Everyone deserves a decent place to live. United Nation’s World Habitat Day is annually celebrated on the first Monday of October to reflect on the state of human settlements and people’s right to adequate shelter. The day serves as a reminder to the world of its collective responsibility for the habitat of future generations. As the global population increases so too have the challenges. Regrettably, the number of people especially the poor and vulnerable groups, including women, migrants and persons with disabilities find themselves living in less than desirable conditions as they face discrimination based on their circumstances. It is estimated that a billion new houses will be needed by 2025 to accommodate 50 million new urban dwellers. Access to affordable housing is not new phenomenon. It is a global challenge which requires commitment, resources and creativity from governments in order to reverse the growing trends of informal settlements and slums which many urban dwellers now call home. Squatting on government and privately owned lands is now a common feature in many societies including Jamaica. The eradication of poverty should be a priority for all governments as this is a barrier to quality and affordable housing. The housing crisis in Jamaica is desperate. It is estimated that between 15 to 35 per cent of Jamaicans are living in abandoned buildings or in squatter settlements. This is most unacceptable and requires urgent attention by the government as it relates to land reform. The theme of the 2016 World Habitat Day is “Housing at the Centre”. Interestingly, the first World Habitat Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986 to raise awareness about the plight of the 1.6 billion people in need of adequate shelter. Disturbingly, women are at a disadvantage regarding quality and affordable housing. This issue is made worse since a significant number of women work in the home and this unpaid work renders them ineligible for a mortgage and powerless to pay rent for themselves and their children. The United Nations has outlined seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) which are geared towards transforming the world in which we live. Goal 11, addresses the issue of making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. However, there are multiple challenges including a shortage of housing stock as more and more residential houses are being converted for commercial use and purpose. It is imperative that governments draft legislation or enforce existing laws in order to zone communities and protect the housing stock which are available for people. It cannot be that the rich and powerful are allowed to transform a community or neighborhood from residential to commercial without any sanction at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. Every one of us regardless of skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, social class and or sex deserves the opportunity for a better future. There is a collective responsibility on all governments to lead the way in empowering and engendering their citizenry to achieve quality and adequate housing in order to achieve sustainable development. In the words on Ban Ki-moon “building sustainable cities and a sustainable future will need open dialogue among all branches of national, regional and local government. And it will need the engagement of all stakeholders including the private sector and civil society, and especially the poor and marginalized”.
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