Opening the Door to the Human Right to Housing
The Universal Periodic Review and Strategic Advocacy for a Rights-Based Approach to Housing
Over the course of 2010 and early 2011, an extraordinary series of events opened the door to discussion about housing as a human right in the United States. The Universal Periodic Review (Review) began with a nationwide consultation process involving thousands of community participants and culminated in an international review of human rights in the United States in Geneva in November. At this review, the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) affirmed for the first time the relevance of an international human rights mechanism to its role in setting domestic housing policy. Five months later, again for the first time, the State Department, in consultation with HUD, supported recommendations on affordable housing and protecting the rights of homeless persons, among others, in response to the Review. The following week, the State Department announced a re-embrace of economic and social rights, including the right to housing, after seventy years of treating them as second-class rights.
While the reality for the millions of Americans facing foreclosure, eviction, or homelessness remains grim, these policy statements are more than rhetorical changes. They reflect a recognition that the right to housing, based in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, is relevant to domestic issues ranging from our response to the foreclosure crisis to the criminalization of homelessness. A growing movement for the human right to housing made up of lawyers and grassroots advocates worked for this recognition as the groundwork for a new kind of housing policy, one based in our obligations to realize housing as a basic human right.
Here we look at the successes for the right to housing in our nation's first ever Review in the context of this growing movement. In each section we first briefly discuss the steps of the Review process and then detail the way housing and human rights groups strategically used each step for our advocacy. We also discuss the outcomes of the process and analyze the government's involvement. We conclude by presenting opportunities for future advocacy to move us closer to realizing the human right to housing in the United States.