Housing Is a Human Right

U.S. housing advocates can and should use international human rights standards to reframe the public debate, craft and support legislative proposals, supplement legal claims in court, advocate in international forums and support community organizing efforts.

by the National Law Center On Homelessness & Poverty

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the United States had adopted a “second Bill of Rights,” including the right to a decent home. The United States signed the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, recognizing housing as a human right.

Since that time, the concept of the right to housing has been further developed at the international level. However, the United States has fallen behind the rest of the world in making this right a reality. France, Scotland, South Africa and Ecuador have adopted the right to housing in their constitutions or legislation, leading to improved housing.

Recent polling indicates that over 50 percent of Americans strongly believe that adequate housing is a human right, and two-thirds believe that government programs may need to be expanded to ensure this right. Nevertheless, government policies have not traditionally treated housing as a right, and thus the housing needs of the most vulnerable Americans have gone unfulfilled.

U.S. housing advocates can and should use international human rights standards to reframe the public debate, craft and support legislative proposals, supplement legal claims in court, advocate in international forums and support community organizing efforts.

The right to housing has been developed through a number of international treaties and other documents. First included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the right to housing was codified in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966. The United States has signed, but not ratified the ICESCR, and thus is not strictly bound to uphold the right to housing as framed in that document.

However, the United States has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which recognize the right to non-discrimination on the basis of race or other status, including in housing.

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