Miriam Webster defines civil rights as “the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress.”
The 14th amendment explicitly states: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Therefore, housing is indeed a civil right; it is necessary for quality of life. In fact, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by the UN in 1948, housing is included as a human right. However, the implementation and enforcement of this right is dubious, especially in the United States.
According to the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), “Everyone has a fundamental human right to housing, which ensures access to a safe, secure, habitable, and affordable home with freedom from forced eviction.” They go on to list seven principles that must be maintained to ensure adequate housing, including affordability, accessibility, and cultural diversity.
The National Housing Institute says that currently, we have a limited number of rights in the housing area (including things like due process in foreclosure, laws against discrimination, and Section 8 housing), but that we are far from a right to quality, affordable housing for all. They go on to say that, while other civil areas have received nationwide, long-term plans to correct issues, no such program exists regarding housing. The only exception is that some states commit to a 10-year plan to end homelessness. They propose some significant first steps toward establishing a right to housing for all including affordability standards that take into account the resident’s other monetary needs, physical condition and space standards, and housing security standards.
I did find a common link through all these organizations: they all make it clear that the issue of housing as a human right has been ignored and is still being ignored, albeit less so. One of the main reasons for this is that the more fortunate of us never have to experience the issue. The closest most of us ever come is seeing panhandlers on the street. Things like gated communities and extreme economic and cultural segregation have contributed to the invisibility of this issue.
When do you think the last time a rich family of home-owners in Darien has seen, or much less spoken to, someone without reliable housing? How can we begin to solve this issue if most of us don’t even realize it exists?
By Daniil Chupalov