December 10 is Human Rights Day, a global day of recognition of the basic rights that are fundamental to all human beings. At the Law Center, we’re taking the opportunity to update our report card on U.S. compliance with the human right to housing for 2012. While there are some bright spots, I’m sorry to say that overall the grades are poor. We have much work yet to do, and I hope we can count on your support going forward.
Safe, decent, affordable housing is a basic human right, recognized globally and defined with specificity in international law. But while the U.S. was a leader in establishing and championing international human rights law and institutions over 60 years ago, and continues to speak out as a leader on the global stage, unfortunately here at home our words do not match our reality.
This year, over 10 million Americans slept in shelters, on the streets or other public places, or doubled-up with friends or relatives—because they could not afford a place of their own. Those forced to exist in public places must not only brave the elements, but risk arrest under laws that criminalize them simply because they have no home. It’s an injustice that we and our allies across the country fight every day.
Many more are in their homes—but in precarious settings lacking security of tenure. They include renters living in foreclosed properties who, through no fault of their own, are at risk of summary eviction and homelessness. We advocated successfully to win unprecedented federal legal protections through the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, but our monitoring reveals continued violations by banks and others—and the federal government has not held those violators accountable. So we can’t let up, and our advocacy continues—to ensure security of tenure for these tenants, one of the seven elements of the human right to housing.
Our report card reviews the U.S.’s performance against all elements of the human right to housing. And while the report is not a good one, the past year has some bright spots too. One is the condemnation by the Administration of the criminalization of homelessness in a groundbreaking report by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Justice—and acknowledgement that it implicates not just constitutional rights but also human rights. The report and the language came after our vigorous advocacy, and mark a step forward.
At the state level, Rhode Island set a national example with the first-ever Homeless Bill of Rights. States are subject to human rights obligations too, and this initiative—spurred by our colleagues at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless and the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, and with our support—is an important step forward. Already, legislation is now pending in California and we look forward to continuing our work there and with many other partners and allies elsewhere in the coming year.
We have much to do to build on the bright spots and fight to hold our government accountable—and to realize the human right to housing here in the U.S. Thank you so much for your support.