The Scottish Plan to End Homelessness and Lessons for the Housing Rights Movement in the U.S.
By Eric S. Tars and Caitlin Egleson
16 Georgetown J. Pov. L. & Pol'y 187 (Winter 2009)
Does a place exist where the right to housing is being made real? Indeed, it does, and that place is Scotland, where the Homelessness, Etc. (Scotland) Act of 2003 caps a long term effort by advocates to create the closest thing to the practical implementation of the right to housing the world has yet seen. The comprehensive features of Scotland's housing plan include the right to be immediately housed for all homeless persons and the right to long-term, supportive housing as long as is needed for priority groups - a category that will be progressively abolished by 2012 at which point the right will extend to all. Crucially, this includes an individual's right to sue if one believes these rights are not being met. Complementary policy includes a number of other rights, including the right to purchase public housing units and the ability to sell one's house to the government to avoid foreclosure, but rent it back to allow one to maintain one's residence through financial difficulty, perhaps ultimately repurchasing the home. All of these work together to ensure the right to housing is upheld.
While the Scottish situation is not identical to that of the U.S, and while implementation of the law is not without its problems, the law is certainly a bold step in the right direction, and one that should be examined by housing advocates in the U.S. as a potential model. This article seeks to explain three key features for those who would want to see such a law enacted: how the law came to be, what the concrete mechanisms for protecting the rights are, and how the law is being implemented in practice. The article concludes with a comparison of various features of the Scottish law vs. U.S. law, with a view to proposing potential directions for future advocacy. These include expanding the definition of homelessness so more individuals are protected, requiring adequate planning for the housing needs of all income levels of society, and creating a legally enforceable duty on the government to meet the housing needs of its residents.