We are failing more than one billion people across the world. Every day that goes by with thousands and thousands of families without an acceptable place to call home is a day when we have collectively failed to deliver on people’s universal Right to Adequate Housing.
It’s the girl who has to miss school because she has to fetch water for her family. It’s the single mother who spends four hours commuting to two different jobs. It’s the HIV-positive 15-year old boy whose daily life is shaped by gang leaders instead of teachers. And the slum dweller who is helplessly forced out of his shack. We are failing each and every one of them.
Today, we commemorate Human Rights Day, a chance for local and national decision-makers to reflect on their policies and practices on housing. We often forget that Adequate Housing is a universal legal right, and it means a lot more than four walls and a roof. According to international standards, seven key factors must be taken into account and met: Do people have security of tenure? Do they have access to basic services such as safe water, sanitation and waste disposal? Is the home affordable? Will it protect its residents against physical and natural hazards? Is it accessible to people with disabilities and the marginalized? Is it well connected to the job, educational and cultural opportunities nearby? And, last but not least, is it culturally adequate?
Still, today, too many violations of this fundamental right take place routinely across the world. It is estimated for example that at least two million people in the world are forcibly evicted every year, while millions more live with the fear of being forcibly expelled because they have no security of tenure. Women, people with disabilities, children, displaced persons, the elderly, and people living with HIV/AIDS are particularly at risk. They often experience discrimination and suffer from limited access to land or property, tenure insecurity, precarious livelihoods, disease, violence, and higher vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters. All this is closely linked one way or another to where they live.
As such, the Right to Adequate Housing is an entry door to the enjoyment of many other fundamental rights. Governments must therefore refocus their attention and reposition Housing at the centre of their decision-making to ensure that their people enjoy the right to live in a secure home in peace and dignity. To achieve this for all and without discrimination requires strong political will at the national and at the local level, with extensive public intervention on policy and programming as well as heavy financial investments.
UN-Habitat has been advocating for the Right to Adequate Housing for all for decades and helping Governments fulfill their obligations through – to name a few – a handbook on housing for persons with disabilities and older persons, a report on women’s access to housing, and a comprehensive review of policies, programmes and practices regarding urban indigenous peoples and migration. Additionally, hand in hand with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN-Habitat is helping combat forced evictions worldwide with a handbook to assess the impacts of evictions, and by promoting a human rights-based approach towards evictions and urban development.
We must do right by the millions of people whose rights are baffled every day. Adequate housing is a cornerstone for accessing many other opportunities and basic rights and, in many ways, it defines who we are and who we can be. Only by finding ways to secure adequate housing for the millions who are still coping through inadequate solutions, will we be able to build sustainable cities that are inclusive and truly for all.