By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Latin America's booming urban slums look set to continue their rapid expansion as government housing policies fail to tackle an explosion in informal housing, legal experts said on Monday.
Some 113 million people across the continent -- or nearly one in five people -- live in sprawling slums which are fuelling inequality and social exclusion, they said in a report.
"State policies on housing -- even those enshrined in the region's constitutions -- have not been able to respond to the rise of urban populations...," the study said.
Mass migration from rural to urban areas from the 1950s onwards means 80 percent of Latin America's population of around 600 million now live in cities -- a higher number than in any other region in the world.
The report examines housing legislation and policy in 11 countries, including Latin America's largest economies -- Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Argentina.
It found most countries had laws and constitutions that recognized the right to adequate housing, but huge gaps remained in ensuring poor families got access to homes, housing credit and secure land tenure rights.
Across Latin America, poor neighborhoods crammed with shacks built using bricks, scrap metal and wood, and often perched precariously on hillsides, are a common feature of the urban landscape.
"The housing market hasn't been able to cover the needs of marginalized populations in informal settlements, which has produced social exclusion and a segregation of the rich and poor," said Luis Bonilla of TECHO, a non-governmental organization tackling poverty in slums, which commissioned the report.
About 50 million new homes are needed to address the region's housing shortage, according to the United Nations.
Insecure land tenure and the lack of formal property deeds mean millions risk eviction from their homes both in slums and elsewhere to make way for development projects, the report said.
"Forced eviction seems to be a daily reality for hundreds of communities in Latin America," it added.
The study was produced by lawyers from seven international legal firms, technology company Hewlett-Packard and TECHO, and was facilitated by TrustLaw, the pro bono service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The global challenge to provide adequate housing is highlighted in the United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the Millennium Development Goals this year.
One of the goals is to "upgrade slums" and ensure everyone has access to adequate, safe and affordable housing with basic services, such as water.
TECHO says creating affordable and adequate housing would help reduce the region's high levels of inequality.
Progress has been made in building new homes for low-income families in countries like Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, often by providing government subsidies and low-interest loans, Bonilla said.
But having a home often does not lead to other basic rights. "A house in itself doesn't guarantee living a life with dignity," Bonilla told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Santiago.
He said regional governments need to do much more to ensure people living in slum areas play a greater role in decisions about how their cities are planned and built.
"Without this, a lack of a sense of belonging will continue, as will inequality and development that bypasses slum areas," Bonilla said.
"Public policy on housing is too often just seen as something that facilitates the process of getting a home. It needs to go beyond that and develop the idea that people have the right to a city, the right to access education, health services, public transport, surrounding their homes."
(Editing by Emma Batha; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)