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Press Release. Harmonious cities once and for all - free them from neo-liberalism!

On World Habitat Day , celebrated by UN-Habitat on October 6, 2008, under the motto “Harmonius Cities”, the International Alliance of Inhabitants, a global network for housing rights without borders, released a very critical document proposing a new Urban Social Pact supported by the World Zero Evictions Days.

Three key global figures should be taken into consideration today to understand and resolve the world housing crisis. The first figure: 1.14 quadrillion (1 with 15 zeros after it!) dollars in derivative financial instruments, the equivalent of the world’s GDP over 20 years, which is at the root of the worst financial crisis of the last century, since no one knows how to repay this debt. The second figure: 2.6 trillion dollars in external debt, 523 billion dollars of which is owed by the poorest countries in the world, which are getting poorer and poorer, according to the rules given by the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank. The third figure: there are more than 1 billion people who are either homeless or living in terrible conditions, a figure that is supposed to reach 1.7 billion by the year 2020, showing that the Millennium Development Goal 7/11 is heading towards failure. The first figures, which largely contributes to the enormous amount of homelessness, is the cruel outcome of the confidence given to the neoliberal system, which, in allowing investors to do as they pleased, saw to the disappearance of the countryside, urban explosion and the exclusion of inhabitants during the construction of cities.

These numbers reflect the suffering of hundreds of millions of people, especially the several dozen million who have been evicted or who have been threatened with eviction. Evictions are illegal, violating article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was ratified by the more than 65 countries (both developed and impoverished) where this inhumane practice has been documented for the last 12 months. Need we remind ourselves of the 2 million families who are in the process of losing their homes due to the real estate crisis in the United States, or the 700,000 people in Zimbabwe who already lost their homes during the Murambatsvina operation?

It is for these reasons that we are no particularly troubled that the UN-Habitat decided to celebrate the World Habitat Day in Luanda, a city affected by massive evictions resulting from foreign investments, or the decision to hold the 4th World Urban Forum in Nanijng (November 3-6 2008), a city modernized by bulldozers and “relocations,” which were backed by a rationale that denied the inhabitants any voice in their future.

Moreover, we protest the ideology on which these decisions are based, the neo-liberalism that encourages the UN-Habitat to increasingly opt for the partnership and priorities of private investors, the same neo-liberalism that advocates the privatization of land and public services, considered for the value that they can add to unsustainable financial instruments,and not for their effectiveness in facing the urban crisis.

In fact, what is the point of trusting a sector that’s surviving on nothing, for example, the hedge funds or tax havens, which hide and contribute to the injustices of the world?

Where is the effectiveness, in respecting the housing rights, of the Global Compact proposed by the UN-Habitat to a sector that theorized that real estate prices affected by the bursting of the real estate bubble would rebound if vacant properties and non-profitable neighborhoods were torn down?

Rather, it would be better to reinforce the certain United Nations tools, such as the Special Rapporteur on housing and the Advisory Group on Forced Evictions (UN-AGFE), who have proven their effectiveness.

Why commit to making “bankable” the poor who need to pay their mortgages, when the banking system has proven itself to be untrustworthy? Instead, it would be better to develop a system of Popular Housing and Land Funds financed through the cancellation of the external debt of these impoverished countries.

For these reasons, the International Alliance for Inhabitants is organizing World Zero Evictions Days, along with dozens of other initiatives around the world, during the entire month of October.

World Zero Evictions Days is the basis for a resounding call to all those concerned to come together and create a new Urban Social Pact based on human rights and the needs of the people, as well as on the development of public policies capable of turning the market around.

A Pact uniting housing organizations, public officials and specialists who agree on public control and participate in the construction and management of the cities, taxing speculative real estate operations, including for housing or vacant land, cancelling the external debt of the poorest countries in exchange for urban housing policies that are inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

The only chance that theses communities have of rebuilding themselves is through the creation of cultural, social, political and economic conditions that give the people that live there the ability and freedom to build their own future.

These campaigns and battles will be part of a shared operation, the World Assembly of Inhabitants, in 2011.

October 6th 2008