Inflammation and stories on Housing

Poverty Eradication in Thailand
Bangkok is Thailand’s capital and many tourists know it as an exciting, vibrant and relaxing vacation destination. Even though many people live in high-quality and high-income housing, others live in poor-quality housing without running water or electricity. Due to urbanization without necessary accommodations to support the needs of low-income residents, slum and squatter settlements emerged with 84% of slum settlements residing in Thailand. The Baan Mankong Program addresses this issue and helps poor communities in Bangkok improve their housing and their relationship with the local government. Here is some information about how the Baan Mankong Program is aiding poverty eradication in Thailand.

What is the Baan Mankong Program?

The Baan Mankong Program is a secure housing program from the Community Organizations Development Institute in Thailand. CODI started in 1992 with the purpose of learning about the lives of the poor and encouraging a partnership with its local governments to improve the living conditions of the poor. Launched in 2003, the program emerged under the National Housing Authority with a grant of $34 million U.S. dollars from the Thai government to give loans to organizations devoted to providing housing for poor communities in Bangkok.

Why is Secure Housing Important?

An increase in population and rural-urban migration contribute to the unplanned global expansion of urban settlements. Urbanization can bring work opportunities, access to health services and better education, but poor communities still face inadequate housing and access to basic services. Therefore, increasing urbanization should focus on how to improve the living conditions of poor urban families. Improved living conditions will not only provide housing, but also improve health, and reduce injuries and premature deaths.

How has the Baan Mankong Program Helped?

The government funds through CODI go toward directly supporting the communities and aiding poverty eradication in Thailand. Through improvements in housing, the environment and other services, the citizens of the poor urban communities control where the money goes. In addition to financial control, people of the communities are able to work closely with local governments, professionals and universities offering multiple opportunities to evaluate housing and ways it can continue to improve. Communities also used the Baan Mankong Program to get drainage systems, communal septic tanks for sanitation, better connections for water and electricity supply and grey-water treatment units.

Its Impact and Growth

The program empowers the communities involved to plan, apply and improve the projects themselves based on the needs of the community. By 2009, the program existed in 260 cities in Thailand with money for 80,000 housing projects receiving approval, and communities implementing 1,033 housing projects that provide decent and secure housing for 104,000 poor families. The program not only helped the regions of Bangkok, but it also reached 320 cities/districts across 72 provinces and helped over 90,000 households with $191 million U.S. dollars. Thailand is one of a couple of countries that established a nation-wide effort to improve poor housing and what makes The Baan Mankong Program stand out is the focus of the community which strengthens the voices of the citizens in poor communities.

Supporting communities in need of quality housing is important to poverty eradication in Thailand and requires attention from the government, members of the low-income community, and members from high-income communities. The success of programs like the Baan Mankong Program not only depends on money but community support encouraging spaces to learn from one another.

– Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

SDG 1 in New Zealand
World leaders adopted the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first of which is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere,” in 2015. In 2019, New Zealand leaders published the findings of the Voluntary National Review as New Zealand’s Progress Towards the SDGs – 2019. Through this report, others can learn the challenges facing the people of New Zealand, the strides the country has made thus far and improvements to come for each SDG, including updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand.

A key challenge New Zealanders face comes in the form of the inequities that can exist in poverty-related measures. According to New Zealand’s 2018 Census, 16.5% of the population are Māori (indigenous New Zealanders) and 8.1% are Pacific Islanders, who poverty disproportionately affects. Poverty is also worse among those living with disabilities. The updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand to follow, contextualized by the challenges the country faces and the goals for the coming years, yield a broad picture of the nation’s approach to poverty alleviation and successes thus far. Here are seven updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand.

7 Updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand

  1. Child Poverty Reduction and Wellbeing Acts: This legislation requires that the New Zealand government sets targets for three predetermined child poverty measures at both three- and 10-year intervals. The New Zealand government is also responsible for publishing annual reports on those measures as well as relevant indicators. For example, the 2020/21 target for the reduction of material hardship is from 13% to 10% of children, whereas the 2027/28 target stretches that to just 6% of children.
  2. Families Package and Wellbeing Budget: Through changes to tax credits, free school lunches, and more, the Families Package and Wellbeing Budget aimed to boost incomes of 62% of households with children in New Zealand, by 2021. According to a 2020 report, the Families Package had already improved the situation of 18,400 children enough for them to no longer live in poverty.
  3. Increase in the Minimum Wage: One of the clearest cut strategies for alleviating poverty was to increase the country’s minimum wage, with the expectation that the country will continue to increase it as the economy permits. New Zealand applied a 7.2% increase in 2019, followed by a 6.3% boost in 2020.
  4. Establishment of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group: The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) has the task of advising the New Zealand government as to how and why the nation’s welfare programs should change in order to provide the most benefit to its people. Just a year after its establishment, WEAG completed a report detailing how the nation’s social security system ought to evolve. The report, Wakamana Tāngata – Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand, includes 42 recommendations for the nation to move from simply providing a safety net to restoring dignity to its citizens. WEAG’s approach emphasizes problem-solving through collaboration with researchers and stakeholders across the country.
  5. Public and Affordable Housing Expansion: Not only is work underway to provide additional options for public and affordable housing, but the New Zealand government also aims to improve the conditions for those living in rental housing. Housing costs are of particular importance when considering how to reduce inequities and poverty in general. In fact, data revealed that 14.9% of children lived in poverty in 2019 even beyond taking housing costs into account, whereas that proportion jumped to 20.8% after factoring in housing costs.
  6. Disability Action Planning: With a new Disability Action Plan having taken effect since the publication of the Voluntary National Review, it is pertinent to look at the most recent plan for 2019-2023. Through the detailing of 25 programs with the primary design of narrowing the gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled people, this plan serves to move New Zealand forward in line with the Disability Strategy 2016-2026.
  7. Broader Sample for Household Economic Survey: In the hopes of capturing a holistic picture of the financial situations of all its people, the New Zealand’s Household Economic Survey expanded its sampling to 20,000 people. With this more inclusive understanding of the impact of the economy on individual households, the nation’s leaders hope to be better equipped to address the challenges faced therein. As mentioned above, it is of vital importance that New Zealand not only combat the inequities among its citizens but also accurately measure them.

As with many countries, these updates on SDG 1 in New Zealand serve to share measures of the success achieved thus far, and as motivation to continue this important work. Other nations and leaders can also consider these points inspiration for strategies to combat poverty worldwide.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

Affordable Housing In IndiaIndia is among the world’s poorest countries, with more than two-thirds of its residents living in extreme poverty. Recently, however, a changing economy centered around industrialization has prompted many rural residents to move to urban areas of the region. The interregional migration has led to an accumulation of slums and poor villages on the outskirts of cities. The problem prompts a powerful need for affordable housing in India. In recent years, new organizations have begun to answer this call with unique responses to alleviate the problem.

3 Ways India is Implementing Affordable Housing

  1. Big bank support for finances: One of the major banks leading this movement, the National Housing Bank of India, extends housing loans to low-income households. This allows for affordable housing at the lowest level while also expanding the Indian housing market. The bank’s project has positively impacted 15,000 households across 17 states in India, including households primarily managed by women. The expanded access to these loans is not the only aspect of this plan. Higher loans are also given out to poorer people to ensure that housing transactions are faster and more effective. These loans also help invest in important infrastructures like schools, temples and communal facilities.
  2. Government home-building initiatives: Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has launched a “housing for all” campaign since his election. The urban focus of the plan pledges to build more than 12 million houses by the year 2022. Although only 3.2 million urban homes have come to fruition so far, more funding to continue the project is on the way. These efforts ensure that 40% of India’s population, now living in urban areas like Mumbai, has access to cheaper apartment buildings. The new housing spaces target a variety of people, including first-time buyers, older individuals and those aspiring to move to urban areas, a demographic that largely includes impoverished communities.
  3. Targeting traditional real estate developers: In addition to building affordable housing, the Indian Government is also taking steps to target real estate members who generally focus their efforts on higher-end living spaces. To combat this practice, the government gives more incentives for interest rates on middle-to-low class homes. Many major real estate companies only switched to marketing affordable housing (as late as 2018) after the introduction of these benefits. This trickle-down effect experienced in the real estate sector will in turn fuel the industry. In other words, it has a multiplied effect on India’s economy. The shift in the country’s housing market will make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025.

Affordable Housing Means Less Poverty

The combination of nongovernmental and governmental support in India is rapidly leading to positive changes in the country. The future of affordable housing in the region is on track to provide commodities to millions of people. With increased funding and more initiatives, India is a leading example of how affordable housing can raise standards of living and boost the economy, essentially alleviating poverty.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Success in Honduras
Despite fast economic growth, the country of Honduras still suffers from high poverty and inequality. According to the World Bank, 48% of people live in poverty in the country, with 38% in urban areas and 60% in rural areas. However, in recent years, the success in Honduras is worthy of noting.

The Situation

Inequality is the highest in the world in Honduras. Inclement weather, such as regular droughts and heavy rain, affects the poor the most. In addition, violence is rampant. In 2018 alone, Honduras had 38 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has worsened Honduras’ economy. Due to the global shutdown, predictions have determined that the gross domestic product of Honduras will decrease by 7% in 2020, because of the sharp decline in trade, investment and consumption. The worsened GDP in the United States, Honduras’s partner in trade, has not helped matters. It will affect all classes, and especially the poor, according to the World Bank.

The Abundant Life Foundation

In response, the World Bank has initiated many U.S.-funded projects to aid the weakened economy with success in Honduras but one organization that has also never stopped giving aid is the Abundant Life Foundation (ALF). This highly successful organization creates opportunities for Hondurans so they can live a better life through long-term community development, education and conservation. Since 2007, the founders of Abundant Life, authors and poverty experts David and Brenda Dachner, have created programs that work closely with island residents to create environments that foster personal and community growth. The Foundation has served the Bay Islands of Honduras with the utmost commitment.

Community Development and Housing

Community Development is one pillar that the Abundant Life Foundation focuses on. It has a project that is an affordable housing community called Los Sueños: The Dreams that has seen success in Honduras. At Los Sueños, not only does the Foundation provide dignified housing, but an entire community setting where families can thrive, not just survive. This is the first planned community in Roatán and has a K-12 school, a church, sports court and Ag Farm.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, co-founder Brenda Dachner stated that “2021 will also bring a library and computer center, our new ALF office, and the first public park on the island. Future plans also call for a Cultural Center to preserve the heritage and culture of the English-speaking islanders, and a daycare center so the many single moms who will be living in our community can safely leave their children while they work to take care of their families.”

The Abundant Life Foundation is currently responsible for the building of 24 of 80 homes, with 11 families waiting to move in by Spring 2021. For the selection process, families go through an application process, a debt screening with the bank, a personal interview and home visit and criminal background check, before an anonymous selection committee of reputable islanders with ALF make the final selection through a collective vote.

Bringing Electricity to Honduras

Electricity is also a problem in Honduras. In response, ALF has created other community projects which include the distribution of solar-powered Luci Lights to communities with little to no electricity. This has reduced house fires from those who use candles in their wooden homes. It also helps families save money as electricity is expensive on the island.

Also, a bag program with the community of St. Helene where ALF taught the local women there to crochet purses and other items out of recycled plastic bags. Through this program, 90% of the sale of products went back to the woman, whose product sold while ALF maintained 10% and put it into a community fund. To date, the women have sold over $30,000 of products. With the Fund money, a year ago, the community voted to use it to bring electricity to each home in their village, including their church. “No more dangerous candles at night,” claimed Brenda Dachner, “and no more noisy, expensive diesel generators.”

Providing Support for Students

The second pillar of the Abundant Life Foundation is education. Since the organization’s first days on the island, it has provided scholarships and support to students to pursue a better education, including sponsoring three high school graduates to university programs, two of whom attended in the States. ALF built two schools (K-6 and K-12), provided support to students and teachers and operated a Bilingual Literacy Program in communities across the island to promote English literacy among residents. “It is important to promote and support English on this island as, first of all, it is their native language that is quickly being lost, but also, with tourism as the primary source of income, it is pertinent for jobs and their financial well-being,” Brenda Dachner told The Borgen Project.

Conservation

Finally, Conservation is a pillar the Abundant Life Foundation focuses on. Roatán sits amidst the Meso-American reef system, the second largest barrier reef in the world, and is its primary source of income via the tourists that come to see it, and locals living off of fishing for themselves and for trade. It is vital for the long-term financial well-being of local islanders that the reef be healthy and vibrant. Not surprisingly, however, the health of the reef is deteriorating. ALF partners with the Roatán Marine Park and other reputable organizations to promote the protection of the reef around the Bay Islands and seek to educate tourists to eliminate ignorance, and locals to reduce apathy.

ALF operates both as a 501(c)3 in the United States and as a legal NGO in Honduras. As such, although headquartered in Austin, Texas, the Abundant Life Foundation has a local team in Roatán, currently composed completely of native islanders who oversee all its projects and provide input, ideas and suggestions with projects and programming.

“We are very proud of this,” states Brenda Dachner to the Borgen Project, “as it has always been our desire to let Hondurans help Hondurans.”

With a focus on long-term solutions in community development, education and conservation, the Abundant Life Foundation hopes to provide the very opportunities islanders need to create their own abundant lives. This sparkling success in Honduras, like island water, has created rippling effects to end poverty.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in LibyaLibya has been a regular victim of severe flooding for many decades and the problem is only becoming more severe. Heavy rains have caused significant problems, with flooding and landslides in urban and rural areas making day-to-day life infeasible for thousands.

Flooding in Al-Bayda, Libya

On November 6 2020, Al-Bayda, Libya, experienced torrential rains and extreme flooding, resulting in the displacement of thousands. High water levels on public roads have made daily commutes impossible for many. Additionally, the floods have left thousands without electricity and have greatly damaged properties.

The flooding of 2020 is reminiscent of the flooding in the Ghat district in 2019, which affected 20,000 people and displaced 4,500. In June of 2019, flooding devastated areas in south Libya and damaged roads and farmland.  Central infrastructure suffered unrecoverable damages, setting the region back. Areas prone to disaster are significantly limited in their progression and development when devastation is so frequent.

Flooding and Poverty

The pattern of flooding in Libya has consistently contributed to problems of economic decline, poor infrastructure and poverty. As one of the most common natural disasters, flooding impacts impoverished areas more severely because their infrastructure is not built to withstand floods or landslides.

Poor countries take a long time to recover from the impact of flooding because they do not have the resources and money to repair property damage and help people to bounce back from the effects. War-affected countries are even more vulnerable and Libya is such a country affected by war and conflict.

Within the country, a two-day holiday was declared on November 9 and 10 of 2020 due to the extreme flooding and $7 million has been allocated to address damages in Al-Bayda municipality.  Since the flooding, there has been little recognition and support from the international community.

Humanitarian Aid

A humanitarian aid team from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation (ECHO) assembled to provide aid to support the city of Al-Bayda and other cities vulnerable to flooding in Libya. The team worked to gather information and identify what resources are most needed to help families get back on their feet and be better prepared for future severe flooding and weather. Cleanup efforts are ongoing and teams started using satellite imaging and other data-collecting resources to help assess and plan for resource distribution.

The Need for Foreign Aid in Libya

In response to Libya’s chronic vulnerability to severe flooding, in 2019, the U.S. Government provided nearly $31.3 million to address the humanitarian needs of conflict-affected populations throughout Libya. Since the floods are ongoing, ongoing assistance is needed. Proactive and preventative measures need to be implemented in response to the devastating pattern of flooding in Libya. These are expensive investments, however, and Libya cannot implement these preventative measures alone. Help from the international community is crucial in order to create a more resilient country.

– Allyson Reeder
Photo: Flickr

Sub-Saharan African SlumsSub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a housing crisis. While around one billion people live in slums around the globe, 200 million of those live in sub-Saharan African slums. This number represents “61.7% of the region’s urban population,” making sub-Saharan Africa the highest in the world for urban poverty.

Sub-Saharan African Slums and Urban Poverty

Singumbe Muyeba, assistant professor of African Studies at the University of Denver, spoke with The Borgen Project about development intervention and sub-Saharan African slums. Muyeba’s expertise in these areas stems from his academic work but also from his work for the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees and Development Program.

According to Muyeba, sub-Saharan African slums began when African countries gained independence from colonialist rule from the 1960s through the ‘80s. Since colonialists always reserved major cities for themselves, Africans everywhere migrated from rural to urban areas after independence. However, that meant infant governments had to keep up with increasing urban populations. They were unable to do so due to the skyrocketing rates of urbanization.

With housing rapidly diminishing as Africans moved into cities, they began settling onto common land, eventually creating the sprawling slums that still exist today. Even now, the sub-Saharan African urban population is annually growing at 4%. A projection from the U.N. reveals that “the world’s 10 fastest growing cities, between 2018 and 2035, will all be in Africa.” In addition, there is a backlog of 51 million housing units in Africa. The region’s supply of housing is “about nine years behind current demand,” according to Muyeba.

Slum Upgrading Programs

The World Bank has funded slum upgrading programs to combat rising urban poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. These programs assigned property rights and provided access to services in hopes to empower slum residents with their own land. However, as Muyeba explained, these programs were largely “self-help” models. The World Bank simply gave impoverished individuals property rights and no means to build their own housing.

Since “about 97% to 99% of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to formal financing” that allows them to build or buy a home, people haphazardly build their own informal housing or remain in slums. Formal and sustainable housing only accounts for 10% of all urban African housing. While handing out free titles and property rights looks good on paper, this “slum upgrading” has not improved slums.

Ongoing Problems in Slums

While sub-Saharan Africa housing conditions improved by 11% from 2000-2015,  this improvement was “twice as likely in the wealthiest households” and “80% more likely among more educated households.” The reality is that 80-90% of Africans work in the informal sector, and the majority of people living in sub-Saharan African cities live in slums. Therefore, this housing improvement did not occur in the slums, which many people cannot escape.

George Compound, a slum in Lusaka, Zambia, serves as a perfect example of a poorly executed upgrade program. It is a major slum with 400,000 inhabitants, but it does not have adequate running water. The water it does have from makeshift wells is contaminated with nearby ground toilets.

In Muyeba’s opinion, government involvement is necessary to fix the African housing crisis. While he is not against privatization, he believes the neoliberal model is not working to improve sub-Saharan African slums.

Can Governments Fix the Housing Crisis?

However, even if African governments want to get involved in building housing, they cannot. This is because of the World Bank’s international economic rulings on aid and upgrade programs. “The system is set up in such a way that the World Bank advocates for less involvement of the government following the Structural Adjustment Programs implemented in the 80s and 90s,” stated Muyeba.

In order to receive aid through the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs, governments often have to delegate building to the private sector. However, the private sector cannot make a real profit from low-income housing because so many Africans and slum-dwellers are part of the informal sector. People in poverty cannot get mortgages because they lack access to credit or insurance. This prevents the private sector from serving poor Africans.

Muyeba firmly believes “there are wins everywhere” if governments (with the help of communities and the private sector) build housing. The construction sector can benefit from large-scale projects, while infrastructure creates jobs. Individuals in slums can focus their attention on making income rather than worrying about basic housing needs.

Muyeba offered Kenya as an example of combined state, private and community partnerships to combat urban poverty. Currently, the country has implemented its own kind of slum upgrading program in which the government builds housing and guarantees mortgages.

Organizations Helping People in Sub-Saharan African Slums

Outside organizations and NGOs are actively working to help housing poverty in sub-Saharan African slums. Habitat for Humanity completed a six-year program in 2018 called “Building Assets, Unlocking Access.” This program worked in Uganda and Kenya to offer technical help and “develop housing microfinance products and services.” Habitat for Humanity’s approach allowed Africans to progressively build their own housing, access small-scale loans and set up small payments.

More than 42,000 individuals accessed microfinance loans through the program, which impacted more than 210,000 people in total. In addition, 32.9% of loan recipients built entire houses for themselves and their families.

A report from the project found that recipients also upgraded their housing with improved roofing, walls, sanitation and electricity. Additionally, the program caused trickle-down effects in health. Fewer people reported common ailments like “sore throats, shortness of breath, itchy eyes, blocked noses, vomiting and rashes” due to healthier housing. The most improved group was children under six.

Hopefully, all African cities struggling with urban poverty can create domestic housing projects or find new, inventive ways to help the housing crisis. All in all, the solution to sub-Saharan African slums is housing. According to Muyeba, “It’s a no brainer.”

Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous peoples in Canada have roots in poverty tracing back to the 19th and 20th centuries. They had to relocate to small plots of land called reserves where destruction of their traditional way of life “combined with the poorly organized set-up of reserves resulted in impoverishment for those on the reserves.”

In Canada, 25% of Indigenous peoples live in poverty with 40% of those living under the poverty line being Indigenous children. Many Indigenous peoples died due to lack of shelter, adequate food, access to health care and lack of federal relief services. Today, Indigenous communities continue to suffer at the hands of institutionalized colonial violence.

Housing Inequalities

Several cross-country reserves have declared a State of Emergency due to poor living conditions. Statistics deemed only 56.9% of homes on reserves adequate in 2000 and 43% unsafe and in need of repairs in 2016. In 2016, both reserve shelters and Inuit homes qualified as overcrowded — 28% and 30% respectively.

Some Indigenous people moved off of reserves and into urban centers. Even there, they continued to face economic struggles. Indigenous peoples are twice as likely to live in poverty in comparison to non-Indigenous folk. In 1995, 55.6% of Aboriginal people in urban centers lived in poverty. Meanwhile, in 2003, 52.1% of Indigenous children lived in poverty.

Income Disparities

Impoverishment within the Indigenous community has resulted in fewer on-reserve schools, rising illiteracy and rising unemployment. Indigenous households making an income below $20,000 represented almost 20% of the entire Canadian population; whereas, non-Indigenous homes only represented 9.9%.

Non-Indigenous folk in lower-income homes have a 12.9% outcome of people with major depressive episodes. Meanwhile, Indigenous folk in lower-income homes had a 21.4% outcome — almost double. The values for higher incomes families are much closer; 6.3% for non-Indigenous and 7.7% for Indigenous.

Health Inequities

The Well-Being Index determined that First Nation and Inuit communities ranked on average 20 points lower than non-Indigenous communities. Despite being only 4% of the Canadian population, Indigenous people make up 14% of the population relying on food banks. Smoking and lung cancer statistics also show an overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples. Lower-income Indigenous households reported daily smoking levels at 48.8%.

The lowest-income Indigenous populations also experience disproportionate difficulties in accessing health care. Popular barriers are that Indigenous peoples are “unable to arrange transportation (19.6%); not covered by Non-Insured health benefits (NIHB) (18.4%); could not afford transportation costs (14.6%); prior approval by NIHB denied (14.2%); could not afford the cost of care, service (11.4%).”

Aid

Many community activists and grassroots organizations work tirelessly to help support the Indigenous communities in Canada. Dismantling generational poverty is another focus of activists and organizations. True North Aid is just one of those in the fight for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

True North Aid has decades’ worth of experience. It has an advisory council of four Indigenous Elders, partners and a Board of Directors with over 35 years of experience. Under such leadership, the organization successfully raises awareness for Indigenous struggles. Additionally, it provides home reconstruction aid, water purification technologies and health care aid to Indigenous communities in Canada.

Activists and organizations supporting Indigenous peoples are imperative in the fight to end poverty for Indigenous people. Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately and need advocacy and action.

– Jasmeen Bassi 
Photo: Flickr

SDG 11 in Luxembourg
Luxembourg is a small European country sandwiched between Belgium, France and Germany. Around 630,000 people live in the nation, which has a landmass smaller than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. As a member of the United Nations, Luxembourg is subject to an annual Sustainable Development Report. The report encompasses goals ranging from zero hunger to gender equality. Sustainable Cities and Communities is number 11 on the list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 11 is an attempt to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Rent overburden in Luxembourg contributes to the significant challenges the nation faces, but progress toward achieving SDG 11 is moderately improving. Here are four updates on SDG 11 in Luxembourg.

4 Updates on SDG 11 in Luxembourg

  1. Air Quality: Luxembourg’s annual mean concentration of particulate matter is fewer than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). This is a measurement of the level of air pollution that can afflict humans with “severe health damage” and respiratory issues. Luxembourg’s level of PM2.5 is declining at a much better rate than in previous years but is still a fair distance from the UN’s long-term goal. While Luxembourg has better air quality than Belgium, France and Germany, it is still behind other European nations like Ireland, Portugal, Spain and most of Scandinavia.
  2. Improved Water Source Access: Between 99-100% of the urban population of Luxembourg has access to improved drinking water in their homes. This is the standard for industrialized nations, although some E.U. members like Italy, Serbia and Ireland have lower SDG ratings than Luxembourg.
  3. Satisfaction with Public Transport: A remarkably high percentage of Luxembourgers have satisfaction with their local public transportation systems. The SDG goal is to have 82.6% of the population satisfied, and Luxembourg is extremely close with nearly 79% of the population reporting satisfaction. In Europe, only Switzerland eclipses Luxembourg in this category. As of March 1, 2020, Luxembourg offers entirely free public transportation across the country. The government can absorb costs related to free public transportation due to the exponential economic growth the country continues to enjoy (although COVID-19 may put a damper on this growth). No-cost public transport in Luxembourg is a major reason why its citizens have the seventh-highest level of satisfaction with public transportation in the world.
  4. Population with Rent Overburden: Significant challenges remain for alleviating rent overburden in Luxembourg. Almost 17% of the population lives “in households where the total housing costs represent more than 40% of disposable income.” The UN goal is 4.6% of the population. Luxembourg is not close to achieving this SDG and unfortunately, the percentage is rising. The Luxembourg Times attributes this to high demand for housing coupled with a low supply. The newspaper also cites “the astronomical price of land.” Another prominent newspaper laments that “buying a home is out of the question for many [Luxembourgers]” and says young people often must live abroad or with their parents if they want to avoid ridiculously high rent prices. Some residents even resort to scouring legal code in the hopes of finding obscure laws that will reduce their rent. Rent overburden in Luxembourg is the most significant challenge to creating sustainable cities and communities.

Looking Forward

While rent overburden in Luxembourg is a significant roadblock for achieving SDG 11 in Luxembourg, free public transportation is a critical building block for sustainable cities and communities. Workers commuting to Luxembourg from abroad (it is just a 30-minute drive from Luxembourg City to Germany, France or Belgium) contribute to air pollution, but air quality is improving, albeit slowly. One can partially link this to more Luxembourgers opting for public transportation as opposed to their personal vehicles.

NGOs like the Luxembourg Anti-Poverty Network are working to reduce rent overburden, although a more concerted effort in conjunction with the government is necessary. Though challenges remain for Luxembourg to develop sustainable cities and communities, steps like providing country-wide free public transportation are positive signs that Luxembourgers have committed themselves to the achievement of SDG 11.

– Spencer Jacobs
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Homelessness in EstoniaIn the mid-90s and early 2000s, Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, oversaw a housing reform. This reform sought to improve the living conditions for Estonians and reduce the number of people who were experiencing homelessness in Estonia. Here’s the situation today:

6 Facts About Homelessness in Estonia

  1. A small percentage of Estonians are homeless – The Institute of Global Homelessness reported that around 864 Estonians were homeless in 2011, which amounts to 0.06% of the population. However, in 2018, the European Journal of Homelessness estimated that 1.5% of Estonians are homeless, which amounts to between 1,900 and 2,100 people.
  2. Unemployment can be a major influence on homelessness in Estonia – A 2014 study in the European Journal of Homelessness found that 5.5% of Estonians are unemployed (2% of which reside in Tallinn, the capital.)
  3. Alcohol dependency can inhibit self-subsistence – The percentage of Estonians who are homeless with mental health issues is increasing, and some of these issues may result from alcohol dependency, alongside other factors. Alcoholism can make it more difficult for people who are trying to gain self-sufficiency.
  4. Testing (for respiratory diseases such as COVID-19) is insufficient for homeless shelters in many European countries – People in shelters who test positive for airborne illnesses must be isolated, according to a report by members of the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), yet self-isolation is not always easy in shelters. In an Estonian shelter, after one individual in the shelter tested positive for COVID-19, testing was made available for the other residents, and 56% of those who lived in the shelter tested positive as well. FEANTSA argues that “housing must be reaffirmed as a human right” in order to help those who are experiencing homelessness in Estonia.
  5. Certain shelters and programs provide the homeless with residential services – Shelters like the one in Nõmme District in Tallinn provide the homeless in Estonia with a resocialization plan where residents work on gaining work skills to be able to afford residential spaces of their own. Half of the shelter’s residents pay their own fees that they gained from employment to stay in the shelter, and if a resident cannot pay, the city pays on his/her behalf. This plan lasts for six months, though residents are allowed to stay for longer if they aren’t able to afford their own place of residence at that time.
  6. Housing has improved for Estonians since the 90s – In 1989, there were more households in Estonia than there were residences. From 1994-2004, a housing reform took place, and by 2011, the number of residences was 16% greater than the number of households. Though factors such as rising rental costs can still make it hard for a struggling family to afford to live in their own residence, living conditions have improved overall.

As Estonia’s government has been working to reduce homelessness, programs that have helped reform housing have been effective in reducing homelessness in Estonia since the 1990s. Yet there is still work to be done – lessening the situations which cause homelessness is imperative.

Ayesha Asad
Photo: Unsplash

Homelessness in Luxembourg
Bordered by Germany, France, and Belgium, Luxembourg is home to over half a million people, 24% of whom face the daily threat of homelessness. Although Luxembourg is a small country, it is also one of the wealthiest countries in the European Union. However, as the divide between the rich and poor continues to widen, the threat of homelessness in Luxembourg is increasing due to a rising cost of living and limited affordable housing.

5 Things to Know About Homelessness in Luxembourg

  1. Luxembourg is a wealthy nation, but compared to other European countries with denser populations, its homeless population is larger. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that approximately 37% of Luxembourg’s population was homeless in 2014, as compared to .22% of France’s population and .41% of Germany’s population—two countries with populations that are much larger than Luxembourg’s. Homelessness is especially a problem during Luxembourg’s winters, as hypothermia threatens the lives of those without a home. A report from the European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) stated that the number of homeless people in Luxembourg rose from 684 people during the winter of 2012 and 2013 to 873 people during the winter of 2017 and 2018.
  2. Housing expenses are high in Luxembourg, with Luxembourg city being one of the most expensive places to live in Europe. As housing costs in Luxembourg rise by 5.4% per year, the poverty rate is also on the rise. According to a study published by Statec, a Luxembourg statistic service, the percentage of the population at risk of poverty rose from 15.4% in 2017 to 24% in 2019. For homeowners with smaller incomes, housing costs make up nearly half of their income. As of 2019, the Deloitte Global Economist Network reported that around 38% of households in Luxembourg were reported to be burdened by housing expenses. With rising costs, homeowners who could previously afford housing, may no longer be able to pay for the roof over their heads.
  3. With a growing population and a lack of available space for new infrastructure, Luxembourg can’t keep up with housing demands. Luxembourg’s population has increased by 36.2% since 2010, largely due to an influx of foreign workers. As a result of this increase, the housing crisis in Luxembourg has only grown as housing demands rise. In addition, land available to build additional housing is sparse, as nearly 92% of this land is privately owned, compared to the remaining 8% owned by public providers. To expand the housing market in Luxembourg, citizens are advocating for an increase in public housing and laws that will protect tenants from paying rising rent prices.
  4. Although the number of people staying in homeless shelters is dropping in Luxembourg, the number of nights people stay in homeless shelters is increasing. The average number of guests in night shelters decreased from 658 in 2010 to 354 in 2016. However, for these same years, the average number of nights in shelters rose from 40 days to 100 days. Night shelters are not designed to be a permanent solution for homeless people, and with the increase in the number of nights people are staying in shelters, waiting lists for the shelters are only growing longer.
  5. To combat homelessness in Luxembourg, homeless shelters are working to provide safe places for residents to sleep at night. The shelters can only provide space to a limited number of people, though, and often accrue a waiting list for beds every night. For one homeless shelter in Dommeldange, Luxembourg, overnight guests are given a place to sleep, dinner, and the facilities to shower, but they also employ trust-building exercises between social workers and guests to ensure they receive the emotional support they need. Some shelters focus their efforts on providing food to the homeless. Organizations, like “Premier Appel,” collect extra food from restaurants and grocery stores which is then fashioned into meals for those who visit the shelter. For Stëmm vun der Stross, volunteers serve up to 300 meals in the afternoon.

– Grace Mayer
Photo: Staticflickr