A short while ago we have decided to bring the European housing crisis to the public’s attention and have a serious discussion. In this article I will bring an important argument: Public International Law.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concludes that the right to housing is included in the right to an adequate standard of living: “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.”
In a study made for the Human Settlements Programme for the International Institute for Environment and Development, they specify that among the right to housing comes other non-material needs as following:
“1. Protection, safety and security;
2. a sense of meaningful belonging to a family, clan, community or nation;
3. respect, self-esteem, approval, human dignity and self-respect; and
4. freedom to allow the fullest development of one’s talents and capacities and actualization of the self.”
At the international level, the discussion about housing problems began in 1976 during the World Employment Conference, and it had adopted a basic need strategy with two essential elements and those are: adequate food, clothing and shelter, services that includes safe drinking water, sanitation, public transport, health, educational and cultural facilities.
It is also noticeable that the right of people to participate in making decisions that would affect their life was recognized as a basic need. Although the right to housing is acknowledged, even in public international law, no specific measures were taken so far. The Commission on Human Rights in Resolution 1986/36 said:
“1. Reiterates the right of all persons to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate housing;
2. Expresses its deep concern that millions of people do not enjoy the right to housing;
3. Decides to continue consideration of the realization of the right to housing…”
In addition to this, the Commission made a call in Resolution 1987/22 to all the member states to make policies that could end this situation: “calls upon all the states and international organizations concerned to pay attention to the realization of the right to adequate housing in carrying out measures for the observance of the IYSH, inter alia, by developing shelter strategies and settlement improvement programmes” The resolution was adopted by all member states, except US and Japan, who both abstained.
As member states that are participants to human rights instrument there is a legal obligation to fulfill these rights under international law.
Among the right to a decent home there are several rights that are in tight relation and those are: the right to a useful and remunerative job, the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation, the right to adequate medical care, the right to a good education.
The importance of housing goes over the physical meaning, representing other functions that give an individual security and shape their personality. I do believe that a community can evolve when its individuals are allowed to develop themselves within. When we “speak of houses, we must also speak as home, the world means both the physical space and the nurturing that takes place there.” Also for those living in crowded places, a lack of privacy can and in most cases cause stress for any family. It is hard for children to do their homework, and for adults to take responsibility for the lack of privacy that is needed for their children’s development, especially because most of the parents are aware of their situation.
A lack of housing or living in difficult conditions creates inequality and social exclusion and with that, step by step, every social problems that comes with it. People that are in the homelessness category face a violation of several human rights, among the right to housing as: the right to not be discriminated, the right to equal treatment, the right to self determination and self realization.
In the education system for example, we cannot compare a child living in difficult conditions with one that isn’t, the first one will have more problems to deal with than homework and their attention will not be fully focused on their development, but on surviving.
The roots of the housing problem are not new and they are deeply implemented in our economic system by the way society works. There is an invisible fight between those who think we have a collective responsibility to promote the general welfare, and those who believe that the general welfare is or should be achieved by an individual’s self-interest, with as little help as possible from the government. I do believe that equality of opportunity is what makes a community stronger, and that the satisfaction of an individual (welfare) will affect their environment for the better.