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:

There are also United Nations committees (“treaty bodies”) made up of experts that oversee the implementation of particular human rights treaties. These committees oversee the treaties by, among other things, receiving government reports on the implementation of the treaties, making comments to the government reports, and issuing general comments about the treaties or specific rights contained therein.


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.

Further Resources

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

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