Almost 1 billion people around the world live in slums, characterized by substandard housing, living conditions, overcrowding, and basic services (if they exist). Those without adequate housing often face other problems and human rights violations, such as threats of violence, forced eviction, and a lack of education, health care, safe water etc. The right to housing isn’t just a human right, but it’s also considered a social, economic, and cultural right.
How is Housing as a Human Right Defined?
Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights discusses housing, but only briefly. Below if the pertinent text from the article:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services.
Although the Universal Declaration doesn’t explicitly say this, international human rights law says that the right to housing includes protection from eviction and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status or family status. This is critical because in 29 states, you can still be evicted from your home or denied housing because of your sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. In these states, even if you got married in a state that recognizes gay marriage, since the federal government doesn’t recognize gay marriage you can still be evicted or denied housing legally.
Forced evictions are part of this as well, although they apply to the United States as well as the rest of the world. Forced evictions are a problem because people are forcefully evicted but then receive no compensation or alternative for their lost, and this primarily happens to minority communities. Oftentimes, these evictions happen without notice, where people are thrown in prison and/or beaten if they protest or try to move back after they’ve been evicted or their house has been demolished. Those who go through a forced eviction are often left without help, and authorities do little to enforce the law or to allow these people to speak to the them about what happened. Once evicted, many of these people and families face additional violations.
Poverty and Human Rights
The lack of housing is both a cause and a consequence of poverty and human rights violations, but is much tougher to address as housing as a human right involves more than making sure everyone has a roof over their head. It’s also about providing the basic services in slums i.e. clean water, good lighting, roads, a healthy sanitation system, and access to services. It’s also about ensuring that such housing can fit everyone in the family, that it isn’t going to fall apart, and that it’s not going to be taken away by the government or anyone else without just compensation and/or a suitable alternative.