Claiming housing rights and confronting injustices often occur in the private realm. Households are singled out, seemingly isolated from the mechanisms that drive gentrification, urbanization and displacement, and left alone to face the slow violence that housing rights violations incur. These acts of dispossession are not recorded, nor are the tools of investigating trends and patterns in urban rights violations appropriated as venues to drive communal confrontation. The inability to minimize the gap between the daily suffering of urban dwellers and public response, only serves to normalize evictions and housing vulnerabilities in general. Placing housing rights as a public concern that needs to be addressed on all levels: the neighborhood, the district, the city, and at the scale of national politics, has become detrimental to practicing good urban governance and building inclusive cities.
As such, Public Works developed the Housing Monitor: a community tool developed to protect and advance housing rights in Lebanon. The tool is used by residents from various marginalized social groups to report on housing vulnerabilities and eviction threats. In response, Public Works Studio provides individualized legal and social services, mobilizes tenants around shared grievances, and identifies any trends in housing injustices. In doing so, it empowers marginalized city dwellers to claim their housing rights, while raising attention over detrimental housing policies in Lebanon that have affected vulnerable residents. Public Works Studio developed this project to document and report housing right violations in a country where a lack of data allows ongoing corruption, poor planning, and marginalization of low-income city dwellers; to respond to marginalized city dwellers’ housing needs with legal and social support, building rights-based awareness and establishing a direct hotline of responsiveness; to build and mobilize tenant and community member organizations based on shared housing vulnerabilities and interests; and to identify general housing trends and develop informed response strategies and policy recommendations.
With the outbreak of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and the deteriorating economic situation in Lebanon, the Housing Monitor followed on 603 housing vulnerabilities, of which 472 were responded to with direct service intervention. This included 184 consultations and legal tips (104 with migrant domestic workers); 150 field visits; the prevention of 92 evictions; and the referral of 131 cases for social support. As of September 2020, following the port explosion, Public Works Studio started operating a hotline for the Housing Monitor.
In 2022, PW started promoting the practice of reporting beyond Beirut and developed training workshops to widen the network of housing activists. The latter includes students and professionals (such as lawyers and urbanists), independent political groups, and community members. PW is also building the Right to Housing Legal Task Force as an active lab that brings together law students, legal researchers and lawyers with urbanists and economists to think in multidisciplinary terms, creatively and critically of strategies for the defence of housing rights.
In 2023, Public Works will expand the scope of the Housing Monitor activities, as part of a project entitled “Monitoring, Reporting, Confronting Injustice on Housing and Land Rights in Lebanon” funded by The United Nations Democracy Fund (2023-2025).
In addition to its ongoing operations, we aim to expand the work of the Housing Monitor to two other cities: Tripoli in 2023 and another city in 2024. We also aim to widen our circulation of knowledge through training workshops targeted to specific groups of individuals and community-based organizations. Besides, the produced knowledge from periodic reports will be used to draft propositions for a reform agenda that promote the right to housing and will also result in issuing and filing annual reports to international agencies on the extent to which the Lebanese state is violating housing rights. These constitute an innovative tool with which we will be soliciting international pressure to shed light on local problems.
The Housing Monitor has been named a Gold Award Winner in the World Habitat Awards 2021: