Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, December 4, 2009

Excerpts For Housing Rights

Favela Slum, painting by Adalardo Nunciato Santiago.
I have selected these excerpts, considering the growing population of homeless, even in most developed countries.

The last paragraph about discrimination is not a myth. Though, it is prohibited by law, Realtors simply say that there are no available lots or houses in certain “white neighborhoods”, at least it happens in some areas of new “hidden” neighborhoods in the mountains of California. It is easy to lie when people does not have the habit to search in the web the “for sale” signs. In another cities, the trick is so simple as to change the lot coverage, make it so restricted that homeowners or new buyers do not have any other choice to grow than making additions in second story to accommodate to their necessities, along the years, the poor ones are relocated.

From UNESCO website
"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." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Paris 1948, art. 25)
Most poor people are disadvantaged and endangered by the places and physical conditions in which they live. They experience precarious shelter, problems of overcrowding, sewage and pollution, seasonal exposure to the worst conditions, insecurity of person and property, remoteness, non-existent or inadequate infrastructure, including in terms of access to drinking water, and stigma. Poor housing reflects - and deepens - deprivation.

Homeless woman in Nashville. By Wayne Andrews
The right to adequate housing should not be understood narrowly as the right to have a roof over one's head. Rather, it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. This right has a number of components, including the following:

(i) Legal security of tenure: everyone should enjoy legal protection from forced eviction, harassment and other threats;

(ii) Habitability: housing must provide inhabitants with adequate space and protection from the elements and other threats to health;

(iii) Location: housing must be in a safe and healthy location which allows access to opportunities to earn an adequate livelihood, as well as access to schools, health care, transport and other services;

(iv) Economic accessibility: personal or household costs associated with housing should be at such a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not compromised;

(v) Physical accessibility: housing must be accessible to everyone, especially vulnerable groups such as the elderly, persons with physical disabilities and the mentally ill;

(vi) Cultural acceptability: housing must be culturally acceptable to the inhabitants, for example reflective of their cultural preferences in relation to design, site organization and other features;

(vii) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure that are essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition, such as safe drinking water, sanitation and washing facilities.

Untitled. Slum series, painting by Charles Ngatia, Africa

Adequate housing is fundamental to survival and to living a dignified life with peace and security. Without adequate housing, employment is difficult to secure and maintain, physical and mental health is threatened, education is impeded, violence is more easily perpetrated, privacy is impaired and relationships are strained.
Despite the centrality of housing in everyone's life few human rights are violated as frequently as housing rights. In every country throughout the world - North and South - women, men and children, particularly those living in poverty, are forced to sleep rough, to live on pavements, in slums, parks, cars, cages, on rooftops, under bridges or to "squat" in abandoned buildings or on land owned by others. For those fortunate enough to have a home, all too frequently these places may provide some protection from the elements, but remain grossly inadequate, lacking potable water, proper drainage and sewage systems, ventilation/heat, electricity and access to basic social services. All of these denials of housing rights are intensified in situations of armed conflict or in the face of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
No one really knows for sure, but the United Nations estimates that over 100 million people worldwide are without a place to live and that more than one billion people worldwide are inadequately housed.

Throughout most of human history, refugees and others displaced during war stood little or no chance of ever returning to or re-inhabiting their original homes. During the past decade, however, protecting the housing, land and property rights of refugees and IDPs has been increasingly treated as a fundamental human rights concern. In post-conflict situations, restitution is now widely seen as an essential element of peace-building, reconciliation and reconstruction. It is a treated as a primary means of reversing ‘ethnic cleansing’, conflict-induced displacement and considered vital to securing a war-torn nation’s future social, political and economic stability.
The right to housing, land and property restitution to be considered is a legal remedy under international human rights law. It is a core component of the right of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to voluntarily return to their original countries and places of origin.
COHRE’s work on housing, land and property restitution began in 1998 to strengthen the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons to the restitution of their original homes. COHRE has worked on these issues concerning Albania, Bhutan, Burma, Colombia, Croatia, East Timor, Guatemala, Georgia, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, the United States and others. COHRE works closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and refugee groups themselves to promote greater attention to and enforcement of housing, land and property rights.
Not only is the right to housing one of the most developed economic, social and cultural rights in terms of content, but a number of the constituent elements of the right to housing are adjudicated in courts of law, tribunals and other legal and quasi-legal forums on a daily basis.
General comment. No. 4 adopted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, identifies six specific areas within the right to housing that are capable of judicial scrutiny: legal appeals aimed at preventing planned evictions through the issuance of injunctions; legal procedures seeking compensation following an illegal eviction; complaints against illegal actions carried out or supported by landlords in relation to rent levels, dwelling maintenance, and racial or other forms of discrimination; allegations of any form of discrimination in the allocation and availability of access to housing; complaints against landlords concerning unhealthy or inadequate housing conditions; and class action suits in situations involving significantly increased levels of homelessness.

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