The Roles of Law, Religion and Housing Through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs): A Virtual Conference

Photo of the United Nations Headquarters, Geneva by John Samuel (CC BY-SA 4.0).


On March 21, 2024, the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University (CSLR) and Canopy Forum will convene a virtual conference that will address the global challenges of homelessness, housing policy and housing vulnerability through the lens of the UN SDGs. The United Nations has identified seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include the world’s best plans to end poverty, reduce inequalities, and ensure good health and well-being, as well as access to quality education, clean water and sanitation, to name but a few. The aim of these goals is to call all countries to action, to promote prosperity and consideration for all people, while protecting the planet.

Thursday, March 21st, 2024

United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Architecture and the built environment impact the wellbeing of societies and shape the future of cities, but increasing social inequality is demanding a shift away from conventional thinking about how the environment is conceived, planned, and formed. Recent natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies, caused by climate change, conflict and poverty, have led to mass migration, and as millions are displaced into homelessness or transitional housing, the shortage of affordable housing in urban areas is once again highlighted. Advocates increasingly refer not to “homelessness,” which suggests lack of status and dignity, but to the “unhoused” to emphasize the problem’s roots in the deliberate or negligent policies and choices in law and governance.

Around the world, squatters are often forced to illegally occupy derelict buildings and turn them into informal housing. Recently, a fire tore through such a hijacked building in central Johannesburg, killing at least 76 people, including 12 children. However, hazardous housing is not limited to illegal occupation. Fire, flooding, and other disasters disproportionately impact the world’s poor. The promise of the UN SDGs, to “leave no one behind”, can only be fulfilled if architecture is seen as a human right and if critical issues of homelessness are addressed. These challenging situations are complicated by economic, social, legal, theological, and cultural questions that merit analysis and attention.

Participants will deliver a short virtual presentation (via Zoom) and submit a 2000-word article on their chosen topic or theme. Conference proceedings will be live-streamed and published on Canopy Forum, CSLR’s online publication, which has tens of thousands of readers spanning every country in the world.

Presentations may explore diverse issues related to the UN SDGs and the hazards of housing, drawing on both theoretical perspectives and specific examples, for example:

  • What are the roles of law and religion in the plight of the homeless?
  • How can risks associated with the living environments of the poor be reduced?
  • How can recent climate change disasters, such as extreme weather, wildfires, heatwaves, drought, and floods be addressed through the UN SDG’s?
  • How can legal and religious professionals and organizations help communities to adapt or recover from the social, cultural, economic, and political effects of climate events?
  • To what extent can law and architecture collaborate in framing affordable, sustainable, and resilient housing as a human right?
  • Through what sorts of ministries and programs do religious groups assist in housing and emergency shelter projects?
  • How does the UN’s aim of “leaving no one behind” address housing for urban refugees?
  • How can architects contribute to a changing social climate and design for inclusivity and the needs of different people?
  • Which countries have ratified social rights covenants related to housing and how can those that do not participate, be encouraged to do so?
  • How can research, practice and education provide new approaches to sustainable housing and enable a sustainable and inclusive future for all?
  • How should housing be understood as a matter of human rights and human dignity?

Please direct questions to the conference organizer, Dr. Yolanda van der Vyver at yolanda.vandervyver@icloud.com. ♦