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.

Art by David Adams

Art by David Adams

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.