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Housing and real estate markets worldwide have been transformed by global capital markets and financial excess.

Known as the financialization of housing, the phenomenon occurs when housing is treated as a commodity – a vehicle for wealth and investment rather than a social good. In her most recent report to the UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur Housing Leilani Farha explores the financialization of housing and its detrimental impact it has on human rights. From mass forced evictions to make way for luxury developments, to nameless corporations purchasing real estate from remote boardrooms, to empty homes and people pushed out of their communities because they simply could not afford to live there, the repercussions have been felt across the globe.

With roots in the 2008 financial crisis, the impact of the shift from housing as a place to build a home, to housing as an investment has been devastating. In the U.S., in the 5 years following the financial crisis, over 13 million foreclosures resulted in more than 9 million households being evicted. In Spain, more than half a million foreclosures resulted in over 300,000 evictions. In developing economies, even informal settlements are subject to speculative investment. Residents are displaced and often rendered homeless to make way for luxury housing that often stands vacant.

The vast amount of wealth has left governments accountable to investors rather than their international human rights obligations.

Global real estate represents nearly 60 per cent of the value of all global assets or $USD 217 trillion – with residential real estate comprising $USD 163 trillion or 75 per cent. This represents more than twice the world’s total GDP.

Leilani calls for governments to ensure markets serve housing need rather then investment priorities, and reminds states that they are first and foremost accountable to human rights.

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