Tag Archives: redevelopment

What we’re reading: Rebuilding Gaza

Addressing ecosystemic housing challenges and gaps – which all cities and countries face – is difficult when the housing units themselves are destroyed. What we’re reading this week – a recent report from the global humanitarian response coordinator Shelter Cluster on the situation in Gaza – reminds us of the tragedy of both natural and, in this case, man-made disasters that cause people to lose their homes.

Although the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been in effect for nearly a month now, the region is just now taking definitive steps toward rebuilding Gaza after the most recent conflict. According to Shelter Cluster’s recent report (available for download as a pdf here), 17,000 housing units were destroyed in the most recent conflict between Israel and Palestine. This is on top of 5,000 housing units still in need of repair from prior conflicts, as well as a general shortage of about 75,000 units. These numbers include residential buildings only, without taking into account the schools, power plants, and other public infrastructure damaged during “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s latest military operation in Gaza.

Much of this housing shortage can be attributed to restrictions on importation of cement, aggregate, steel, and other building materials into Gaza. Past use of these materials to construct the tunnels between Israel and Gaza has made the Israeli government reluctant to allow further importation, so oversight of the use of these materials has been a major point in the recent negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

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A Palestinian woman in the rubble of her home, destroyed in the conflict this summer. Credit Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, New York Times.

Despite Shelter Cluster’s grim prediction that it will take 20 years to rebuild Gaza after this most recent conflict, journalists report that talks between Israeli and Palestinian authorities about rebuilding have been positive. Last week, the UN revealed the details of a temporary deal regarding construction struck late on September 16. As the New York Times reported:

“…Robert H. Serry, the special envoy for the Middle East peace process, told the Council that he hoped the deal would lead to a broader agreement on opening border crossings to Gaza and on ending severe restrictions on imports to the Palestinian territory, where the economy was stagnating before the 50-day war this summer.

The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, will have “a lead role in the reconstruction effort,” while United Nations monitors will ensure that reconstruction materials are not “diverted from their entirely civilian purpose,” Mr. Serry said.

…“Arriving at this agreement has not been without its challenges,” Mr. Serry said, according to a prepared statement. “We consider this temporary mechanism, which must get up and running without delay, as an important step toward the objective of lifting all remaining closures, and a signal of hope to the people of Gaza.”

Unfortunately, housing is just one of the issues Palestinians will face as they seek to rebuild Gaza. A recent World Bank report details several obstacles, including restriction of movement, economic recession, and an energy crisis, which will have to be dealt with before Palestine is able to build a resilient economy.

Connecting the dots : Urban Resilience and Affordable housing

 By Eman Lasheen, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Affordable housing has always been looked upon as a supplementary service provided for a certain population. It is generally defined as housing that is appropriate for the needs of a range of very low to moderate income households and priced so that these households are also able to meet other basic living costs such as food, clothing, transport, medical care and education. As a rule of thumb, housing is usually considered affordable if it costs less than 30 percent of gross household income 1. The core value of investing in the provision of affordable housing is usually related to meeting a growing demand in the fastest, most efficient and inexpensive form, to alleviate socioeconomic burdens. Despite the importance of this highly materialistic perspective, it strikes me as quite lacking to account for higher, more complex interactions at the urban level, where positive impacts of affordability are manifested most profoundly. The connection between the availability of well designed affordable housing and the level of urban resilience is highlighted dramatically during times of crisis or unexpected change. The fact that people would find decent shelters during disasters or sudden shocks is not the only aspect of connection. It is the understanding of how urban communities are able to prioritize, plan and move forward that makes affordable housing a crucial aspect of urban resilience.

One major problem with resilience as an evolving field of research is the ambiguity around its components and intentions. Rooted in ecological sciences, the term has gained a lot of prominence within many other disciplines including engineering, social sciences and urbanism. It has been adapted within each of these disciplines to inform about a certain form of interaction. It remains however confusing to a great extent when it comes to urban sciences, where question such as : “resilience of what ? to what ” becomes a great source of trouble to practitioners and decision makers alike.

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How do the Olympics affect affordable housing?

By: Judy Park, Analyst

Mega-events such as the Olympics are not just time-honored international sports competitions. They are some of the truly global stages in the world today, with billions of viewers and dollars involved.

Eager for the international prestige and economic multipliers that come with such an event, countries often spend a fortune just to vie for the chance to host. Once they win the bid, a massive construction and redevelopment agenda kicks into high gear: monumental stadiums, transportation networks, airports, athlete housing, luxury hotels, and revamped tourist attractions. While this city-wide facelift generates benefits for the economy and tourism, it also threatens the livelihoods of urban residents already suffering from poverty and marginalization. The rapid pace of development often results in forceful “beautification” programs, soaring housing values, and a lack of due process in relocation efforts.

Brazil, the envied host of this summer’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, is a ready example of this phenomenon. The country has already channeled $4 billion into preparing its cities for the limelight. However, in the process, the government has already displaced 19,000 families from Rio de Janeiro’s well-known favelas, attracting calls of “social cleansing” in the process. Although city officials claim that they have faithfully adhered to established expropriation guidelines, residents say otherwise. In addition, it is often the case that even when better physical housing might be offered, residents do not want to move away from the social and economic networks they have built over their lifetime.

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Interestingly, Brazil’s oft-decried favelas are also being touted as cheap accommodation for World Cup attendees and an opportunity to experience the “real Rio de Janeiro” through “one of the city’s most fascinating and vibrant communities.”

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Theresa Williams, director of Catalytic Communities, notes the dissonance between these two images of the favelas:

“[In the runup to the World Cup] international media are presenting Rio’s favelas either as violent no-go areas or cheap places for tourists to stay. They can’t be both, so which is it?” says Williamson. Rio’s favelas could not only offer a model amid the growing need for affordable housing worldwide but enhance a city already famed for its natural beauty with 600 unique communities with distinct cultures, she says. (Link)

(By the way, we at AHI agree that the urban slum is where the solution to global affordable housing crises begins.)

The negative impact of mega-events on local communities is not new. A study by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) highlights the consequences of Olympic events on housing in six cities over the past two decades:

  • 1988, Seoul: 720,000 people evicted from 48,000 buildings, where 90% of those evicted did not receive replacement housing and most were forced out using violent methods.
  • 1992, Barcelona: Houses prices rose by 250%, making housing unaffordable to many residents and forcing them to leave the city.
  • 1996, Atlanta: Country’s oldest public housing complex, Techwood Homes, redeveloped as the first mixed income HOPE VI community, but net loss of 800 public housing units and minimal relocation assistance during redevelopment. 9000 arrest citations given to homeless people in 1995-1996 as part of city-wide “clean-up.”
  • 2000, Sydney: Real estate speculation led to eviction of residents. Gentrification accelerated and number of homeless tripled over five years.
  • 2004, Athens: Games were used as pretext for displacing Roma communities. 2,700 Roma were forcibly evicted.
  • 2008, Beijing: 1.5 million people displaced over a period of 8 years.

In order to mitigate the costs of any future mega-events, COHRE lays out some “best practices” for bidding and preparing for the Olympics, including: regulating the involvement of the private sector, local community participation in decision-making, public commitments to housing preservation, protection protocols for minorities and the homeless, housing rights legislation, housing-positive regeneration strategies, strong community activism, and the post-Olympics use of venues for social housing.  A good example of the last point occurred in 2012, when it was announced that nearly half of London’s Olympic village would be transformed into affordable rental units to ease the city’s housing shortage.

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What do you think about the impact of mega-events on housing? What should be done to address this issue? Please let us know in the comments below!

Image Sources 

  1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/worldcup2014/article-2611094/More-World-Cup-concerns-Brazil-Rio-favela-riots-break-just-50-days-tournament-kick-offs.html
  2. http://metro.co.uk/2012/04/23/how-the-build-up-to-the-world-cup-and-olympics-is-affecting-rios-favelas-406668/
  3. http://www.thenation.com/blog/179077/brazils-world-cup-gentrification-through-barrel-gun
  4. http://favelaexperience.com/#rio-de-janeiro-apartment-rentals
  5. http://inhabitat.com/londons-2012-olympic-village-to-be-transformed-into-affordable-housing-units/