Public Works Studio
1. What is the Housing Monitor?
The Housing Monitor is an interactive online platform for consolidating research, building advocacy and proposing alternatives to advance (push for) the right to housing in Lebanon. The monitor seeks a comprehensive approach to housing, recognizing that it is more than just shelter, as it encompasses social networks and access to other resources that the neighborhood environment provides.
On one level, the monitor documents housing trajectories and unpacks forces of displacement. It analyzes how the legal framework and the shape of the economy produce socio-spatial injustice, limit access to resources and spaces, disrupts livelihoods and communities, and damages the environment.
On another level, the monitor works to build responsiveness to housing needs on the local level, developing targeted strategies to identified barriers that impact residents differently. While aiming for inclusive cities and affordable housing for all – and by recognizing the failure of the market in producing fair housing - this goal requires focused efforts to address preventable inequalities facing seniors, tenants and socioeconomic disadvantaged residents.
Accordingly, the Housing Monitor operates as a link between researchers, community organizers, and legal experts, opening up new areas of informed action for housing rights and just cities. It is also linked to a database that allows for a multiplicity of readings to both examine socio-spatial transformations and build responses at multiple scales.
2. What Does the Housing Monitor Do?
Through partnerships and collaborations, the Housing Monitor, is structured to do the following:
- document ongoing housing transformations (such as those in relation to rent control and informality, that are manifestations of the failure of the market in producing fair housing);
- disseminate research findings through a multitude of forms and for a variety of target audiences;
- campaign for the right to housing;
- mobilize to evolve jurisprudence on housing rights;
- develop diversified affordable housing programs and related planning tools;
- advocate for institutional and legal reforms;
- influence housing debates and policies.
3. How Did the Housing Monitor Start?
The Housing Monitor was launched with mapping evictions in Beirut - precisely for seven neighborhoods -as part of Public Work’s workshop-based collective research project “Narrating Beirut Through Its Tenants Stories”. The project studied the impacts of market-driven developments and policies on residential rights in Beirut and the creation of social and spatial injustices, resulting in the displacement of many low and middle-income families. To counteract these processes that are fragmenting lives and neighborhoods, the project aimed at studying, shaping, and implementing counter strategies to this ongoing process of displacement and shortage of affordable housing. In seven neighborhoods in Beirut, we investigated the modes in which Beirut’s residents access housing and vest claims over their homes and neighborhoods. The project also documented potential paths towards affordable housing, by mapping abandoned buildings, vacant apartments, rent-controlled units, evictions, landscape of housing arrangements and changes in land ownership. The research was rooted within a vision of historicizing housing in relation to neighborhoods, while addressing the question of how do people - who are not covered by any property rights - inhabit the city?
Based on the research findings, and precisely the alarming number of evictions and empty units and building found in Beirut’s residential neighborhoods, as well as the vulnerabilities produced in accessing the existing housing stock in the city, the housing monitor was developed to read these as city wide processes, raising individual housing struggles to a public concern. The struggles are of Lebanese citizens, Palestinians, refugees and migrants that inhabit both formally and informally the inner city and its peripheries.
4. What Layers of Readings does the Housing Monitor Map Offer?
Housing conditions in Beirut today are a result of multiple factors: growing land speculation and a process of financialization; lack of building, planning and land regulations that preserve social and urban fabric; state interventions that favor exclusive urban development, population displacement, and a wide process of evictions and marginalization.
As such the monitor seeks to politicize these processes: by reading their overlap and connecting them to housing narratives that document threats of displacement, harassment, inadequate housing conditions, dispossession, and struggles.
Presently, the map’s main layers, constitute:
- Abandoned buildings
- Demolished buildings
- New constructions (while noting which ones got an exceptional decree)
- Property Ownership
As well, as neighborhood histories and housing narratives.
These will be overlapped with parameters such as building permits, property prices, and rent prices.
5. Who is Part of the Housing Monitor?
The Housing Monitor grows through a collaborative process and establishes partnerships on multiple levels: data collection, community organizing, and experts (urbanists, economists, legal advisories). Representatives from each of these levels develop a yearly strategic plan for the monitor.
Partnerships and Collaborations for Data Collection
The Housing Monitor currently collects data from (1) devised research workshops held by Public Works; (2) students in the field of architecture and urbanism; (3) researchers and research centers.
However, we aim to expand this data collection process through:
- a network of neighborhood-scale social workers, who themselves are connected to a wider community of people struggling with their housing conditions
- citizens reporting on housing vulnerabilities and evictions occurring in their surroundings.
Such data is all open source and is credited to the researcher or institution that provided it.
Public works has created a ‘knowledge exchange initiative’, where students and researchers are invited to visit the studio benefitting from resources, research material and the team’s expertise, in exchange for sharing their housing related research.
Partnerships for Community Organizing
The Housing Monitor aims to deploy a network of social workers in Beirut’s neighborhoods to identify housing vulnerabilities at the local level, organize neighborhood meetings that aim to articulate community based demands; acting as a link between the community and the monitor. As such, data collection by social workers (mentioned above) is also an organizing tool.
Additionally, the monitor has partnered with:
- the National Committee to Protect the Right to Housing and Tenants Rights, a grassroots organization, to monitor pressing cases of evictions and form linkages with lawyers.
- Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union (LPHU) who has a solid community based network that work to ensure rights for the disabled, and where housing has become a new concern with the issuance of the new rent law.
Partnerships for Policy and Legislative Actions
The Housing Monitor has partnered with the Legal Agenda to advocate for changes in existing laws that jeopardize the right to housing; such as the new rent law that threatens long term senior and socioeconomically disadvantaged residents with eviction, while no alternatives to affordable housing exist.
It has also partnered with a number of urbanists, economists and legal experts to develop new housing programs and planning tools for affordable housing and inclusive environments. This partnership has evolved into a housing initiative, closely collaborating with the Public Corporation for Housing (PCH) with the aim to scale up approaches for producing neighborhood based housing alternatives to policy recommendations.
As an attempt to put these alternatives into real implementation in the short term, the housing initiative is developing a competition in collaboration with the Order of Engineers targeting practitioners in the field of architecture and urban planning - as well as law and economics - to propose implementable housing programs and planning schemes that respond to local demands for affordable housing and produce socially just and inclusive environments.