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A housing forum for Europe and Central Asia

By Don Haszczyn

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Check www.ecahousingforum.eu for further information and registration.

The past few years have highlighted just how central housing is to both our economic and human development in the Europe and Central Asia region. Housing is also central to many aspects of our lives: our education, security, health, employment, our communities, even our identity and spiritual wellbeing. It is at this crucial time that, in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the United Nations Development Program, Habitat for Humanity has announced an exciting joint forum focused on housing in the region to find action-based solutions and ideas.

Whilst the housing sector continues to feel the impact of the recent housing, financial and resulting economic and political crises, some countries and actors are finding new and innovative solutions. The challenges in Europe and Central Asia are both diverse and complex and include the environment, the reduction of poverty and exclusion, an ageing population, a lack of affordable housing for the next generation, ineffective financial regulation and practices, outdated and dilapidated housing stock, vulnerable populations, natural and civil disaster response and prevention, financing, and the fact that housing accounts for more than 30 percent of energy consumption in the region.

There are also numerous and increasing barriers to entry to both the private and social housing markets, especially for the more vulnerable in our societies. There is also need to build and improve homes so that they reach decent standards in tenure, adequate living space, durable construction, and so that they have affordable access to water, sanitation and energy. Such challenges are often only compounded by structural conditions specific to post-communist economic and social transition countries, such as the de-nationalization and privatization of housing, the phasing-out or abandonment of social housing models, the under-development of housing finance, and the banking sector more generally. But, as the world’s attention turns from an economic and financial crisis to an environmental one, the issue of housing, whilst highly politicized, remains fragmented and generally low on the regional developmental agendas.

Globally urbanization and population growth both continue at an alarming pace with the world population set to grow to 9 billion by 2050. The majority of the world’s population is now living in cities. Despite the efforts of many and the Millennium Development Goals, this is changing social patterns and exacerbating demand for decent housing, resulting in increasing poverty, civil unrest and increasing the burden on the environment. The impacts of climate change, including climate related disasters, mitigation policies, desertification, and the risk of rising sea levels, is also having an important impact on human settlement. Whilst the issues in the region are somewhat different, the impact of these global changes is profound and not limited to increasing demands on immigration both within and into Europe.

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Outdated and dilapidated condominium in Armenia.

The ambition of the Europe and Central Asia Housing Forum 2011 is that it be an “agenda setting” event, whilst at the same time being a platform for exchange, mutual learning and consensus building between people who are committed to the cause of sustainable and resilient housing for all. In order to achieve these aims, the forum aims to be highly engaging and creative with a significant degree of “participant and self generated” content in the program to generate interaction and debate. We are inviting participants from all parts of the housing sector – civil society, business, non-profits, policy and research.

The work of the Forum is divided into four tracks. These are outlined below and we hope to explore these in more detail over the coming months both pre and post the Forum.

A. Housing - a political agenda
This track looks at the political aspects of housing and how housing rights, policies and governance are crucial to a well functioning housing sector.

B. Housing Vulnerabilities
This track focuses on addressing the existing and physical and environmental housing challenges in order to build more resilient homes and cities for all:

C. Housing beyond the Crises
This track focuses on sharing successful, scalable, and sustainable models for housing finance solutions to the current economic, financial, and environmental crises.

D. Housing and Human Development
This track explore the links between housing, human development and reducing poverty.

We believe the time has come for the key decision makers and stakeholders in the housing field to cooperate to build a vision and agenda for a sustainable and resilient future for all, and to bring the issue of decent housing to the forefront of the agenda in the Europe and Central Asia region. I hope you will take the opportunity to visit our forum website at www.ecahousingforum.eu where you can both find out more and register for the forum, and we warmly invite you to support us and participate.

What is next?
Habitat wants people not only to read about poverty housing but do something to fight it. You can support Habitat’s work in Europe and Central Asia in a number of ways. Here are some examples:

• Visit our donations page to support projects in Europe and Central Asia.
• Go to country profile pages to learn about other programs in Europe and Central Asia.

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