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2nd Asia-Pacific Housing Forum, Co-Organized By Habitat For Humanity, Ends On A High Note

Manila Forum Sees Need For More To Be Done For Urban Poverty Housing Solutions And In More Innovative Ways

MANILA, 16th September 2009: The 2nd Asia-Pacific Housing Forum, co-organized by Habitat for Humanity International, ended recently in Manila with the recognition that greater and more innovative efforts are required to address urban poverty housing. The event, held at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Manila, was attended by nearly 440 delegates, almost double the number of participants from the inaugural event in Singapore in 2007. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was the principal sponsor of the second housing forum.

 

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The 2nd Asia-Pacific Housing Forum attracted more than 400 delegates.

 

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(From left) Philippine senator Juan Miguel Zubiri; Rick Hathaway, vice-president, Habitat for Humanity, Asia-Pacific; Margie Moran-Floirendo, co-chair of Friends of Habitat, HFH Philippines’ social mobilization arm.

 

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Panelists at the roundtable were urban management consultant Banashree Banerjee; Elisea Gozun, Philippines’ former environment and natural resources secretary; Nicholas Retsinas, director, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University; Yap Kioe Sheng, chief (retired), Poverty Reduction Section, UNESCAP; David Smith, founder of US think-tank Affordable Housing Institute; Jo da Silva (hidden), director, international development, Arup. Dr Chainarong Monthienvichienchai, member of Habitat’s international board, was the facilitator.

 

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Delegates taking part in a UNESCAP-led session on urbanization and low-income housing.

Focusing on the theme of “Maximizing Urban Poverty Housing Solutions for Greater Results”, the forum  provided a platform for representatives of stakeholder groups to share past experiences and network for greater multi-sector cooperation and collaboration. The forum achieved its goal of highlighting the specific shelter issues with sessions on realistic ways to alleviate the burden of slum conditions. Other discussions looked at practical ways to bridge the gap between emergency shelter relief and sustainable housing development in times of disasters.

Keynote speakers included Philippine senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Majority Floor Leader of the Senate of the Republic of Philippines and immediate past chair of the Senate Committee on Housing. In his opening address, Senator Zubiri spoke of the challenges of socialized, low-cost housing, especially in the current global economic downturn. He highlighted recent new Philippine legislation and policies designed to address these challenges in such areas as housing finance and rent controls – which forum participants could adopt in their own countries and markets.

The senator praised many of the groups involved in working on socialized and low-income housing for the poor. They were motivated by more than money. “It is the difference between having to do it and wanting to do it. The latter showing your sincerity to make the lives of our less fortunate brothers and sisters a lot better.”

Among the influential contributors were Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University and former international board chair of Habitat for Humanity; and Philippine Vice-President Noli De Castro who is also chairman of the country’s Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

During the opening day roundtable, discussion revolved around being innovative by coming up with scalable, replicable and workable urban planning aimed at making communities more resilient to environmental shocks. Panelists at the roundtable included Asian and foreign representatives from academia, government, civil society and the private sector.

The panelists generally agreed that affordable resettlement housing built far from city employment opportunities and dependence on costly transport links were not an effective “affordable” housing solution. They also stressed the need for integrated urban planning, an element missing in many Asian cities. In designing such housing solutions, the poor have to be involved, said a panelist, David Smith, founder of the U.S. think-tank, Affordable Housing Institute. “The poor have independent rights to negotiate their participation. They are an integrated part of the discussion and projects need to work not for the poor but with the poor.”

Smith’s thought tied in with the consensus derived from the forum that housing is an “inclusive” issue which involves policies on land ownership and tenure; accessibility to livelihood choices, public infrastructure and services such as public transportation, education, electricity, water and sanitation; appropriate house construction technology and affordable home financing.

Different stakeholders need to continue to perform their different roles but must meet new realities. For example, stakeholders have to change their mindsets to recognize that informal settlements are not “garbage of the city” but have potential that should be developed in a total participatory approach. The poor are an independent partner in any negotiation.

One innovative and inclusive case study discussed at the forum was the participation in a slum rehabilitation scheme in India by a financial institution and a private real estate developer. Slum dwellers were re-housed on site, and freed-up land was developed and sold on commercial terms. This showcased a replicable solution to urban poverty housing that other cities in India and in Asia could consider adapting.

The technical aspects of housing were not forgotten at the forum. While participants were aware of the finance, legal, policy, social and community development aspects of housing the poor and those affected by disasters, their attention was drawn to the importance of the technical aspects. Delegates from engineering firms and building technology companies emphasized the need for investing in well-designed, sturdy shelters that can withstand the test of time and weather. Such homes will then be what people want to live in as well as being socially sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Together with leaders and other contributors to affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies remain committed to the Millennium Development Goals which address the issue of poverty in all its forms, including urban poverty housing, with a specific call for a “significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2010.”

The 3rd Asia-Pacific Housing Forum will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 12th to 14th September 2011.

After the end of the forum on 9th September, nearly 100 staff and partners of Habitat attended the Asia-Pacific Leadership Conference which was also held at Dusit Thani Hotel from 9th to 11th September. Participants attended sessions on partnerships among various national programs, resource development, housing finance, brand-building among others. A dinner-cum-ceremony was held on the last day to honor winners of Habitat’s 2009 International Board of Directors’ Awards. Countries which won for housing opportunities, program sustainability, innovative leadership, mobilizing financial capital and outstanding volunteerism are Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Nepal and India.