sustainability in human settlements development and increasing awareness of environmental issues and the necessity for global action along these lines. A network of ‘sustainable cities’ has since been established with the aim of sharing experience and good practice on urban and environmental management.

The most recent contribution to this evolutionary process of strategic policy development has been the World Bank’s paper on shelter and the operation of the housing market (World Bank, 1993c). The paper identifies a seven-point programme aimed at operationalizing shelter strategies. This comprises:

· the development of property rights through the regularization of tenure in squatter settlements and the privatization of state-owned housing;

· the development of institutional housing finance;

· the limiting and targeting of subsides;

· continued improvements in the residential infrastructure for slum and squatter settlements and in servicing new land for urban development;

· improving the organization and efficiency of the construction industry;

· establishing regulatory audits to remove obstructive regulations which inhibit shelter development; and

· developing appropriate institutional arrangements for managing the housing sector.

The paper signals a shift in the World Bank’s lending policies in the housing sector, recognizing the wider role of housing in the overall economy. These changes are reflected in five guiding principles. The World Bank -

· wishes to encourage governments to pursue an enabling role and to move away from the direct production, financing and maintenance of housing towards “improving housing market efficiency and the housing conditions of the poor”;

· intends to shift its lending from single project assistance towards investments which have greater sectoral impact, such as regulatory reform or institutional development; when projects continue to be funded they will have to demonstrate an impact on the sector as a whole;

· will assist the development of private sector housing finance institutions;

· will support the development of innovative lending models and housing project design; and

· will seek greater commitment to improved housing data collection and analysis to aid policy formulation and implementation.

It is a great deal of consistency between the above discussed documents. Future emphasis is to be placed on improving the operation of essentially privatized housing markets. This is to be achieved by deregulation and support for institutional development in the private sector, including housing finance institutions. Regularization and empowerment of the informal sector are to be important elements in this process. Government agencies, both central and local, are to withdraw from a direct role in production, allocation and management in favour of an enabling role. Nonetheless, the urban management capacity of public agencies is to be enhanced, henceforth concentrating their attention on factors such as, reforming legal and institutional frameworks; improving the delivery of urban land and the provision of infrastructure; encouraging the development of partnerships; and promoting the shelter role of NGOs.

The World Bank states explicitly that a more efficient housing market will improve the circumstances of the poor. The other policy documents discussed above, however, advocate poverty alleviation programmes as part of integrated urban development programmes that will create income-generating opportunities targeted towards the poor, and especially women. For the poorest, both the United Nations agencies and the World Bank recognise the need for direct forms of provision both in terms of shelter and basic services and they have also tacitly come to accept the use of targeted subsidies as part of these arrangements.

Shelter strategies themselves are to be integrated with other economic and social programmes; more effectively targeted to the needs of the poor; sustainable and mindful of environmental considerations; and capable of scaling-up to levels of provision more commensurate with actual housing needs.

These policies now represent the new ‘received wisdom’ in the shelter sector for the 1990s; moreover, they constitute a framework against which to assess recently developed shelter programmes and projects for the urban poor.