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AFD is attending the UN Habitat Assembly from 5 to 9 June in Nairobi, Kenya, which will seek to make the world’s cities more sustainable. From affordable housing to pollution emergencies, the issues being tackled affect every region in the world, rich and poor. Audrey Guiral-Naepels, Deputy Director of AFD’s Urban Development Division, tells us about how development is linked to housing, and AFD’s work in this sector.

What are the current development issues in the housing sector?

Audrey Guiral-Naepels: Everyone agrees that the housing sector plays a crucial role in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in terms of the climate and inequalities. But we also see that changes take time, because national regulatory frameworks often fall short and private operators are not structured adequately. All in all, this issue had been somewhat sidelined by the international community in recent years.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put this issue back in the spotlight. The lockdowns meant that people needed housing with running water to respect basic hygiene rules. Many countries took steps to help people stay in their homes, by suspending eviction procedures and rent payments for those no longer able to work. This showed us just how crucial it was for the stability of people’s lives.  

UN-Habitat has traditionally focused its operations on improving precarious neighborhoods and urban development. These two issues are extremely important in Africa. We hear a lot about the concept of sustainable cities in the Global South, because it’s in cities that we see rapid population growth, while the provision of decent housing and public services doesn’t always follow. In AFD’s Urban Development Division, we advocate daily for sustainable and planned urban development, incorporating housing in neighborhoods with public facilities, served by transport networks and located close to employment areas.

This is precisely what France and AFD will advocate at this Assembly…

A.G-N.: Yes, France is co-sponsoring a resolution tabled by Kenya, which aims to stress the importance of access to affordable and sustainable housing. It’s one thing to improve living conditions in informal neighborhoods, but you also have to provide a supply of appropriate formal housing. This resolution proposes to set up an intergovernmental working group to assist UN-Habitat, by collecting data and disseminating analyses and recommendations. We talk about a global shortage of 330 million housing units, but what does this figure really mean? Housing isn’t just a quantitative issue: we need to understand local real estate markets, the cost of materials, the profiles and needs of households. A huge amount of data is needed to structure public policies.

France will also table its own resolution concerning smart cities. The purpose is to promote the production of good practices for their design.

AFD will also be represented at this Assembly. We will sign a memorandum of understanding there to join forces with UN Habitat in the field of housing. We’ll exchange our expertise and our experiences, involving them in our initiative on sustainable housing and supporting their studies, events and advocacy in favor of sustainable housing. 

What action does AFD take in the housing sector today?

A. G-N.: The housing sector is one of our traditional areas of operation. Over the last ten years, we’ve committed €2 billion in this sector, including €1 billion in foreign countries. We work on structuring national public policies and their development in cities. We also support housing banks, private construction operators and NGOs in the sector, as well as energy efficiency in buildings and student housing. It’s a very multidimensional sector mobilizing a wide range of expertise at AFD.

Eighteen months ago, we launched the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI) to support public policies for sustainable housing. Many countries want to launch ambitious housing policies, but face difficulties in terms of investment, land tenure and the integration of energy efficiency issues. The SHI is a facility that helps governments and local authorities launch studies and analyses, on the needs, the real estate market, the regulatory framework and the way in which it can be developed to facilitate the production of affordable housing. 

This technical assistance supports the various national, local, public and private stakeholders in the housing chain. The SHI was launched by AFD, but it’s based on partnerships: NGOs, researchers, French regional and local authorities, and international donors are all members of a committee which allows us to inform thinking.

This initiative is currently deployed in eight countries, including Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. In Kigali (Rwanda), we’re helping the city improve precarious neighborhoods with a loan and a grant from the European Union. The city wants to work on the issue of sustainable housing, to make sure that its residents are not forced to leave the regenerated neighborhoods and move to new slums. 

To this end, we’re helping it explore two lines of action through the SHI: firstly, self-improvement and the extension of existing housing and, secondly, the construction of new affordable housing units. The city thereby aims to encourage private owners to develop their property, while undertaking to rent to people on low incomes. At the same time, it wants to support the construction of high-quality new housing units for these people. We’re still in the study phase and the project won’t start until 2024. But it’s already one of our most innovative projects in this area!