Last night, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnick, kicked off her nationwide tour by hosting a town hall meeting with New Yorkers affected by the housing crisis.
To read more about the town hall meeting, click here.
Rolnick is a Brazilian architect and urban planner, and a professor at the University of Sao Paolo. She is also the former Director of the Department of Planning for Sao Paolo, and from 2003-2007 served as the National Secretary for Urban Programs of the Brazilian Ministry of Cities.
After the event, I caught up with Rolnick for an exclusive interview about the housing crisis in the United States, the economic recession, and the Obama administration.
Alex Kane: Explain the purpose of your trip.
Raquel Rolnick: This is an official mission of the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. The Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in order to monitor the implementation of the right to adequate housing in the world. And in order to do that, the instruments that the Special Rapporteur has as an independent expert, one of the instruments is doing fact-finding trips that we call missions, to different countries, in order to meet both with official government and non-government and community and see what’s going on in the country in this specific topic, the specific right to adequate housing and then report back to the Human Rights Council.
AK: And when will that report back be?
RR: I will present the full report next March 2010, in the meeting, in the next Human Rights Council meeting, where I’m supposed to report. I report there once a year. But before there, by the end of the meeting, I will do a very, very short, preliminary, two-pages, preliminary report, and I share that with the government, and after that, I issue a press release with key findings or key sentences, and that will be by the end of the mission, that will be on November 8.
AK: What do you think the Obama administration should do to combat the housing crisis?
RR: Well, I think one of the hopes that we have with the Obama administration is to face the basis, original basis, of the financial crisis, which is the failure of housing policies to address the issue of housing, and the radical shift from taking housing as a social issue into housing as a commodity and a financial asset, opening ground to sub-prime, and the whole thing in terms of predatory lending that came after that. So I think it’s very important to do an evaluation of all that and retaking the path the United States had in the past, from the 30s and up to the 80s, taking housing as a human right. And I hope the Obama administration will do that, but of course, the agenda for this government is huge. Housing is one of the issues, but there are of course many others.
AK: How has the global economic crisis exacerbated the housing crisis here?
RR: Well, of course the fact that when you have economic crises, you have unemployment, you have increasing poverty, and that immediately exacerbates the housing crisis because more people cannot pay their rent anymore, more people cannot pay their mortgage anymore, and this is a vicious cycle. So, of course the economic crisis, one of the aspects of the economic crisis, is exactly the housing crisis.
AK: What do you think is the best way to hold the U.S. government accountable and to make housing as a human right a priority?
RR: I think the best way to do that is really thinking out of the box, which means going out of the scheme one-size fits all, like home ownership is the path, the only solution, credit is the only solution, and taking the issue, and the complexity of the issue has, means having housing policies to address the different needs of different groups and different situations. Combining rent schemes, subsidized rent schemes, with public housing, with other types of community development housing, and other types of schemes. And of course, putting more priority on that in the government agenda and take that as a responsibility of the state.
AK: You said earlier you met with members of the City Council and local government. Who did you meet with exactly, and do you think anything will come out of those meetings?
RR: Well, the meetings were much more for me to learn. So, it was basically a meeting where I asked about the numbers, about the situation, about the structure, about how it functions, and how it works, what has been discussed. So, I don’t expect any immediate outcome from this meeting. The meetings, like today, were to inform me, basically, but now it’s there.
AK: Did you meet with Mayor Bloomberg?
RR: No, unfortunately. I asked to meet him, I would love to meet Mayor Bloomberg, and I asked to meet him and all the mayors in the trip, but unfortunately I didn’t get a positive answer.
AK: Last question: What’s your final message to get out to everyone?
RR: First, which is not so clear to everyone, adequate housing is a human right. Second, today, now, it’s time to go forward, to implement that. I think that few countries in the world have the conditions to do that. And U.S. is one of them.
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