Earlier this week, parts of Kenya’s biggest slum, Kibera, were razed to the ground in the early hours of the morning, leaving close to 30,000 people without housing. A Kenyan judge had ruled in favor of the demolition last year, giving a green light to the construction of a new road that will allegedly alleviate traffic congestion in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. The dismantling of the slum was but a reminder of how forced evictions – which in many cases are connected with temporary housing arrangements – continue to afflict disadvantaged communities in cities.
In September 2000, the United Nations’ Millennium Declaration was signed, supposedly contracting world leaders to commit to ending a number of issues that were expected to be pressing in the world by the year 2015. Three years past that deadline, little to no progress has been made on millennium goal number seven, which pledges to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers. UN-Habitat says that actions like forced evictions often result in the rise of poverty, lack of housing, and hunger.
According to UN estimates, between the years 2000 and 2020, approximately 70 million people will have been forcibly evicted from their homes. UN-Habitat has also explained that forced evictions makes the scope of the work needed to fulfill goal number seven a lot wider.
In a report titled “Forced Evictions,” UN Habitat explains what forced evictions are and how they impact urban populations around the world. Its primary concern, highlighted in the opening of the first section, is how forced evictions strip residents of their right to housing.
According to a 2016 study by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The University of New Haven, climate change is one of many factors increasing the need for temporary housing. In some regions, natural disasters are increasingly displacing communities, exponentially increasing the number of climate refugees. In others, cities and countries are unable to keep pace with the rapid pace of population growth.
We investigate three cases of temporary housing following eviction in Ulaanbaatar, Cairo, and Paris.
Since the early 2000s, Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar has been experiencing immense economic growth, which has invited thousands of Mongolians from the countryside in search of job opportunities and access to government resources to the city. Ulaanbaatar, however, has not been able to adequately accommodate the mass influx of Mongolians into the capital.
The population of Ulaanbaatar currently stands at 1.4 million, which is 50.3 percent of Mongolia’s total population. In 2013, the Mongolian government announced the 2020 Ulaanbaatar Master Plan and Amendments and Development Approaches for 2030, a core aspect of which addressed affordable and secure housing in informal ‘ger’ areas of the city.
Across eight districts in the city, leadership specified 24 gers that needed redevelopment due to unsound infrastructure and lack of proper infrastructure and sewage systems. But if the government was to do so, there are are no laws that ensure any sort of protection or prevention of forced eviction.
In 2015, a private development company approached Building #3 in an informal ger area in Ulaanbaatar with a plan to redevelop the building. Some residents took up the company’s offer, vacating their homes in exchange for a lump sum for temporary rent, while the company went into their homes, removed heaters and pipes and dumped trash in their place. When the residents approached city leadership about the situation, the government informed the residents that the company they had dealt with was not the same company the government had given approval to redevelop their ger and, accordingly, absolved themselves of any sort of responsibility.
While the Mongolian government has vowed to redevelop informal ger areas and build new affordable housing for residents, they have not put in place measures to protect residents from forced eviction or displacement, as the case of Building #3 demonstrates. Additionally, families that cannot afford to remain in their homes are not offered alternative housing, which often results in their eviction and leaves them out on the streets.
Ulaanbaatar’s current situation, however, is not the case in the Egyptian capital, where temporary housing is often for the forcibly evicted. Even though they are not built to last, more often than not, these allocated temporary houses often become permanent houses due to insufficient funds – or simply due to corruption.
Close to the affluent district of Zamalek sits a low-income district called “Embaba” (also Imbaba) which was originally constructed to temporarily house construction workers during the late 1940s and 1950s. But the workers had other plans, and many brought along their families, settling there permanently.
Based on the numbers, forced evictions inevitably produce a never-ending transfer of temporary housing arrangements to informal settlements. “We [at 10Tooba] have composed an indicator for housing affordability and found that more than 50 percent of residents in Egypt can’t afford an average housing unit – be it formal or informal [to] rent or [buy],” Yahia Shawkat, urban researcher at 10Tooba, a collective of built environment professionals and researchers based in Cairo, tells progrss.
As a result, many people tend to risk their lives and the lives of their families by staying at in temporary houses, with market prices are far beyond their financial capabilities.
Forced evictions, unsurprisingly, don’t just happen in the Global South. One early morning in the winter of 2014, about 200 Romanians and Bulgarians were forcibly evicted from a Parisian slum they called home. The eviction caught them by surprise since the Seine-Saint-Denis prefecture sent them a warning only 48 hours before the camp was evacuated. While the prefecture provided some of the evicted families with adequate housing, the rest ended up in hotels and hostels in and around Paris.
The eviction was authorized by a municipal decree issued by then-newly appointed mayor, Stéphane De Paoli. The reason for the eviction seemed valid, but, nevertheless, activists argued it wasn’t carried out in a humanitarian manner.
Established in 2008, the slum had no access to running water or electricity and only two toilets to serve the dozens of families that lived there. Nine months prior to the forced eviction, eight-year-old Melissa, who was also a resident in the slum, was torched in a fire due to the unsanitary conditions of the slum.
“There is an issue of safety on this site, which puts residents in harm’s way,” rationalized Nityananda Doressamy, administrative director of Bobigny City Council. “It is the mayor’s responsibility to protect them.”
While forced evictions are at times valid, municipalities must also ensure the affordability and availability of housing for their residents. In this way, they can prevent temporary housing – often a temporary solution – from becoming permanent housing, and risking thousands of lives.