Housing as a Human Right

Last month, the United Nations assigned an official “rapporteur” to the task of investigating affordable housing in several United States cities, including New York, to see if the lack of affordable housing constituted a human rights violation. Most Americans associate human rights violations with other countries, generally in the developing world, and certainly not within our own bustling and modern City of New York. But if we consider a safe, affordable place to live as a right of all Americans, then New York is grossly depriving over 100,000 people each year from a basic human right.

Coalition for the Homeless recently released a staggering new analysis of the numbers of homeless people in New York City. Each night, more than 39,000 New Yorkers have no place to call home–including more than 16,000 children. Many of these homeless are working families who have no social supports to fall back on and just don’t make enough to afford a place of their own. This past year has been the worst on record for modern homelessness in New York City. Since 2002, the number of homeless people in New York City shelters has increased by 45 percent.

In 2005, the Bloomberg administration cut homeless families off from receiving priority for scarce federal housing resources, including Section 8 vouchers, that provide a long-term solution to many families facing an inability to pay skyrocketing rents. Looking at homelessness from its most basic view as a housing problem–as the United Nations is currently doing–it should be more than obvious that the City government should reverse this policy and start re-allocating housing vouchers and other forms of affordable housing to our homeless neighbors.