Helping Improve U.S Housing Through International Standard Setting

The economic and foreclosure crises have severely limited the availability of shelter and adequate housing in the United State and as a result, have exacerbated our nation’s homelessness crisis. Many individuals and families are forced to create their own shelters and sleep in public places without a send of security in their housing or over their belongings. Moreover, individuals experiencing homelessness are routinely penalized and harassed for life-sustaining activities they have no choice but to engage in due to their homelessness. These problems reflect global trends, and international human rights experts are taking steps to uphold the rights of poor and homeless persons.


Over the course of the last year, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing has been conducting an extensive, two-part study on security of tenure. Security of tenure is a central element of the right to adequate housing and compels countries to provide legal protection from forced evictions and harassment. The global tenure security crisis, however, is not limited to forced evictions. In fact, it has taken multiple forms including displacement resulting from development projects, natural disasters, and conflicts, land grabbing and insecure tenure arrangements for urban dwellers.


The Special Rapporteur is focusing her study on the human rights obligations of countries to secure tenure and whether there are current policies in use that can be promoted as positive examples. The first phase of her study was completed in 2012 with the culmination of a report on the right to adequate housing and non-discrimination as key elements of the right to an adequate standard of living. Still in progress, however, is the second phase where the Special Rapporteur is consulting with countries and advocates, like NLCHP, emphasizing tenure security for urban poor.


NLCHP has submitted a report to support the Special Rapporteur in her assessment of tenure practices in the United States. Our analysis commends the U.S. for taking initial steps to respond to tenure insecurity including the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, specifically Title V, and by enacting the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosures Act. Our report also encourages the U.S. government to increase protections. One offered suggestion is the conversion of vacant properties into community land trusts, creating affordable housing for those in need.


As Congress debates deeper cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget, comprehensive support for security of tenure and an end to homelessness in the United States is more urgent than ever. With the help of NLCHP’s report, the Special Rapporteur’s complete security of tenure study, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014, will be a useful tool for domestic advocates as they combat these crises across the nation.

-By Nicole McAllister

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