In December 2016 two United Nations human rights experts visited Portugal and expressed concern about the impact of the economic crisis and the austerity measures on the enjoyment of the rights to housing, water and sanitation in this country.
At the end of a joint official visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteurs, Léo Heller and Leilani Farha, warned about the situation of people in vulnerable situations, including the “new poor”- those who have been pushed into poverty as a result of the austerity measures.
In relation to the right to adequate housing these were the comments that Ms. Leilani Farha made when presenting her official report on the 1st March 2017:
"My most recent mission took place in December 2016, to Portugal. It was a joint visit with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, and as such it provided us an opportunity to contribute to a vision of indivisibility of rights that we both share. Mr. Heller will be presenting his report before you at the 36th session, in September.
The Portuguese Constitution under Article 65 establishes a strong foundation upon which to base the implementation of the right to adequate housing. Despite this Constitutional provision, as well as a number of housing laws and programmes, the financial crisis and the measures that have been implemented to address the crisis, especially the austerity measures, have created difficult housing conditions for many.
Austerity measures resulted in an increase in poverty levels, lower social protection benefits, higher rates of homelessness and unaffordable housing, utilities and other public services. The measures required the liberalization of the housing sector including the private rental regime. While this has had some positive impacts, it has also made it easier for tenants to be evicted or relocated.
Portugal also has in place several programmes and policies aimed, in part, at mitigating the effects of austerity measures. These include measures to reduce housing shortages, and rehabilitate rental properties. It has also put in place a number of rehabilitation and resettlement programmes (PER) for people living in non-conventional dwellings, and has a national housing strategy in place.
Portugal is one of the most unequal countries in Europe. While there are positive signs of economic recovery, residents still face serious long terms challenges which are directly linked to housing exclusion, lack of affordability, insufficient social housing or subsidies for housing and growth in homelessness.
I was particularly concerned with the housing conditions experienced by the Roma (ciganos) and people of African Descent, many of whom continue to live in informal settlements, without access to basic services including electricity, amidst garbage, and without secure tenure. These are conditions that directly threaten a dignified life, which is at the centre of the human right to housing. I was also concerned to learn of evictions and demolitions. It is important to recognize that regardless of the economic conditions in the country, every effort must be made to ensure that the right to adequate housing is legally protected and implemented especially for those in vulnerable situations.
Lastly, I had some concern about the impact of touristification, particularly in the city centers of Lisbon and Porto, and its impact on affordability and availability of housing. The Golden Visa scheme which encourages foreign investment in residential real estate has brought into the country over 2 billion dollars, but has put pressure on housing costs in Lisbon and elsewhere.
Of the several recommendations that I have shared with the Government of Portugal, I would like to stress the following:
- Adopt a National Housing Framework Law formulated in consultation with all relevant stakeholders and based in international human rights principles, with a focus on those experiencing the worst housing disadvantage such as Roma, people of African descent, women fleeing violence, persons with disabilities, children, youth, and all those who are poor or ‘new poor’.
- Commit to ending homelessness as a priority, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals, target 11.1, to ensure adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services for all, and the New Urban Agenda.
- Housing conditions in all informal settlements must be assessed and addressed on an urgent and priority basis including for Roma communities and communities of people of African Descent, and in keeping with Portugal’s National Housing Strategy goals.
- Demolitions and evictions that result in homelessness must not take place. Adequate housing plans for these communities must be developed and implemented in consultation with the affected populations and should include key human rights principles such as: security of tenure, in situ relocation, access to basic services including water, sanitation and electricity, affordability and dignified living conditions.
Read the full report here:
|Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context - Mission to Portugal|
Right to housing