The right to housing is the economic, social and cultural right to adequate housing and shelter. It is recognized in many national constitutions and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The right to housing is recognized in a number of international human rights instruments. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes 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.||”|
Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also guarantees the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living.
In international human rights law the right to housing is regarded as a freestanding right. This was clarified in the 1991 General Comment no 4 on Adequate Housing by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The general comment provides an authoritative interpretation of the right to housing in legal terms under international law.
What is the Human Right to Housing?
Everyone has a fundamental human right to housing, which ensures access to a safe, secure, habitable, and affordable home with freedom from forced eviction. It is the government’s obligation to guarantee that everyone can exercise this right to live in security, peace, and dignity. This right must be provided to all persons irrespective of income or access to economic resources. There are seven principles that are fundamental to the right to housing and are of particular relevance to the right to housing in the United States:
Security of Tenure: Residents should possess a degree of security of tenure that guarantees protection against forced evictions, harassment, and other threats, including predatory redevelopment and displacement.
Availability of Services, Materials, Facilities, and Infrastructure: Housing must provide certain facilities essential for health, security, comfort, and nutrition. For instance, residents must have access to safe drinking water, heating and lighting, washing facilities, means of food storage, and sanitation.
Affordability: Housing costs should be at such a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised. For instance, one should not have to choose between paying rent and buying food.
Habitability/Decent and Safe Home: Housing must provide residents adequate space that protects them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, or other threats to health; structural hazards; and disease.
Accessibility: Housing must be accessible to all, and disadvantaged and vulnerable groups must be accorded full access to housing resources.
Location: Housing should not be built on polluted sites, or in immediate proximity to pollution sources that threaten the right to health of residents. The physical safety of residents must be guaranteed, as well. Additionally, housing must be in a location which allows access to employment options, health-care services, schools, child-care centers, and other social facilities.
Cultural Adequacy: Housing and housing policies must guarantee the expression of cultural identity and diversity, including the preservation of cultural landmarks and institutions. Redevelopment or modernization programs must ensure that the cultural significance of housing and communities is not sacrificed.
The Right to Housing is protected in:
- Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
- Article XI (11) of the American Declaration on Rights and Duties of Man
The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has issued general comments on the right to housing.
Additionally, United Nations Special Rapporteurs are appointed to investigate human rights issues in countries around the world. In 2004 and 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing issued press releases about the threat to the right to housing in the United States. In 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing made the office’s first official visit to the United States.
- Special Rapporteur’s Solidarity Statement for residents of Chicago’s Cabrini Green, December 10, 2004
- UN Experts call on U.S. Government to halt ongoing evictions in New Orleans, February 28, 2008
- Media Advisory on UN Special Rapporteur’s Official Visit, October 20, 2009
To see NESRI publications on the human right to housing click here
To learn more about a human rights approach to housing and participatory development click here