Housing Objectives

Ultimately, housing strategies seek to achieve a range of objectives through a particular combination of policies, programmes and projects. The essence of the ‘strategy’ concept (alias rational planning) is that there is a distinction between means and ends, with the objectives focussed on ends, or as we might now say, ‘outcomes’, while the ‘means’ are now seen to comprise a menu of possible approaches rather than a single ‘one size fits all’ solution (e.g. ‘build more public housing’). Objectives and policies may be set by local communities but are often influenced or prescribed by higher levels of government. In a general sense these objectives relate to economic development, community well-being and environmental sustainability. While most local authorities most of the time will tend to prioritise economic development, the local housing strategy tends to bring more of a focus on social equity and sustainability issues. This means both the affordability and appropriateness of housing in relation to the range of community characteristics and needs, and the location and environmental impact of residential development. Increasingly, the relationship between housing and health outcomes are being recognised as well. As well as the overall objectives of local and regional housing strategies, the range of particular programmes and schemes able to be pursued and promoted (for instance, the particular mix of tenures and programmes) will reflect the overarching national level housing and social policy regime, as outlined in Chap. 3.

At the international level, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) has long emphasised the right to adequate housing as integral to an adequate standard of living. This was first articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reinforced by the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In 1978, the United Nations mandated a specific focus on urban growth and human settlements through UN-Habitat. Issues surrounding adequate housing gained new international prominence during the 1990s. The outcomes of the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in 1996—the ‘Istanbul Declaration’ and the ‘Habitat Agenda’ provided a policy framework for:

“the goal of improving living and working conditions on an equitable and sustainable basis, so that everyone will have adequate shelter that is healthy, safe, secure, accessible and affordable and that includes basic services, facilities and amenities, and will enjoy freedom from discrimination in housing and legal security of tenure.” (UN-Habitat, 1996, Article 39)

The Habitat Agenda includes commitments in relation to local infrastructure, construction standards and materials, and housing finance. Further, specific needs and rights of Indigenous peoples as well as “homeless, displaced persons, ... women and children who are survivors of family violence, persons with disabilities, older persons, victims of natural and man-made disasters and people belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including temporary shelter and basic services for refugees” are identified (UN-Habitat, 1996, Article 40).

There is a specific objective to increase “the supply of affordable housing”, by encouraging and promoting “affordable home ownership and increasing the supply of affordable rental, communal, cooperative and other housing” through “partnerships” among public, private and community groups, and market-based incentives (UN-Habitat, 1996, Article 40 (h)).

While much of the policy development work of UN-Habitat has focussed on the developing world context, over 170 nations are signatories to the Habitat Agenda. A Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living was appointed in the year 2000, and has undertaken investigations into housing conditions and policy in Great Britain (2013), the USA (2010), Canada (2007) and Australia (2006).

While it is not clear that these reports have had major impacts on the policy actions of the governments in question, the policy objectives and principles articulated in the UN-Habitat Agenda of 1996 seem broadly consistent with domestic level housing policies in many countries, whether articulated by national, state or local governments. However, the interpretation of these objectives and perspectives about the role of governments in their promotion remains open to significant debate. In the ‘advanced’ countries of the North, there is a continuing ideological debate between the neoliberal perspective which favours a more minimal ‘watchman’ role for the state (and a more positive ‘enabling’ stance towards the private market) and more social-democratic perspectives which envisage a more comprehensive role for the local state in housing. These differences will be reflected in, for example, how tightly drawn are the categories and thresholds of housing need, as well as in the degree of intervention in land markets and the development process. In the Global South, although housing conditions are generally far worse, the effective activity of government may be much less, whether due to budgetary stringency, priorities or weak governance/ corruption, so leaving people to house themselves as best they can in the ‘informal sector’.

The following sections explain the key concepts and their implementation through local and regional housing strategies, in greater detail.

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