World Habitat Day might be little known here in Australia, but it packs a powerful message that resonates with many at home and abroad.
On World Habitat Day, the first Monday of October, Habitat for Humanity joins the United Nations and other organisations around the world in raising awareness and educating and mobilising individuals and communities to take action on the global housing crisis.
This year’s theme is Housing Policies: Affordable Homes, and at a time when an estimated 1.3 million Australian households are in a state of housing need, whether unable to access market housing or in a position of rental stress, the message is of the utmost importance.
We all know the transformative impact of having a safe home. A decent place to live can remove barriers in the path to opportunity, success and health that might have been part of a family’s life for years, if not generations. Affordable housing solutions are key to breaking the cycle of poverty for poor families allowing them to flourish and thrive. Access to safe shelter also means community health is improved by providing clean water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene awareness training. It also improves economic security of families who previously would spend most or all of their limited and generally, unsteady incomes on rent or making constant repairs to their homes using inadequate materials or methods.
Australia is not alone in facing its housing crisis, or rapid urbanisation. An analysis of housing affordability globally over the last 20 years reveals that despite increasing demand, housing –and rental housing- has been largely unaffordable for the majority of the world population.
Today, 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing, of which 1 billion live in slums and informal settlements.
In the Asia Pacific region alone, a demand of over 25,000 new units of shelter – two-thirds of which are needed for low-income earners, are required each day.
Creating new ways for low income families to own their own home is critical to tackling the affordable housing crisis.
In Australia, Habitat for Humanity provides socially disadvantaged people with the opportunity to purchase a home on favorable terms. It involves providing a no-profit loan to a family and a limitation of repayments to no more than 25% of their disposable income. Overseas, Habitat for Humanity partners with poor families to help build safe homes. Some partner with Habitat as part of a grant program, whereby families repay a small, no-interest loan which goes towards helping another family in their community build a home. It’s a pay it forward model and the beginning of generational change.
With the continued help of donors, corporate supporters and government funding, we can play a key role in helping developing nations in Asia respond to the problem. However, to succeed in eliminating inadequate housing around the world in our lifetime, we must begin by promoting smart policies that advance access to adequate, affordable housing. This includes addressing the housing needs of the poorest and most vulnerable – those who live in slums must be a priority in the development agendas.
On World Habitat Day today we celebrate the role housing plays in transforming lives and reducing poverty, and ask our supporters to use their voices to join the call access too affordable, safe housing for all.