What lessons can the U.S. learn from housing programs, policies, or regulatory frameworks in other countries? Are there specific tools in use (e.g., covered bonds, full recourse loans, prepayment penalties, etc.) that we should consider adopting or using on a larger scale?
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Though commerce and social media have seemed to shrink the world and invalidate boundaries, the reality is that we must still look carefully at our assertions anytime we use the word “global.” At Habitat for Humanity, we have found this to be especially true about housing issues. There are very few universal truths about housing and land ownership, and no individual country has housing policy completely figured out. Our desire to advocate for those in need of adequate and affordable shelter led us to become a primary partner in the Global Housing Policy Indicators Project in 2004. Through this project we began assessing regulations, policies and practices concerning housing in various locations.
So far data has been collected in more than a dozen countries, and approximately 25 cities around the world are expected to be evaluated using the GHI by the end of 2012. The website will launch by mid-summer and will be a one-stop portal for data, discussion, debates and dissemination. These are some of the highlights we have found in our assessments so far:
- Mass evictions sometimes occur contrary to “official policy.”
- Although women can legally own and inherit land in many countries, customary land practices and religious/class discrimination deprive a number of women of the opportunity to own land.
- Most countries are grappling with subsidy issues. In Hungary, for instance, households are eligible for subsidies based on the number of children, not on household income. In Mexico the Esta es Tu Casa program, which was designed to help low-income families acquire a lot or buy, build or improve homes, has led to impressive growth in the housing market, but there are some questions about financial sustainability. Argentina’s Mejor Vivir en la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (Live Better in the City of Buenos Aires) offers assistance to homeowners for making improvements. Loan costs for the improvements are payable over 30 years in monthly installments, without any interest or inflation adjustments. Other subsidy programs in Latin America use a down payment assistance model for first-time homeowners. Matching down payment programs for middle-income families are also sometimes used in Europe.
- Most countries assessed so far identified infrastructure challenges, particularly in the provision of water, and most reported they lack updated urban plans.
- Advocates for housing often are pressed to make their case for better housing policy. As a housing organization that envisions a world where everyone has a decent place to live, our hope is that the GHI will provide evidence for action — a basis for advocates to engage with national and local officials to embrace housing policies that work and to change those that impede progress.
Jonathan T.M. Reckford is Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity International.
Welcome to the BPC Housing Commission expert forum! This forum is intended to foster interactive and substantive discussion about pressing housing issues. Each month contributors from different parts of the housing sector will be invited to respond to a discussion topic. Guest posts will feature prominently on BPC’s website, as well as be shared regularly with Housing Commissioners to help inform their work.
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