United Nations hold Rotterdam to account for violations of the right to housing and non-discrimination by Rotterdam housing policy and NPRZ
For the first time, a Dutch municipality is addressed by the UN about human rights violations. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, and the Special Rapporteurs on Poverty, Development and Rights for Migrants and Minorities, have expressed their concerns about housing policy in Rotterdam in an official statement.
A response is expected from the Dutch authorities in the short term. The UN Rapporteurs call on the authorities to stop all activities in the context of the Rotterdam housing policy that could lead to human rights violations, until there is clarity about the violations.
Reducing the affordable housing stock, while there is a housing shortage, poverty and a large number of homeless people in Rotterdam and the Netherlands, leads to a potential violation of the right to housing, the UN Rapporteurs write. The Dutch government was already pointed out in 2019 about human rights violations due to a failing approach to homelessness.
Like the UN Rapporteurs, Right to the City of Rotterdam is very concerned that the municipality of Rotterdam is violating human rights with its current housing policy. After all, a subdistrict court judge already ruled on this in January 2020 regarding the Tweebosbuurt (ECLI:NL:RBROT:2020:125).
The Institute for Human Rights is also alarmed. Spokesperson Nacha Rakraki:
“The UN Rapporteurs express serious concern about possible violations of the right to housing. The Institute points out that the responsible authorities must do everything they can to ensure that they prevent violations. They must therefore investigate how the policy relates to this human right. It is crucial that they involve the residents in that investigation, so that they are heard and can have a voice in the approach. If the UN Rapporteurs' fears prove that housing policies increase the risk of poverty and homelessness for people in a vulnerable position, then measures are needed to prevent this and to guarantee the right to housing.”
Referring to the Housing Vision Rotterdam 2030 (and addendum) and the National Program Rotterdam South (NPRZ), the UN Rapporteurs fear that the disappearance of 13,500 social homes will lead to more poverty and homelessness. Given the population composition of South Rotterdam, the reduction in the affordable housing stock in this area may result in discrimination against people with a migration background. The UN Rapporteurs also write about discriminatory aspects of the Rotterdam law based on income and origin.
The communiqué also extensively discusses the situation in the Tweebosbuurt and the strong indications that the municipality of Rotterdam and housing corporation Vestia are violating the right to housing in this restructuring project. According to the UN Rapporteurs, similar issues of control and support have arisen in the Wielewaal, Patrimonium's court, HKT bloc, Carnisse and Gerdesia center.
The restructuring of the Tweebosbuurt, where nearly 600 homes will be demolished, is a direct result of the underlying Woonvisie and the NPRZ. The national government is also involved in Rotterdam housing policy through the NPRZ.
The Special Rapporteurs are concerned about the lack of authority for the residents of the Tweebosbuurt. As a result, there is a case of forced relocation that does not meet human rights standards: it affects housing security and leads to disruption. An emergency declaration for residents does not provide sufficient support in a situation of housing shortage, according to the UN Rapporteurs, as a result of which residents run the risk of becoming homeless.
The Dutch authorities received an official communication from a Special Rapporteur on housing only a few times before. In 2014 and 2016 because the Dutch government failed to provide emergency aid to asylum seekers. And in 2019 in response to the high number of homeless people in the Netherlands.
Right to the city: stop ongoing restructuring projects
Right to the City looks forward to a detailed response from the authorities and parties addressed to this official announcement from the Special Rapporteurs.
The fact that the UN is now asking questions about human rights violations by housing policy is of such a serious situation that it should lead to the discontinuation of ongoing and planned restructuring projects in the city, including in any case: Tweebosbuurt, Wielewaal, Patrimonium's hof, Pompenburg. and Gerdesia center. This concerns projects that aim to reduce the social housing stock and/or where residents have been given insufficient say and/or where residents have no right to return to their own neighbourhood.
In addition, in both the Tweebosbuurt and the Wielewaal there are still lawsuits pending. These are important issues that have everything to do with the right to housing and important national legislation that should help guarantee this (the Housing Act). This UN communiqué emphasizes the need to at least await these court decisions before taking irreversible steps, such as the demolition of homes.
The Housing Vision and the housing pillar of the NPRZ must also be revised immediately and brought into line with the right to housing, whereby availability, affordability and housing security must be guaranteed. To this end, in addition to housing associations and market parties, cooperative forms of housing should also be given a fully-fledged place in housing policy.
Rotterdam is the only one of the G4 to use the Rotterdam Act. The UN Rapporteurs have no doubts about the discriminatory nature of this law, specifically Article 8 (income requirement) and Article 10 (screening). For this reason, the municipality must further scale down and discontinue the use of the Rotterdam Act in the short term.
Finally, control and the right of return for residents must now be properly regulated by means of an urban Social Statute in which residents have a say in its content. In order to effectively exercise the right to control, the municipality must also create and finance a concrete facility for resident support. Support must be aimed at all residents who (may) have to deal with restructuring, ie both housing association tenants and private tenants, as well as owner-occupiers.
Right to the city will shortly organize a debate with experts in the field of human rights in response to this communiqué.
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