IHC Open Forum: A Look Back

by Rebekah Revello

Two weeks ago, IHC Global held an Open Forum during the National Association of Realtor’s annual conference in Washington DC. The forum invited participants of the conference as well as anyone who is passionate about sustainable urban development to come and discuss, debate, and question. The forum was quite a success- some one hundred people gathered in a conference room at the Omni Shoreham Hotel to learn about what IHC Global does, and what it’s looking to do in the future. IHC Global invited several guest speakers, including Salin Geevarghese of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Eduardo Rojas, an independent consultant and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania; and Ian Klaus, senior advisor for cities at the U.S. Department of State.

     Salin Geevarghese began by discussing Habitat III, the massive international development conference happening in Quito, Ecuador in October of this year. (Visit the Habitat III page on our website for more information). He stressed the importance of IHC Global’s role in connecting the global to the local and becoming a key voice in civil society, something our organization strives for through our coalition, and suggested direct interaction with city mayors as a way to achieve those goals. He also advocated for more comprehensive approaches to cities, as they are all unique from one another and require more and different capacities. He recognized what we recognize- that the one size fits all strategy that is usually used in urban development is not working, nor has it ever. Though diversifying methods of urban development requires more effort, it will certainly be more effective.

     Eduardo Rojas discussed Latin American housing issues, which are becoming increasingly worrisome. While the population with poor housing has decreased from 30% to 17% during this long period of urbanization, Latin America continues to struggle with a staggering housing deficit. Rojas urged that Latin American countries need to follow the example of the most successful countries, which look at the housing sector as a whole- supply, credit, regulatory framework, and consumer access, among other things. Successful countries have also partnered more effectively with other countries, the private sector, NGOs and civil society as a whole. He said that one of the ways Latin American cities can improve their surroundings from the bottom up is by expanding the idea of a house, so that it’s not just a place to sleep at night but an integral part of society. Cities can do this by binding housing’s relationships to health, transportation, safety, jobs and services tighter, so that people won’t abandon their houses because they have nothing to gain from them.

     Ian Klaus, as the senior adviser for cities at the State Department, has helped forge a connection between Sate and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, largely because Habitat III has already created linkages between the two agencies. Klaus sees cities as rising powers, and what happens in any one of them can affect the whole world. Cities can be connected to religious nationalism and unrest, they incubate future leaders, and their influence can change societies, from encouraging economic growth to battling climate change. And where cities can rise the world up with sustainability and innovation, the opposite can bring the world down. Klaus reminded the forum of a few staggering statistics; there are 50 mega cities in China alone, eight of which are larger than the population of Tunisia; 70% of the buildings that will exist in India in 2030 have yet to be built; and in the ever increasing refugee population in the world, 59% of them are now urban, and the average stay of a refugee in these urban areas is now over a decade. Cities face these challenges, as well as expanding knowledge, resources and ideas gaps between countries, their cities and its people. Klaus believes the solution to these issues lies in vertical integration, meaning from the top down, from government to individuals, everyone is working together with the same intentions towards development.  In the post-World War II World Order this is more achievable than ever, as civil society has come to be seen as something that needs to be protected, and whose members have a right to be heard.

     Following the guest speakers the CEO of IHC Global Judith Hermanson took to the podium to explain our revamped goals and ideas. IHC as a whole is energized by the opportunities of Goal 11 and Habitat III, and by the fact that housing and cities are growing in importance on the global stage.  Hermanson, along with IHC board members David Wluka and Chris Vincent, praised the commitment of the organizations in the coalition towards working with IHC global for sustainable urban development. IHC’s two founders, National Association of Realtors (NAR) and Habitat for Humanity International, have been especially important for our efforts. As NAR is in almost every community worldwide, they can act as “canaries in a coal mine,” alerting of dangers at a local level quickly. Habitat for Humanity has a broad set of activities to address affordable housing issues around the world, and their advocacy is doing wonders for our cause. As Goal 11 encourages new partnerships for change, IHC hopes that the open forum helped increase our presence in the development and advocacy sectors, and that we will be adding to our coalition to change cities for good.

The floor was then open to questions. Here are a few notable questions and answers.

 Q: In the room are globally minded real estate professionals. You have found the “local level” people — how can we engage?

      HUD will be creating space at the table for civil society. It’s important that you are “globally minded local people,” and your expertise will be important in creating both aspirational and executable. If we will succeed in a different way from H2, it will be creating practical and grounded guidance. He encourages all to read the Zero draft and provide comments 

Q: Chicago area just launched a “get to 2050” comprehensive plan for the region. How will plans like these be integrated in to the idea of H3?

     The H3 outcome will not be a plan, but will have case studies of plans such as this one. Integrating the outcome into local plans is important, and the challenge is to raise up housing on the global state, among other equally important topics. 

 Q: Can anyone attend H3?

     There will be parts that are not open to the public, but there will be many opportunities for individuals to engage in side events and networking opportunities