Ever since the Justice & Peace Commission has been advocating for better social housing conditions for the poorest, two common reactions, from diverse milieu, have been that, firstly, the poorest should be grateful for what is ‘given’ to them and that they should cease complaining, and secondly that the poorest are sitting idle but expect everything to be given to them. This tends to be a reflection of the stereotypes and stigma that the collective consciousness and common perception have of the poor. They are often ultimately dismissed to their own responsibilities. But this also denotes a lack of reflection that how we build social houses now has significant impacts on the quality of life of future generations.
Building social houses that respect human dignity now not only serves the current generation’s need for decent living but will also be a legacy for future generations. Increasingly, we are living on an island where real estate schemes, integrated resort schemes, luxurious villas, lush golf courses and world-class hotels are being built in areas next to one-bedroom houses built for poor families. Visit a social house of 31m2 where families are living and you quickly realise that the house is overcrowded and inadequate. Do we want to live on an island where inequality is so blatant? Besides, can we afford to live on such an island, knowing that the premise for sustained development and social harmony rests on an equal and just society.
Over the years, Governments have provided social houses to shelter families whose houses have been torn down by cyclones or other natural calamities to respond to urgent and immediate needs. Today, many of those same social houses are wretched slums where poverty thrives. Lack of urban planning and social housing policies can result in slum creation and its perpetuation, whose eradication becomes a political, social and economic riddle many years after. The legacy of poor social housing policies is poverty spanning over generations.
What the Justice & Peace Commission advocates is to facilitate equitable access to adequate housing schemes for the poorest and the application of a social contract that enables social upliftment and mobility, creating an environment for economic empowerment and responsible citizenship. There is a need to redouble concerted efforts to redefine the CSR social housing guidelines that address family needs and, at the same time, build the future equitable society that we want. While the reasons for poverty are many, well planned and designed CSR social housing guidelines can reduce and staunch that poverty and promote better quality of life and, certainly, our national happiness index.
The task is indeed immense and the challenges are many, but it all starts with sound regulatory frameworks and a humane approach rather than an economic one. Because the poorest are the weakest citizens of Mauritius, they require integrated planning and management approaches. Experience has shown that social inclusion will not happen if families are provided with a house and left to fend for themselves, because in the process, many of them would have lost their livelihood and source of income and support, since being disconnected with their previous environment. Additionally, to benefit from a social housing program, families should not earn more than Rs 6,200 per month. Clearly, Rs 6,200 nowadays is insufficient to feed a family of four. Hence, many families benefiting from a social houses are unable to pay their monthly dues for the house and provide for the basic needs for food, clothes, schooling and transport for their family. This is when the families are most vulnerable and why social accompaniment is crucial.
Throughout history, better housing has been the process by which our society has been able to step up to higher levels of development and is an indicator of human development. MID offers us the vision for social equity and CSR the means to move forward with new ideas for social housing and human settlements. At the same time, we can move away from the stereotype that the poorest are solely to be blamed for their conditions because they are lazy, laid back and have an aversion to effort.
Addressing these issues will enable the poorest among the population to take their lives in hand and climb out of the poverty trap. On our part, the Justice and Peace Commission stands ready to play an active role in advocating dignified social houses for all and remains open to a dialogue with all stakeholders.
Justice & Peace Commission
07 October 2013