Government ministers and senior officials from around the world agreed during the UN-HABITAT Governing Council that poor people are not high-risk borrowers as micro-financing initiatives around in many countries have shown.
The officials on a panel which met on Wednesday, 6 April during a dialogue on financing shelter and urban development, included: Mr. Amos Kimunya, Minister of Lands and Housing, Kenya; Mr. Manfred Konukiewitz, Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany; Mr. Roger Iversen, State Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Regional Affairs, Norway; Mr. Marten Lilja, State Secretary, Ministry of Sustainable Development, Sweden; Ms. Shanon Sorzano, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, Department of Housing and Urban Development, United States; and Mr. Saths Moodley, Special Advisor to the Minister of Housing, South Africa.
Mr. Iversen, Mr. Lilja and Ms. Sorzano gave brief presentations of the housing policies in their countries. Mr. Kimunya spoke about financing shelter and urban development in Africa, and Mr. Moodley outlined South Africa’s efforts to provide adequate housing to its population through innovative financial mechanisms like the National Housing Finance Corporation.
The key points they raised were that: the assumption that poor people are high-risk borrowers has been proven wrong by micro-finance initiatives; slum upgrading projects need to be turned into holistic programmes, including water, sanitation, education, and job creation components; and elevating housing on both national and international agendas was a key element of poverty reduction.
Speaking from the floor, the representative of the Slum Dwellers International urged participants not to assume that the urban poor were not part of the market when in fact they constitute an important feature of the economy. Several delegates added the urban poor need to be part of the policy debate at the national and international levels to ensure innovations in slums are incorporated appropriately. A representative from the Nairobi Stock Exchange urged governments and banks to devise new systems to assess risks in order to lend to the urban poor.
Several delegates emphasized the need for self-help approaches to housing construction and finance as this builds ownership, lowers cost and increases the likelihood of loan repayment and housing maintenance.