Moving forward progressively -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Moving forward progressively

By Yolanda Hernandez

Most, if not all countries, in Latin America and the Caribbean have demonstrated their commitment to housing as a basic human right by signing the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and similar agreements from the Organization of American States. Some have also incorporated the right to housing into their constitutions. But beyond putting pen to paper, what concrete steps have nations in the region taken to significantly back their word?

According to Rodolfo Ramirez Soto, Housing and Human Settlements Director for HFH Latin America and the Caribbean, many countries have designed and implemented a wide range of policies to promote housing rights within their borders. However, he cautions, oftentimes, these policies are designed to fit wide, general segments of the population. As a result, the specific conditions of certain communities, including those most in need, are overlooked.

Of those strategies adopted to reach the poorest communities, subsidy programs top the list and exist in countries such as Chile, Costa Rica, Brazil and Columbia. “It’s not a gift or a form of charity,” states Ramirez. “It’s a mechanism by which society recognizes that housing is a right…At the same time, it recognizes that there are members of the community that do not have access to this right by other means.” Perhaps the region’s forerunner in defining and implementing effective housing policies is Brazil. Ramirez credits the South American nation’s success in upholding housing rights to its unique decision-making structure, which includes the participation of all members of society. Representatives of marginalized communities, the business and finance sectors, non-governmental organizations and the government all convene to design strategies together. “As a result, the policies created are more suitable for Brazil’s reality and, especially, for the most vulnerable,” says the LA/C director. He also cites a higher degree of transparency and accountability as additional benefits of this participatory council.

Another reflection of Brazil’s strong stance on housing rights is the volume of funds it allocates to the implementation of its housing policies. “It’s not enough to design mechanisms,” says Ramirez. Federal, state and municipal governments in Brazil each designate funds in their budgets to sustain their housing programs.

Ramirez also praises Brazil’s support of community participation in the building process, a key housing characteristic in Latin America and the Caribbean. He states that families who pull together their resources erect the vast majority of houses in the region, not the government or market. “It’s a reality that shouldn’t be stopped or limited. It should be permitted and promoted; Brazil is doing that,” says Ramirez.

While governments, like Brazil’s and others, strive to uphold their commitment to adequate shelter as a human right, poverty-housing statistics soberly state the task’s enormity. Ramirez acknowledges governments’ limitations, including finite resources and competing interests. But, referring to a UN pamphlet, he notes that governments’ responsibilities, actions and results are meant to unfold “progressively,” not immediately. Though this process creates a lack of complete satisfaction, says Ramirez, it also indicates that this commitment does not lie solely in government hands, but in society as a whole. “It is our responsibility to attend to and create the conditions that will enable the right to housing to reach its full potential,” says Ramirez.

Rodolfo Ramirez is director of the Department of Housing and Human Settlement at Habitat for Humanity’s Latin America and the Caribbean office. He has a background in architecture and urban development.

In his more than 20 years of experience, he has served in various roles: director of Planning, Counsel of Human Development; director of Special Projects; general director of Coordination to the Labor Secretary, advisor to the President of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Pernambuco, Brazil. He was also general counsel of the Republic of Costa Rica in Pernambuco, and the coordinator and co-founder of the Community Movement and Urban Ecological Commission of Pernambuco.

Yolanda Hernandez is a free lance writer for HFH in Latin America and the Caribbean.