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close this bookStrategies to Combat Homelessness (HABITAT, 2000, 228 p.)
close this folderIX. Recent policy developments
View the documentIX.A. Policy changes in high-income industrial countries
View the documentIX.B. Policy changes in countries with economies in transition
View the documentIX.C. Policy changes in developing countries

IX.C. Policy changes in developing countries

Developing countries are still at a stage where changes in policy affecting housing supply are the main ones to affect the incidence of and means of addressing homelessness.

IX.C.1. The effects of structural adjustment programmes

Structural adjustment programmes have been influential in many developing countries over the last two decades, usually reducing public expenditure. In so doing, they have achieved some measure of state disengagement from housing and utilities provision and from health services. Where housing was very much a state or local authority provision a decade or two ago, now few dwellings are built and market forces are ruling in many developing countries. As the International Association of Technicians, Experts and Researchers argue,

"States are not uninterested in the housing question: they simply consider that their housing policy and urban policy represent only one component of their social - and social control - policy. The right to housing receded as more and more exclusions are brought in. The States feel that this matter is becoming less and less their responsibility" (AITEC, 1994).

The GSS and the Habitat Agenda have set up an alternative paradigm in which states should provide an enabling environment in which housing can be provided through public-private partnerships and through the private sector. As this is congruent with the philosophy behind structural adjustment programmes, there ought to be no reduction in housing supply, just a redirecting of the supply effort. In practice, however, the disengagement of the state has generally reduced the supply of social housing. It can be argued that it was so badly targeted when it was provided, that poor people miss out only very little when social housing ceases to be supplied. However, the poorest in society, who include homeless people, are likely to continue to need state interventions for their housing and mechanisms for supplying effectively targeted social housing are still required.

IX.C.2. A more targeted approach to housing interventions

Following the fiscal austerity of the 1980s, rapid urban growth has inspired the enabling approach outlined in the GSS and Habitat Agenda. Many governments have rightly disengaged from direct supply strategies but have not re-engaged with the new enablement agenda in effective ways. Housing supply is much more a market concern than one for the public authorities and, inevitably, those in the poorest market positions suffer most. When enabling policies work as planned, and when governments grasp the nettle of scaling-up supply to appropriate levels to serve everyone through involving all actors in the process, there should be fewer households who cannot find suitable accommodation. This should result in reduced levels of homelessness. However, experience in Europe has shown that, even where there is enough housing for all households, inefficient distribution and other aberrations lead to some individuals and households still being homeless. There will remain a need for specific provision for homeless people.

Misplaced or poorly targeted subsidies are a common form of inefficiency in housing markets and supply systems. The upper-low and middle income groups have been especially favoured by these subsidies through government-and employer-provided housing, sale of land to the 'poor' at subsidised rates, and tax concessions on home purchase repayments. The failure of subsidies to reach the poor can be particularly poignant with respect to homeless people as they are probably paid for from general taxation. Thus, the small amount of taxes even the poorest person pays through purchases makes them a net contributor to the subsidy that, generally, favours people who are much better off.

IX.C.3. Introducing a rights based approach

A recent High Court judgement in South Africa is an interesting example of the introduction of a rights-based approach to housing (High Court of South Africa, 1999). As mentioned earlier (see box 19) the judge ruled that there was "no unqualified obligation on the State to provide free housing on demand." Yet, the ruling indicated that the state was obligated to take "reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of the right to have access to adequate housing housing." As the constitutional rights had only been in place for less than three years, the judge found that the -

"repondents produced clear evidence that a rational housing programme has been initiated at all levels of government and that such programme has been designed to solve a pressing problem in the context of scarce financial resources."

The crucial issue thus becomes how long a government can claim to be progressively moving towards the implementation of this right. The judgement includes reference to the Limburg principles, which states that -

"Under no circumstances shall this be interpreted as implying for all States the right to defer indefinitely efforts to ensure full realisation. On the contrary all State parties have the obligation to begin immediately to take steps to fulfil their obligations under the Covenant"82

82. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (United Nations, 1966b)