Transforming the U.S. Housing System

NESRI joined with a nationwide movement to demand a housing system that meets needs before profits and demands a transformation in our relationships to land and housing. We engaged in this work as a response to government policy at all levels that concerns itself with market values and investment returns above all else, ignoring the primary fact that housing is a human need and a human right.

The solution to this problem is a national understanding of housing as a human right, land democratically controlled by communities, and a public policy that discourages predatory speculation and encourages access to the housing that people need, regardless of income level.

We seek to build a model that fulfills our most fundamental human rights. We will measure our achievements against the following set of principles and call upon our federal, state and local government agencies to also challenge the conditions that lead to homelessness, serial displacement, and extreme rent burdens, and to protect the right to housing by ensuring that policies and practices meet these principles as well:

●     Universality: The right to housing extends to everyone in our society without exception. Barriers and discrimination in access to basic and decent housing whether based on income, documentation status, race, gender, sexuality, family status, or any other factor,must be eliminated.

●     Equity: Because housing is a fundamental right, and not merely a commodity, there must be equitable utilization of housing that ensures existing housing stock is used in a way to meet the needs of all people, rather than fuel profit through market speculation. Other available resources, such as government subsidies and tax breaks that apply to the costs of financing housing, must also be shared fairly.

●     Participation: Residents and communities have a right to democratic control of local resources in an equitable manner that is inclusive of all members of the community, as well as enjoyment of the economic benefits of local development, including employment opportunities.

●     Peace and Dignity: Every person has the right to occupy their home free from harassment, forced eviction, and other threats of displacement, including that driven by development and demolition projects.

The Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights

NESRI's Housing Program was a founding member of the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights, a coalition of grassroots and housing rights organizations working across the country to call on the U.S. government to reclaim its historic commitment to fulfill its obligation to provide adequate housing for everyone. CRNHR united to reframe the debate around housing from one that conceives of housing as a mere commodity to a human rights framework that understands housing as vital to human development and the securement of basic human needs. We aimed to support a strong human right to housing movement in the US to expose the systemic problems in our nation’s housing policies that have led to mass displacements, rising homelessness and substandard conditions, to provide human rights-based policy solutions, and promote models of participatory development build upon human rights principles. The following groups made up the Steering Committee of CRNHR:


CRNHR Members Facilitate Official Mission by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing

Amid a global economic recession precipitated by the U.S. sub-prime lending crisis, from October 22nd through November 8th, 2009, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing conducted the office’s first official mission to the U.S. The Special Rapporteur's mission investigated the foreclosure crisis, growing homelessness, and concerns around low-income housing with respect to public housing and Section 8 rental assistance.

In addition to government meetings, the Special Rapporteur visited communities where individuals and families were facing these problems directly.  In particular, she visited:

  • New Orleans, LA, where residents faced a “second storm” with the depletion of affordable housing options;

  • Wilkes-Barre, PA, where in 2009 the first four sheriff sales in the county included 598 foreclosed properties;

  • Los Angeles, CA, the homeless capital of the nation, with more than 70,000 homeless;

  • Pine Ridge, SD, where 59% of homes on the Indian reservation are considered substandard;

  • Chicago, IL, whose 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness eliminated 18,997 public housing units;

  • New York, NY, where vacant properties in Manhattan could house the city’s entire homeless population; and

  • Washington, DC, where homelessness was up 25% in one year, while budget cuts threatened city shelters.

NESRI and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty coordinated the mission while members of CRNHR facilitated the site visits. The site visits were designed to ensure that those who are impacted by our housing crisis had an opportunity to directly engage with the Special Rapporteur. Rob Robinson, a member of CRNHR, was the chair for the New York City site visit.


CRNHR Conducts Panel at Urban Social Forum

Members of the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights traveled to UN-HABITAT's 2010 World Urban Forum 5. During the week-long event, CRNHR members engaged housing rights activists and leaders from across the world. The Campaign to Restore National Housing Righs also participated in a panel, entitled: "U.S. Government violates the Human Right to Housing" at the Urban Social Forum 2010. The panel discussed the growing human right to housing movement in the U.S. and how the Special Rapporteur’s visit has assisted in building this movement. During the panel, CRNHR members also screened Coming Home: The Dry Storm, a community documentary about the fight in New Orleans for the right to return after Hurricane Katrina. The Urban Social Forum is an opportunity for community activists and leaders from around the world to gather and discuss common issues as well as solutions to housing and other challenges facing communities.