By Emma Batha
LONDON - Leaders of the world's richest countries must urgently fix the global housing crisis and stop treating residential property as a commodity like gold or oil, a top U.N. official said on Thursday ahead of the G20 summit.
Leilani Farha, U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, also accused governments of "collective amnesia" over the root causes of the 2008 financial disaster.
At least 150 million people, about 2 percent of the global population, are homeless, according to United Nations data, and more than a fifth of the population lacks adequate housing.
From Toronto to Sydney, London to Hong Kong, governments are increasingly under pressure to boost housing affordability and tackle a growing problem of urban homelessness.
"In 10 years, the G20 leaders have yet to address the housing crisis that was at the heart of the financial crisis and that has only worsened since," Farha said in a statement as leaders gathered in Buenos Aires for the summit.
"One can hardly consider the world economy to be stable when millions of people ... struggle to find and maintain an adequate and affordable place to live, and one quarter of the world's urban population lives in informal settlements."
Fahra, executive director of the charity Canada without Poverty, said economic instability was caused by a new global order that treated housing as a commodity or financial instrument rather than a human right.
She urged G20 leaders to ensure that the human right to housing was not sold off "to the highest bidder".
Low-income, and increasingly middle-income, households are being priced out of neighbourhoods, she said, while luxury housing is built to satisfy investors who will never live there.
Residential real estate is the world's largest business, valued at an estimated $163 trillion, more than double the value of the world's total GDP, the statement said.
New Zealand recently banned most foreigners from buying homes and some Canadian cities have introduced foreign buyers' taxes to try to cool house prices.
The global housing shortage has also triggered a host of creative solutions.
In El Salvador, U.S.-based non-profit New Story and construction technology firm ICON are making the first 3D-printed housing community.
In Hong Kong, which has some of the world's tiniest living spaces, there is growing demand for shipping-container homes which are seen as a stopgap solution for those waiting years for public housing and young people who cannot afford to buy.