Fighting for the Right to Affordable Housing

“There is a human rights crisis in the U.S. that can no longer be ignored... millions of Americans are unable to secure one of their most basic rights — the right to adequate housing.” — UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing
The right to affordable housing is a right recognized by the United Nations and several national governments, but not the United States. Photo by Tom Lowe

The right to affordable housing is a right recognized by the United Nations and several national governments, but not the United States.
Photo by Tom Lowe


By Rocky Neptun

Throughout history, every human right has had to be fought for against powerful interests that profit from the subjugation and misuse of their fellow persons.

The right to vote was opposed by kings and emperors and is still occasionally nullified by millionaire judges, as in the 2000 Presidential Florida vote count, and in San Diego, when Donna Frye was elected mayor by a majority vote only to have a judge hand the victory to a fellow judge.

The right to decent working conditions was a fight which saw many decent people jailed, beaten and slaughtered. People died for advocating an 8-hour workday, unemployment insurance, and the right to form associations of workers.

Black people in the South were told that segregation was the “way things were and nothin’ could be done about it,” and those who organized endured jail sentences, beatings, bombings, assassinations, and attacks by police dogs. And women in the early years of the 20th century were jailed and beaten for asking for their rights as equal human beings.

The right to affordable housing is a right recognized by the United Nations and several progressive national governments, including Canada and England.

However, in the United States, powerful corporate interests and landlord associations manipulate the political system, bribe the corporate-owned media, cozy up to wealthy judges — all of whom are homeowners, mostly millionaires — to create a wall of sanctity around rent extortion.

Everyone must live somewhere, occupy some physical space. If a person has no money or high-income job to purchase a house, then they must rent. The oligarchy which controls San Diego, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area — economically, politically and, even, to some extent, culturally — will tell you that there is nothing an individual can do about the rental housing market.

Driven by the greed and power of the banking, insurance and Wall Street cartels in New York and Washington, they will tell you that wealthy investors in these institutions deserve bail-outs to the tune of $700 billion in taxpayer money; and that socialism for the rich is ok through handouts, tax cuts, tax loopholes, mortgage deductions, interest credits and a hundred other give-away programs conjured up by an army of lobbyists, lawyers, and accountants.

These titans of greed, with their corporate-owned capitalism, have destroyed the free enterprise system, torn away the fabric of Main Street economies, decimated our mom and pop stores, obliterated the family farm, bought off independent journalism, and continue to peddle their snake-oil economics which favors monopolies, cartels, the demolition of competition and the dismantling of democracy.

Now, they will tell you that you are helpless against the forces of the market economy, and that profit is more important than the needs of the community. Then, they will claim that the right of your family and neighbors for affordable housing is not possible — given “market conditions.”




“All human rights start at home, but only if you have one.” — UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing






The San Diego Renters Union declares that we cannot continue to rely on our present political and economic systems to solve the problems of the 21st century because, mostly, these systems are the problem. These systems are simply human arrangements. Yet they have been seized by wealthy speculators who have hired lobbyists to buy off politicians and judges to make sure they have free rein to oppress those without the funds to buy property.

They would have us compete for shelter, rather than build cooperative housing projects, because — like the sickos who bet at a cock fight — they can profit from the struggle. They would leave us abandoned to stand alone, each family at the mercy of a landlord or property manager, helpless, forced to pay their extortion payments, with no recourse to fairness or justice.

In March 2010, the United Nations heard its envoy report that the United States’ housing rights violations were “staggering.” The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing informed the world body that “there is a human rights crisis in the U.S. that can no longer be ignored… millions of Americans are unable to secure one of their most basic rights — the right to adequate housing.”

The report of the UN Special Rapporteur, following a two-week visit to the United States, blasted all levels of government and called for urgent measures to address the housing crisis. “All human rights start at home, but only if you have one,” the report said.

The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, reacting to the UN report, called on the U.S. government to recognize housing as a human right and ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (often called the ICESCR Treaty).

The conclusions of the report presented a tragic failure of public policy:

* About 12.7 million U.S. children (one in six) live in households spending more than half their income on housing. The HUD definition of affordable housing is a family spending no more than 30 percent of its income on housing.

* Cuts in government funding for low-income housing, along with the demolition of thousands of public housing units, have led to a decrease in the quality and availability of subsidized housing for the poorest American families.

* The economic crisis and significantly increasing numbers of foreclosures are driving up homeless rates across the United States.

“The conclusions in the UN report provide further evidence — if any is needed — that the United States’ citizens desperately need the protections afforded by the International Treaty on Housing Rights,” said Salih Booker of the world housing watchdog group.

Beginning in early 2011, the San Diego Renters Union will hold a series of public meetings with tenant organization leaders from throughout the state and rent control board members from other cities in California, to plan a strategy for the upcoming struggle to secure the right to affordable housing for every San Diegan.

The San Diego Renters Union will struggle in any way we can to get the right to affordable housing implemented in San Diego, both in the laws of our city and in practice through a Rent Stabilization Board.

Any landlord, developer, investor or speculator who enters into a project in the public domain for profit has a responsibility to the community to be fair and just. Only a regulatory agency, like those which monitor our utility costs and increases, can safeguard every tenant’s right to have affordable housing.

Rocky Neptun is the director of the San Diego Renters Union.

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