A well-defined right: the right to housing and migrants

Various activities in Barcelona underline the importance of the right to housing and migrants

 

This year, the right to housing is under debate in Barcelona.

Two recent examples include:

  • Tuesday 18 December marks the International Migrants Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 4 December 2000, due to “the interest of the international community in effectively and fully protecting the human rights of all migrants, and emphasising the need to continue trying to ensure that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants are respected”. To celebrate this day, Barcelona City Council is holding a commemorative act in City Hall’s Saló de Cent, which includes the presentation of the 10th Municipal Immigration Council Award. This year, the award is dedicated to the theme of “Immigrants and discrimination in terms of the right to housing”.
  • Furthermore, one of the themes debated at the International “Cities for Rights” Conference, organised by Barcelona City Council on 10 and 11 December, was the initiatives for recovering the right to housing from within cities, or Cities4Housing, in light of the fact that financial organisations have been monopolising resources, turning homes into assets for speculation. The conference was scheduled in order to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City.

 

BARCELONA CITY COUNCIL A WELL-DEFINED RIGHT I CITIES FOR DECENT HOUSING

In effect, the “2016-2025 Barcelona Plan for the Right to Housing” is the document that guides Barcelona City Council’s municipal policies on exercising this right. Entitled “Housing is a well-defined right”, its strategic lines of action tackle some of the major problems for making it effective:

  • Preventing and attending to housing emergencies
  • Ensuring the proper use of housing
  • Increasing the number of affordable flats
  • Renovating the current housing stock

Specifically, the Plan highlights various challenges. Some are linked to current problems, such as the difficulties people face in meeting their rental payments and the need to increase the public rental-housing stock. Others concern endemic problems, such as the difficulty young people have in finding a flat, and that housing used as homes is being replaced by tourist flats.

Furthermore, as stated above, Mayor Ada Colau presented the “Cities for Decent Housing” declaration (Cities4Housing) at the UN headquarters.This document aims to be a wake-up call for countries to take measures to stop the phenomenon of speculation and gentrification (the transformation process of a working-class neighbourhood, where the new well-off residents end up pushing out former residents). The declaration includes a call for cities to take on more responsibilities, in order to regulate the property market in a more appropriate way. In addition to the resources for improving public housing stocks and the relationship between public and private stakeholders, as well as urban planning that combines decent housing with high-quality, inclusive and sustainable neighbourhoods.

This declaration, presented in New York on 16 July, as part of the Local and Regional Governments Forum, was signed by cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Durban, Lisbon, London, Mexico City, Montreal, Montevideo, New York, Paris and Seoul, with the support of various organisations and figures linked to housing rights.

This forum is one of the few opportunities cities have for speaking to state representatives. The occasion was used to call for more resources, more responsibilities and better coordination in the struggle against the expulsion of local residents from urban centres and for defending the right to housing and to the city.

 

MUNICIPAL IMMIGRATION COUNCIL:  HOUSING WITHOUT DISCRIMINATION

On 18 December, the International Migrants Day is being held, as proclaimed by the United Nations. This is happening in a year, 2018, when the right to housing was one of the themes chosen by the Barcelona Municipal Immigration Council (CMIB) regarding immigrants. Under the title of “Immigrants and Discrimination in the Right to Housing”, the CMIB aims provide the immigrant population with knowledge and vindicate their rights and resources.

It argues for the need to further explore “the everyday problem that significantly affects migrants and their rights and opportunities”. The discrimination they encounter when looking for accommodation is due to their origin or religion, and affects their access to other rights:  e.g. by making registration in the municipal register more difficult, it also causes problems with associated rights, such as schooling their children or family reunification. Some types of discrimination can also affect their ability to maintain their dwelling, such as cases of evictions or mobbing aimed at vacating buildings.

On 4 November, the annual “BCN Diverse City Meeting” is being held, with “discrimination in the area of housing” as its central theme.  This includes “Immigrants and discrimination regarding the right to housing” a session organised by the CMIB, where after discussing various subjects, a manifesto entitled “For the Right to Decent Housing without Discrimination. There’s Room for Everyone in Barcelona“ will be signed. Some of its demands include:

  • Here and now, we call for public administrations and institutions to work towards facilitating access to and maintenance of decent housing for everyone in Barcelona, regardless of their condition or origin.
  • We call for the continuation or promotion of legislative reform for housing that guarantees the right and non-discrimination, as well as protecting people who are more vulnerable.
  • We urge the private financial sector, estate agents, agencies, banks and property owners to consider the reality facing Barcelona residents, without excluding or discriminating against anyone.
  • We invite city residents who have been victims of, or witnesses to, this type of actions to denounce them; they will always have official support and that of the associations concerned. In this way, we can combat this injustice and work towards a fair housing system.

Meanwhile, on 27 November, a monographic report on the same subject was presented. It was produced by Claudia Gallardo Rodríguez and commissioned by the Barcelona Municipal Immigration Council. After interviewing 31 advisory organisations and other guests, the report systematises the detected problems and makes a series of proposals that CMIB members can use to tackle them.

A total of 40 measures are proposed, divided into various themes.

– It emphasises the importance of promoting social housing, increasing the length of rental contracts, improving conditions and regulating rental prices.

– It also calls for greater dialogue with property companies and private owners, in order to regulate prices and avoid discrimination. For this reason, a campaign entitled “I don’t discriminate” is proposed. This highlights the quality of companies that follow good non-discrimination practices concerning the right to housing.  This campaign would be run in collaboration with the Office for Non-Discrimination and the Housing Offices.

– It also calls for measures to combat the existence of empty dwellings, in order to promote shared rentals, as well as providing accommodation for homeless people.

– It also proposes working on the subject of discrimination, by showcasing the problem and improving competencies and specialisation with the Office for Non-Discrimination.

As explained above, the Municipal Immigration Council has also organised an award, which is dedicated to immigrants and discrimination in the right to housing, in order to recognise the work that has been, and is being, done in this area, as well as providing visibility for the Council’s organisations that are working in this field.

 

HOUSING AND GENDER PERSPECTIVE IN BARCELONA

The right to housing situation in Barcelona, in terms of the gender perspective, is analysed in a report produced by various Barcelona organisations and signed by Irene Gonzàlez.

One of its conclusions is that there is a lack of a structured gender perspective in housing policies; the economic vulnerability of women is not reflected in housing policies. It also reveals that there is a group of women who particularly suffer from the violation of their right to housing: single-mother families, retired women, women who do domestic work, unemployed women, those affected by gender violence, migrant women, those working in prostitution and ex-convict women all suffer greater residential insecurity as well as energy poverty.

The surveys carried out by the Alliance Against Energy Poverty and the PAH BCN show various relevant facts in the relationship between gender-housing-energy poverty. The Alliance Against Poverty (APE) and the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) are strongly feminised associations where vulnerable groups, such as single-mother families, migrant women and gender-violence victims are strongly represented.   Furthermore, only 30% of the women surveyed said they had a job with a contract – without specifying their working hours – and are strongly tied to care and domestic work (40% of them full time); those that have work declare jobs that have low added monetary value.

 

THE RIGHT TO DECENT HOUSING AND INTERNATIONAL LAW

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) analyses the concept of decent housing (in one of its informative leaflets). This concept appears in the main treatises on human rights, especially in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

 The right to adequate housing requires a series of freedoms for rights holders, which are interesting to analyse in light of the rights referred to by the “Barcelona Municipal Immigration Council” in its manifesto. For example, protection against evictions, freedom from arbitrary interference in homes, affordability and the right to choose a residence. Other rights are also of interest, including non-discriminatory access to housing, security of possession or restitution of the dwelling, the land and the property, adequate habitability and location.

Regarding migrants, the OHCHR states: “Itinerant persons, whether they be refugees, asylum seekers, internal displaced persons or migrants, are particularly vulnerable to a range of human-rights violations, including the right to decent housing. Displaced persons are also particularly vulnerable to discrimination, racism and xenophobia, which may increase the difficulty for them to achieve an adequate and sustainable standard of living.