The Right to Adequate Housing

K1600_P1050882 (2)The right to housing is an economic, social and cultural right to every human being. It is recognized in various national constitutions as well as in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it is stated that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services (…).“

Nevertheless, the UN estimates that nearly one billion people worldwide currently live in slums. Causes like the rapid rural-to-urban migration, high unemployment, poor planning, natural disasters and social conflicts lead to a dramatic growth in the number of slum-dwellers meaning that more and more people live in decrepit housing units with incomplete infrastructure and mostly lacking reliable sanitation services, supply of clean water and reliable electricity.  They are triply disadvantaged as they tend to be spatially, socially and economically excluded from the opportunities that other city dwellers enjoy. The American economist Edward Glaeser (2011) furthermore identifies three great scourges of urban life: crime, disease, and congestion. Inadequate housing and impoverished neighbourhoods are key factors that explain these scourges.

Going hand in hand with the Sustainable Development Goal 11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable“, there are different strategies tried to reduce and transform slums and informal settlements to overcome the challenges they represent to development and the individual’s well-being. The range includes a combination of slum removal, relocation, upgrading, urban planning with citywide infrastructure development and public housing, but a best practice is still to be invented.

Research shows though that even smallest improvements can have positive housing, neighbourhood and individual outcomes. The results cannot be generalized but it has been shown for example that the provision of land titling increases total labour force hours and reallocates work hours from home to the outside labour market (Field 2005), replacing dirt floors for cement floors interrupts the transmission of parasitic infestations and reduces the incidence of both diarrhea and anemia and leads to significant improvement in child cognitive development plus adults report to be substantially happier (Cattaneo et al. 2009) and street pavement is followed by an increase in house improvements, an increased number of durable goods owned by the household and a higher satisfaction with the local government (Gonzalez-Navarro and Quintana-Domeque 2010).

TECHO is one actor in the field of slum upgrading. The Latin American non-profit organization mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America, by constructing transitional housing and implementing social inclusion programs. Although their built houses are very basic and economic, a study showed that replacing the old house with better prefabricated ones improves the quality of housing effectively, the satisfaction with housing and with the quality of life is greater and the perceptions of security improve, too (Galiani et al. 2011).

UN-Habitat as the United Nations programme for human settlements and sustainable urban development believes that change is possible. But to achieve the goal of “cities without slums”, they claim that governments must undertake vigorous urban planning, infrastructure development, city management, slum upgrading and poverty reduction.

It is unacceptable that one-sixth of the planet’s population is denied the Right to Adequate Housing. Sustainable change must be undertaken.


Baker, J. 2008. “Urban Poverty: A Global View.” Urban Papers, No. UP-5. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Cattaneo, M. D., S. Galiani, P. J. Gertler, S. Martinez, and R. Titiunik. 2009. “Housing, Health, and Happiness.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy (1): 75–105.

Field, E. 2005. “Property Rights and Investment in Urban Slums.” Journal of the European Economic Association Papers and Proceedings 3 (2-3): 279–90.

Fisher, F. 2002. “Developing and managing professional codes of ethics. Let the dialogue begin: resource guide for professional associations contributing to good local governance.“ Nairobi: UN-HABITAT (Training series).

Galiani, S., P. Gertler, S. Martinez, R. Cooper, A. Ross, and R. Undurraga. 2011. “Shelter from the Storm: Upgrading Housing Infrastructure in Latin America Slums.” NBER Working Paper No. 19322. Cambridge, MA: NBER.

Glaeser, E. 2011. “Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.“ New York, NY: Penguin.

Gonzalez-Navarro, M. and C. Quintana-Domeque. 2010. “Urban Infrastructure and Economic Development: Experimental Evidence from Street Pavement.” IZA Discussion Paper 5346. Bonn, Germany: IZA

Jaitman, L. and J. Brakarz 2013. “Evaluation of Slum Upgrading Programs. Literature Review and Methodological Approaches.“ InterAmerican Development Bank. Institutions for Development Sector., 23.06.2019.

UN-HABITAT 2011. “Building urban safety through slum upgrading.“ Nairobi: UN-HABITAT.

WHO 2018. “WHO housing and health guidelines.“ Geneva: World Health Organization., 05.08.2019

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