Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European section of United Cities and Local Governments

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Housing - 02.04.2020

How cities can make sure everyone can safely #StayAtHome
While the right to adequate housing is recognised in international law, homelessness remains a tragic social problem across the world. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, rough sleeping is also a serious factor in the spread of infection. That’s why UCLG organised a meeting of municipal and regional leaders to share their experiences and best practices on how to ensure everyone has a roof to sleep under.

In line with the need for social distancing, the meeting held on Wednesday (1 April) was a virtual one. The online event brought together 250 representatives of cities, regions, local and regional government associations and NGOs from all over the world to discuss the challenges and solutions for people to be able to #StayAtHome safely.

Preventing evictions

As was highlighted by Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, cities’ have an important responsibility to take actions to limit the spread of the virus. Mayors from Africa, Europe and Latin America discussed several challenges cities face and some best practices to tackle them.

Several cities, notably Barcelona and Bogota, have either extended the winter truce or adopted moratoria postponing evictions. Municipalities can also provide facilities and housing for vulnerable people through partnerships with estate companies or NGOs.

Repayment of housing loan debts to the most economically precarious should be postponed or cancelled in order to guarantee a certain financial stability for them. Indeed, while teleworking is often feasible for higher-income white-collar workers, this will typically not be the case for people working in restaurants, supermarkets or construction sites.

African challenges

Cities in Africa face particular challenges because of local conditions. Small houses hosting many people can facilitate the spread of the virus. Long-term shopping is difficult as many do not own a freezer or refrigerator.

Some of these problems can be mitigated through collaboration. For example, if NGOs provide mattresses, homeless people and, in particular, street children can be housed in company warehouses. While African cities have little capacity to provide medical assistance at home, organisations such as the Red Cross can provide assistance.

Crises are often opportunities to adopt innovative policies which, in addition to addressing immediate problems, may institute lasting changes. Participants stressed that if solutions are now found to provide housing to vulnerable groups, these could be maintained in the future so as to fight social inequalities. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
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