The subject of housing constitutes an issue of human rights. The international laws, national laws and the significance of a secure place to live for human dignity, physical and mental health reveal some of the human rights implications of the housing.
The right to housing is universally viewed as one of the most basic human needs. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises adequate housing as part of the right to an appropriate standard of living.
The United Nations argues that adequate housing must provide more than four walls and a roof. Some conditions must be met before a particular form of shelter can be considered to constitute “adequate housing.”
Minimal Elements for Adequate Housing
The following minimal elements must be guaranteed at all times for housing to correspond to the international law:
-Legal security of tenure;
-Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure;
-Access to safe drinking water and sanitation;
-Affordability, including for the poorest;
-Habitability, and protection from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind and disease vectors;
-Accessibility for disadvantaged groups;
-Location, far from polluted sites or sources of pollution;
-Near to health-care services, schools and other social facilities.
Thus, the right to housing entails that these elements must be guaranteed and enjoyed by everyone.
Thus, according to CESCR,
“the right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restricted sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one’s head or views shelter exclusively as a commodity. Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.”
The CESCR contains perhaps the most significant global legal source of the right to adequate housing:
‘The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right, recognising to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.’
Beyond the problems of housing, perhaps what is most worrying is the condition that house may be in. Imagine, the UN estimates that there are more than a billion persons throughout the world have no access to potable water, and 2.6 billion persons have no access to basic sanitary installations.
These people live in unhealthy and unworthy conditions; millions among them die each year, including some 1.8 million children who die of diarrhoea.
Inadequate housing leads to the violations of numerous human rights in such areas as employment, education, health, social ties and participation in decision-making among others.
For instance, the possibility of earning a living can be severely impaired when a person has been relocated to a place away from employment opportunities.
Besides, if houses and settlements have limited or no safe drinking water and sanitation, their residents may fall seriously ill.
The right to housing can be affected by the extent to which infrastructure and lifestyle services are guaranteed. For example, access to the house is most at risk for those denied the right to education, work or social security.
Human rights are interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. Therefore, the violation of the right to housing may affect the enjoyment of a wide range of other human rights and vice versa. Thus, accommodation can be a precondition to assess the satisfaction of several human rights, including the rights to work, health, social security, vote, privacy or education.