Difference between revisions of "Right to housing"

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[[File:Housing-is-a-human-right-graphic-No-Gods-No-Masters.png|thumb|right|350px|graphic from https://www.no-gods-no-masters.com]] ''"Right to housing" / "Housing is a human right" ''is a concept developed in national/international law and advocacy, particularly since the mid 20th century.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br/> &nbsp;
[[File:Housing-is-a-human-right-graphic-No-Gods-No-Masters.png|thumb|right|350px|graphic from https://www.no-gods-no-masters.com]] ''"Right to housing" / "Housing is a human right" ''is a concept developed in national/international law and advocacy, particularly since the mid 20th century.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br/> <br/> Twitter search query link:&nbsp;[https://twitter.com/search?q=#right2housing%20OR%20#righttohousing&src=typed_query&f=live #right2housing OR #righttohousing]
= In international law / UN treaty&nbsp; =
= In international law / UN treaty&nbsp; =

Revision as of 00:48, 11 September 2019

"Right to housing" / "Housing is a human right" is a concept developed in national/international law and advocacy, particularly since the mid 20th century.   

Twitter search query link: #right2housing OR #righttohousing

In international law / UN treaty 

from Naznin [2018]:

"Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. It states that:

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.{{Cquote|Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

The right to housing constitutes an integral component of human dignity vis-à-vis an adequate standard of life and living. It is crucial to the realization of other rights including the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to health and the right to development. Hence, the right to housing is recognized as a fundamental human right.

2. Components of the Right to Housing

Housing today means more than a roof over one’s head. Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, treaty adopted by the UN in 1966 which came in force 1976.) contemplates housing as adequate housing that requires living a standard life with dignity, peace and security and enables a person to utilize and expand his capabilities. In order to meet this standard, as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in General Comment No. 4 postulates, the contents of adequacy must include the presence of legal security of tenure, availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location and cultural adequacy. Following discussion provides a brief analysis of these components:

  • Legal security of tenure: Irrespective of the nature of tenure, all persons are entitled to a secure tenure to ensure legal protection from forced evictions, harassment or other threats.
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: An adequate housing facility must ensure health, security, comfort and nutrition. Hence,everyone should have sustainable access to natural and common resources, pure drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation, washing facilities, storage space, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services.
  • Affordability: Personal or household costs associated with housing should not exceed the income level and threaten or compromise the enjoyment of other basic needs.
  • Habitability: Adequate housing must provide the inhabitants with sufficient space and protect them from adverse weather conditions as well as other threats to health, structural hazards and disease vectors.
  • Accessibility: Adequacy implies accessibility. Hence laws and policies on housing should address the special needs of vulnerable and marginalized groups such as children, elderly people, physically disabled, victims of natural disasters.
  • Location: Adequate housing must ensure access to employment opportunities, medical services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities. Besides, households should situate within a reasonable distance from polluted zones to avoid any risk of health hazards.
  • Cultural adequacy: The construction materials, design and construction of households should have a proper balance with the cultural identity and lifestyle of the residents.


Policies outside the US

Canada - National Housing Strategy Act, 2019 

"On June 21, the Governor General signed into law Bill C-97, which contained the “National Housing Strategy Act”, and the federal right to housing legislation. This legislation is historic – it not only marks the first time that the Government of Canada has legally recognized an explicit right to housing, but it sets Canada apart as one of only a small handful of countries in the world with such legislation in place." [Morrison 2019]. 

From start of legislation:

“It is declared to be the housing policy of the Government of Canada to recognize that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law; and to recognize that housing is essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person and to building sustainable and inclusive communities.”
graphic from Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, San Francisco, 2018
Morrison [2019] notes: 
What the Legislation Won’t Do
  1. It will not create an enforceable individual right to access housing:
  2. It does not apply to provincial, territorial, Indigenous, or municipal jurisdiction:  The National Housing Strategy Act is a federal statute, and therefore has no jurisdiction over other orders of government.  
  3. It is not constitutionally protected


in US policy & advocacy

FDR's 1944 State of the Union address

from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's1944 State of the Union address to Congress: 

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men. . . . ' These economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis ofsecurity and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are: the right to a useful and remunerative job ...the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation . . . the right to adequate medical care...the right to a good education [and] along with several other enumerated rights] the right of every family to a decent home. All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being." 

Preamble to the 1949 Housing Act 

"Congress in its preamble to the 1949 Housing Act promulgated the National Housing Goal of “the implementation as soon as feasible of a decent home and a suitable
living environment for every American family.' That goal wasreiterated in the 1968 Housing Act and, in slightly different versions, in the 1974 and 1990 Housing Acts." [Hartman 1998]. 

1968 Housing and Urban Development Act 

"The 1968 Housing Act took the brave step of setting forth a 10-year numerical target: 26 million units, 6 million of which were to be for low- and moderate-income households, and year-by-year progress reports were mandated. But it failed by a considerable margin, and never again was Congress foolish enough to risk such embarrassment."  [Hartman 1998]. 

"There remains no entitlement to any of the direct government housing programs: public housing,14 Section 8, Section 202 and so on. Something approaching a Right to Housing exists in other government programs, albeit hidden and largely unexplored in the literature. The temporary housing assistance offered under the disaster aid programs of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) is in effect an entitlement, although not that much money is involved and much of it is reimbursed by insurance proceeds. Federal aid for foster care—in effect a houser of last resort for children from troubled families—may also be legitimately described as an entitlement; almost 80 percent of the federal government’s $4.7 billion child welfare expenditures go to foster care (Russakoff 1998). Finally, and perhaps most important, the significant portion of the Medicaid (an entitlement) expenditure set aside fornursing home care constitutes a quasi-Right to Housing based on age. (Redfoot 1993)."  [Hartman 1998]. 

[from Bratt & Hartmann 2006:]
"In 1989, the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies assembled a Working Group on Housing (including Chester Hartman and Michael Stone, Emily Achtenberg, Peter Dreier, Peter Marcuse Florence Roisman) that crafted a detailed housing program, put forward in The Right to Housing: A Blueprint for Housing the Nation.
   "That document provided an analysis of the failures of the private market and of government programs similar to what is put forward in this book. And it included a detailed program for preserving affordable rental housing; promoting affordable homeownership; protecting the stock of government-assisted housing; and producing/financing new affordable housing.  First-year program costs—estimated for each element of the program,with administrative costs added—at that time ranged from $29 billion to $88 billion, depending on how rapidly and fully specific program elements were introduced; by way of comparison, at the same time, the highly regressive income tax system for housing provided at least $54 billion in tax breaks for high-income households. The thrust of the various elements was to move substantial portions of the existing housing stock, as well as new additions, into the nonprofit sector(public as well as private)—“decommodifying housing” was the catchword. Annual costswould steadily decrease as this fundamental shift in the nation’s housing stock progressed.

"Congressman Ron Dellums of California introduced the program in the 101st Congress as H.R. 1122 (A Bill to Provide an Affordable, Secure and Decent Home and Suitable Living Environment for Every American Family). Needless to say, it did not pass. At the end of a hearing on the Bill, Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas, then Chair of the Banking, Finance & Urban Affairs Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development,remarked, “What your group haspresentedisinevitably going tohappen. . . . It is imaginative, it is seminal, it is creative.” We agree and hope this book will hasten that day."

Maryland's Social Housing Act of 2019

Carter, Dennis. "Here’s What a ‘Housing as a Human Right’ Bill Looks Like." Rewire News, Feb 20, 2019, 5:23pm. 
About Maryland's Social Housing Act of 2019, created by state delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery), that would create a social housing program to ensure everyone in the state of 6 million people has access to housing. It would create a $2.5 billion trust fund from which the state could create and maintain housing units. The legislation is first of its kind, Stewart said.

“Call it the ‘public option for housing,'” he said.

A social housing system, commonplace throughout Europe, would differ from traditional public housing programs in the United States because it would be open to everyone, varying in price according to a person’s income."  

2019 California 'Right to Housing' debate

In February 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom created a Statewide Commission on Homelessness & Supportive Housing, and named as its chairperson Darrell Steinberg, Mayor of Sacramento. On July 17th, Steinberg wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: "Op-Ed: Building more permanent housing alone won’t solve homelessness in California," [Steinberg 2019a] stating: 

I still believe strongly in the concept of housing first, but I’ve also come to see that focusing primarily on permanent housing is insufficient. We simply don’t have the housing stock necessary to address our current crisis, and building it will take too long and cost too much. We need an infusion of short-term shelter and housing options to serve as a bridge for those currently living on our streets. 

Various housing groups reacted negatively, including National Low-Income Housing Coalition, Housing California, and Destination: Home. In a response to the criticisms, Steinberg published on August 25 a followup, "California should make clear there is a right to housing, not simply shelter" [Steinberg 2019b].  

There are two ways to tackle California’s greatest public safety, public health and humanitarian crisis: homelessness. One way is to marshal resources, build programs, replicate successes, and say, with some justification, that we have helped a lot of people, even if the overall situation isn’t much better. The other way is to define a clear policy, a compelling objective, and the rights and obligations necessary to achieve that objective. Our state’s objective should be clear: Housing is a human right, and having a roof over your head should be a legal right. [...] A right to housing, a right to a roof over one’s head, is a better policy than a limited right to shelter.

However, Steinberg clarifies that by 'housing', he means something different than 'permanent' housing: 

The word shelter implies to many people an unsafe, crowded living space where people linger with little or no help. That’s an inadequate term for the service-rich housing hubs we are describing.  San Francisco calls them Navigation Centers. In Los Angeles, it’s Bridge Housing. In Sacramento, we’re planning to call them Rehousing Shelters. Their sole goal is to help people stabilize their lives and transition to permanent housing.


A few days later, Steinberg tweeted:



2019 Portland State University Homelessness report

see main article Portland State University 2019 Homelessness report


graphic from Right to Housing Coalition (Ontario), 2012


Robert Ellickson

Ellickson, Robert C. [1992] "The Untenable Case for an Unconditional Right to Shelter."  15 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Policy 17 1992.  Available as Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 459: http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/fss_papers/459.

"As homelessness has become a prominent domestic issue, numerous advocates have called for constitutional recognition of an individual's unconditional right to enjoy a minimum level of shelter. I argue here that these advocates have failed to deal with the fundamental fact that a society must maintain incentives to work. Both theory and data indicate that an unconditional shelter right, presumably coupled with ironclad rights to enjoy other material benefits, would be counterproductive, even for the poor. My stance is grounded on policy considerations, not on a preference for constitutional minimalism. Indeed, after criticizing the proposed right to shelter, I will identify and praise two momentous, but little-heralded, original endowments that our current constitutional scheme guarantees to each citizen.
"My remarks will touch on three overarching issues in the design of a constitution's bill of rights. First, should a bill of rights protect only "negative liberties," that is, rights against government intrusions, or should it also affirm specified "positive liberties," such as entitlements to a minimum level of material welfare? Second, should a constitution's bill of rights be complemented with a "bill of duties" that specifies each citizen's civic responsibilities? Finally, what rights in a federal system are appropriately placed only in a state constitution's bill of rights?"


Peter Salins 

Salins, Peter D.  "Comment on Chester Hartman’s 'The Case for a Right to Housing’: Housing Is a Right? Wrong!" Housing Policy Debate, Volume 9, Issue 2 259, 1998. https://www.innovations.harvard.edu/comment-chester-hartmans-case-right-housing-housing-right-wrong.


Although currently neither politically nor fiscally feasible, the notion that access to inexpensive, presumably high-quality housing should be a government-guaranteed universal right would be a terrible idea even if it were popular and affordable. The proposition fails on three counts. It isn't necessary. It doesn't make economic sense. And, most compelling, were such a policy to be implemented, its putative beneficiaries would not thank us. Even if we should not promulgate a right to decent, affordable housing,we want to assure that all Americans have access to decent, affordable housing. Happily, we can count on the private housing market (coupled with rising prosperity) to serve 95 percent of the country's households. Serving the remaining 5 percent requires concerted measures to scale back onerous housing regulations that prevent the private housing sector from meeting the needs of lower- income and untypical households.

Selected organizations

these are [incomplete list of] organizations whose advocacy particularly centers on "Right to housing" concepts. A wide variety of housing and social justice groups refer to the concepts to some degree. 

People's Action

"National grassroots organizing network. We build power for the multiracial working class. #PeoplesWave #HomesGuarantee #Medicare4All #PeoplePlanet1st
The Front Lines of Change.  peoplesaction.org"

-> #HomesGuarantee initiative, seems to have launched in December 2018.  Twitter: #HomesGuarantee.

People's Project

A National Homes Guarantee: Briefing Book

People's Action's proposal, was released on September 5, 2019.  Summary. 

   RENT 6








Cities for Adequate Housing

from Cities for Adequate Housing's "Municipalist Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City."  New York, 16th July 2018: 

Building on the milestones of the New Urban Agenda of Habitat III (Quito, 2016) and the momentum of “The Shift”, a global initiative on the right to housing, the signatory cities below take part in this High-Level Political Forum of the United Nations to follow up on Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by 2030), with the support of UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing. We, the local governments, are the public officials who are most sensitive to the everyday needs of our citizens. In the contemporary world, lack of national and state funding, market deregulation, growing power of global corporations, and increasing competition for scarce real estate often become a burden on our neighbourhoods, causing serious distortions in their social fabric, and putting the goal of ensuring equitable, inclusive, and just cities at risk. We, the local governments strongly believe that all people should have actual access to “adequate housing”, understood by the United Nations as the one that has the correct “affordability”, “legal security of tenure”, “habitability”, “availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure”“accessibility”, “location” and “cultural adequacy”. Nevertheless, real estate speculation, high cost housing, inadequate regulation, socio-spatial segregation, insecurity of tenure, substandard housing, homelessness, urban sprawl or informal urban enlargements without requisite facilities or infrastructure, are growing phenomena that threaten the equity and sustainability of our cities. Given this situation, local governments cannot stay on the sidelines, and need to take a central role. For all these reasons, we call for the following actions.
  1. More powers to better regulate the real estate market
    We demand more legal and fiscal powers to regulate the real estate market in order to fight against speculation and guarantee the social function of the city.

  2. More funds to improve our public housing stocks
    We demand more resources and commit increased investment to strengthen the public housing rental stock in all of our neighbourhoods.

  3. More tools to co-produce public-private community-driven alternative housing
    We are committed to boosting mixed residential solutions, which are neither solely government-driven nor purely based on commercial gain.

  4. An urban planning that combines adequate housing with quality, inclusive and sustainable neighbourhoods
    We are committed to planning mixed, compact and polycentric cities where housing benefits from a balanced context and contributes to the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the urban fabric.

  5. A municipalist cooperation in residential strategies
    We want to enhance cooperation and solidarity within city networks that defend affordable housing and equitable, just, and inclusive cities by boosting long-term strategies on a metropolitan scale.
Download the full text.


National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty

see Tars [2018]. 




Portland: Neighbors Welcome

formed in 2019. 

Portland: Neighbors Welcome site, August 2019



Right to Housing Coalition (Ontario)

Occupy Our Homes movement

Take Back the Land movement

Home Defenders' League (HDL)


See also:



  • Alexander, Lisa T [2015].  "Occupying the Constitutional Right to Housing." 94 Neb. L. Rev. 245 (2015).
    Available at: https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/766.
    "This Article's central thesis is that the conflict and contestation between [U.S. housing rights movements and private property advocates who seek to thwart these movements' efforts] helps forge new understandings of how local housing and property entitlements can be equitably allocated, consistent with the human right to housing and U.S. constitutional norms. While there is no formal federal, state, or constitutional right to housing in America, these movements' illegal occupations and local housing reforms concretize the human right to housing in local American laws, associate the human right to housing with well-accepted constitutional norms, and establish the contours of the human right to housing in the American legal consciousness.' These movements construct the human right to housing in American law by establishing through private and local laws a right to remain, a right to adequate and sustainable shelter, a right to housing in a location that preserves cultural heritage, a right to a self-determined community, and a right to equal housing opportunities for non-property owners, among other rights. By challenging local property rights, these movements also demonstrate how non-property owners, who lack adequate housing, also lack equal dignity, equal opportunity, equal citizenship, privacy, personal autonomy, and self-determination-all norms explicit in the U.S. constitutional order. 
          Note particularly:  
    III. Occupying the American Right to Housing
       A. Eminent Domain for Squatters' Control of Land 
       B. Eminent Domain for Local Principal Reduction
       C. Zoning Micro-Homes for the Homeless

  • Bratt, Rachel G., Michael E. Stone, and Chester Hartman, editors. A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda. Temple University Press, 2006.  Overview, contents, and Introduction.  Google Books.  PDF. ePub.
  • Carter, Dennis. "Here’s What a ‘Housing as a Human Right’ Bill Looks Like." Rewire News, Feb 20, 2019, 5:23pm. https://rewire.news/article/2019/02/20/what-housing-as-a-human-right-bill-looks-like/
  • Cities for Adequate Housing. "Municipalist Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City."  New York, 16th July 2018. https://citiesforhousing.org/. Full text

Cohen, Daniel Aldana. "A Green New Deal for Housing." Jacobin, 02.08.2019.