Defining housing justice: an audiovisual exchange of struggle and action

The lived experiences of those on the front line of housing injustice are exposed in a series of videos which collectively shows what housing justice would look like for them.

Camila Cociña's picture Alexandre Apsan Frediani's picture
Camila Cociña is a researcher and Alexandre Apsan Frediani a principal researcher in IIED’s Human Settlements research group
01 July 2024
Image of a few houses from a floating village

Floating village (Image taken from IIED video)

Addressing the current global housing requires a justice lens. According to UN figures, 2.8 billion people experience some form of housing inadequacy, and of these over one billion live in informal settlements. 

This is a ‘crisis’: not in the sense of being the product of exceptional circumstances – on the contrary, it is a permanent reality for most people. This is a human rights crisis sustained by housing systems that are failing to respond to the needs and aspirations of the world’s majority.

Four key approaches

As part of IIED's current work on housing justice, we have recently published an issue paper, 'Towards housing justice: four propositions to transform policy and practice'. This draws on reflections from IIED’s ongoing and historical collaborations with social movements, grassroots groups, researchers and allies.

It proposes a definition of housing justice and identifies four key areas of intervention to transform housing systems from a justice perspective: 

  1. Anti-discriminatory housing policy and practice
  2. Radically democratic forms of housing production
  3. Housing as an infrastructure for more sustainable and fairer cities, and 
  4. Expanded visions for housing futures.

Alongside the publication of this paper, we conducted a series of online exchanges with organisations and people on the frontline of housing struggles. These aimed to explore the meanings that different groups attach to the housing justice agenda. By conducting these dialogues through the production and sharing of videos, we aimed to create a more accessible way to deepen our collective understanding of housing justice. 

Housing justice exchanges

In February and March 2024, IIED held a series of meetings with groups from organised communities, activists and academics, to collectively discuss the meaning of housing justice for them. These online dialogues brought together representatives from ten organisations across seven countries (as shown in the map below).

The discussion allowed them to share and identify common and divergent experiences from a range of identities and locations. These ranged from housing movements in São Paulo and Antofagasta, to supporting NGOs in Johannesburg, Bhuj, and Lagos; and from housing activists in Bangalore, New York, and London, to engaged academic-activists in Milan and Salvador.

A map show the diverse global locations of dialogues held as part of this housing justice work.

A map showing the locations of the participants in the housing justice exchanges (Map: IIED) 

The exchanges were captured in a series of videos produced by each organisation to showcase what housing justice means for their members. Through the audiovisual material, we aimed to explore what housing justice (and injustice) looks like in different contexts, and to document how the work of each of these organisations is addressing those injustices.

The video trailer below (also available on IIED's YouTube channel) summarises how the different pieces contributed to the debate. Each full-length video produced bythe organisations is displayed as a collection at the end of this insight.

This video introduces and summarises a set of short films produced for a series of housing justice exchanges convened by IIED

Different contexts, common struggles

Recognising the differences between these diverse sets of contexts, a series of common themes appeared throughout the dialogues. After the pitching, production and sharing of the videos, led by each team, we dedicated a session to discussing what the emerging themes revealed through these exchanges were.

We identified five key issues that were central when engaging with questions of housing justice across all contexts:

  1. Land rights are at the centre of housing justice strugglesand securing access to affordable, safe, and well-located land is usually the most substantive challenge for advancing the right to housing. Safeguarding the social and environmental functions of land against market forces is a fundamental challenge in most contexts. 
  2. Addressing inequalities across diverse identitiesincluding gender, race, age, class, ability, migration status and caste, among others, is essential for advancing housing justice. This includes looking at embedded inequalities within movements and wider society, and finding ways to challenge the structures that sustain systematic discrimination and exclusion.
  3. Acknowledging the ambiguous role of the state in relation to housing justice is critical. While the state has a fundamental role in respecting, protecting and guaranteeing the right to adequate housing, it is also often the state that instigates violence towards marginalised communities through, for instance, forced evictions. Constantly negotiating the relationship with the state in its multiple and heterogenous spaces is pivotal for housing justice.
  4. Housing is a key infrastructure for a range of other rights, including the right to the city, access to secure livelihoods, state entitlements and a dignified life in all aspects of wellbeing. Often, advancing the right to housing is a necessary step in recognising wider citizenship rights. 
  5. Collective mobilisation and action are the key drivers for transformationand it is only through collective and sustained organisation that most initiatives can challenge housing injustices and existing power dynamics. Fulfilling the right to adequate housing can take several forms, with individual ownership being only one of them. Collective efforts are usually the key drivers of responses that acknowledge and accommodate common aspirations and needs. 

Importantly, the discussion revealed the importance of exchanging and organising in ways that not only document existing struggles, but also provide a platform for collective and coordinated action.

Our efforts to collectively define housing justice are, above all, a call for new ways to engage with the reality of the global housing crisis – a crisis that is preventing millions of people from living a fulfilling life, and a crisis that is largely sustained by systems that are unresponsive to most people’s realities.

Housing justice is a call to transform such systems. The videos below (also available as a playlist on IIED's YouTube channel) are a collection of provocations about what that call to action might look like.

Bhuj, India

Johannesburg, South Africa

London, UK

New York, US

Salvador, Brazil

Milan, Italy

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Antofagasta, Chile

Bangalore, India

Bangalore, India

Lagos, Nigeria