Financial and housing crises, the Bank’s safeguards and the right to adequate housing

22 April 2013 | Minutes

Presenter: Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing

Chair: David Pred, Inclusive Development International

* partial notes*

Raquel Rolnik:

  • Forced evictions should not exist – any resettlement is traumatic in any conditions
  • Best option is not to resettle
  • The ruling of the communities on whether to do it, how it is done, is crucial
  • The solution should be offered in accordance with the community
  • This framework on human rights (HR) to housing, should go directly into WB action
  • WB mandate directly connected to development, HR language would translate to clear mandate of the HR to housing, means development, means changing the situation towards more and more and more adequacy
  • HR framework very useful, gives development of where the WB can go
  • Can see in the history of the WB, mid 70s started to be very active, slum upgrading, etc
  • In the 80s lost ground to policy based loans on housing markets
  • In 90s mainly promoted an approach enabling a market approach to housing, through structural adjustment loans
  • Reduced the role of the government as housing provider, deregulating housing financing systems in order to open ground to the market to deliver housing, into home ownership – later on based on promotion access to credit
  • This paradigm is almost universal, I have made several reports on this
  • Can have access to land through the market, that’s the paradigm, then the state reforms the financial system to help you have access to the market
  • Based on this land reform was promoted to build land governance systems, through individual freehold
  • A long story of revising WB policy – to take into account when revising WB safeguards
  • Important to see the policy that is in place – the do good part of the WB policy, that has always been there, to look at that to understand where SGs feed into that
  • What happened is the only value of land and housing became the market or financial value, then when something happens you have a massive shifting of land from one hand to another land
  • For those that don’t have money or access to finance, the financialisation of housing, finance is inherently discriminatory
  • If I have to lend money to somebody, somebody who is very vulnerable, is a very risky operation for the lender, which means that since the risk is greater, the interest is greater
  • Eventually low middle income, the very poor and vulnerable, the groups that in principle should be protected, the new WB vision focusing on those groups – this scheme does not meet their needs
  • What happens is that most of these people lost their principal asset which is the land, they were either forced evicted or resettled, but in a condition where eventually some met the rights, but not all of them
  • Affordability, possibility of people to buy, the question of location, availability of services, work, not available at all – gross violation of right to adequate housing
  • Human rights has a very clear check list
  • The WB is also shifting towards broader reforms, development policy loans, program-for-results, etc – very unclear how the safeguards apply to this
  • Have several examples of impacts of these, eg Mexico, Ethiopia
  • Directly linked with something that is not a project but has created massive resettlement
  • Very easy to set the standards, in discourse in writing, but how do you translate this into real operations policy and practice
  • How to do this without creating a big WB bureaucracy
  • Access to land and territories, the key elements to start – housing is a place on the earth, it’s a location a point from where the community can access a lot of thing
  • Different to context, to define who have access to land the most important element of the political economy of a state, region.
  • How should safeguards interact with countries in this respect
  • Key entry point is how could the WB operations empower affected communities to have more conditions to engage in a dialogue from the outset, from the designing phase in order for them to play a role in the political economy
  • Independent local technical assistance and monitoring, from the early stages that could follow up and then implementation and then report back to both borrower and lender to both
  • Then prohibition of forced eviction is a must
  • In most of the cases I’ve been involved in, you build the road, you start building the road and the housing provisions are not there – because no one had thought of that, or think somebody else will do it – all should be part of the same project, same operation, same lending


Countries with conflicts, so many people in conflict have been in camps for years, in tents, the conditions are horrible – how do you look at that as human rights?
Discrimination, forced eviction, many tare forced to leave, they didn’t have the information – how do we work with you on this?

We’ve been looking at development policy loans in forest policy. They do look at social and environmental impacts, but the requirements for transparency and engagement is quite minimal – what are your findings were on adequacy of the policy? We’ve been asking for this to be included in the safeguards review,  because the instrument relies heavily on country systems,

Difficult conversations on HR with WB, in particular on particular cases
The requirement of free prior and informed consent (FPIC) in the guidelines, could you explain a bit further.


  • On HR and the WB I got the same reaction
  • When I came for the mission in 2010, they questioned if HR is part of the mandate, they told me to go to your office of the commission on HR
  • That’s why we have so much HR violations – HR is not a department
  • The question is understanding the treaty and how much they can frame development policy – it’s not a check list, in accordance or not
  • It’s almost a tabu to talk about HR in the WB
  • Country systems, it’s tricky and difficult
  • Should take into account the situation, WB is losing ground to other MDBs, as context different to when the WB was created – then one of the few lenders to the governments, which is no longer the case, there are others with money and no conditions
  • WB feel like it’s going to go out of business
  • This isn’t true – this globalised financial market is in crisis, we are in the middle of it
  • This model didn’t deliver
  • WB retaking the role of development is very important
  • WB not only a very important position in lending and investing, it has been a think tank in policies and exported policy making and policy thinking
  • This has been even more powerful than the money, important to retake this in terms of safeguards
  • FPIC: very important issue, should be an absolute requirement, public clear information on any WB project being a project or broader investment and publicity to local communities – impossible for communities to read the big documents in English, local intermediary can help to summarise, this is crucial – should be a requirement so that the communities know what is going on
  • Discrimination, number one violation of HR
  • In principle the focus should always be on the most vulnerable, women, children, people with disabilities – they are out of the social and political networks, this should be the focus of the policies
  • Policies should go in a different direction
  • Post disaster and post conflict, in Haiti hundreds of thousands of people living in tents, lots of money coming in trying to do something, but it was blocked as housing was thought of as an equal construction of houses, in private poverty – but we are talking about people who have been displaced, no one has the registry of the property, so the plots are not registered and the donors can’t buy them
  • Rather than houses, we need graded settlement with infrastructure, water, education for the people can go, so that progressively they can be helped  – enabling the territory, that’s why a HR framework in housing and housing policy could help a lot.