Why We Promote Housing as a Human Right
Rev. Peter W. Peters, PhD
Why does our Advocacy Team promote the value that housing is a human right? Some time ago, the REACH team adopted this as our foundational value. How did we come to this point of view? Our target population is people experiencing chronic homelessness. Since 2015 each winter, until prevented by COVID in 2020, we have created a winter home for some of this population. Our social work team did their best to find permanent accommodation for many of our guests, but it wasn’t easy. There is not enough safe and supportive housing affordable for people living on SSI or other very low-income sources.
We began to ask ourselves what changes could make it easier for our guests to find permanent housing. Public assistance with rent through Section 8 has a long waiting list, and many landlords will not accept DHS emergency rapid rehousing allowances. While we successfully placed 40% or more of our guests into permanent housing, it became apparent that there was a housing crisis for people living in extreme poverty in our community.
We learned that no one was building for people living below 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI). One developer said there is no way to build housing for people who do not have 60% or more of the AMI. Then we looked at the statistics gathered by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition and found that in Rochester, for every 100 individuals or families living on a very low income, there were only 33 housing units available. Clearly, market forces were not going to address the problem of the gap between very low-income people and the cost of rent in our city.
Many of our guests have mental illness and/or ongoing addiction issues that limit their capacity to improve their situation. While none of us want to go back to criminalizing those who suffer from mental and addiction disorders by locking them up, we believe there must be a more humane way to house our guests. We also realized that our guests would be much more able to improve their lives if they had safe, supportive, and genuinely affordable houses or apartments.
As we researched the history of housing in the US, on page 16, we found that President Roosevelt spoke of every American having the right to a home in his 1944 State of the Union address to Congress. Soon after Roosevelt’s speech, the United Nations declared that housing is a human right.
To say that housing is a human right is to link housing to those essential aspects of human living that we, in the past century, have come to realize are fundamental rights. Why not speak of housing as a human right, a right to be protected and supported by judicial and governmental agencies? This pursuit of human rights is natural to our history—as a nation, we have worked at ever-expanding our understanding of human rights.
For this reason, REACH became REACH Advocacy, hoping we could help change the narrative around housing. As we understand it, housing is not simply a matter of capital wealth. Housing is the basis of how we create our homes. As we served our guests, we came to believe that every human being has the right to have housing that they could make into a home.
What is next? REACH plans to build a Tiny Home Village, allowing our guests to create their own homes with supportive services. We do several things for ourselves as we turn a house or apartment into a home. Here are three very briefly described values to homemaking: First, and central is that we express our identity as we fill the home with memories to tell our story; Second, our home becomes a place of celebration of this identity as we entertain and form relationships with our neighbors; and Third, our home provides security, stability, and a sense of belonging.
REACH is committed to the notion that every person has a right to this opportunity to create a home for themselves, and society must ensure that genuinely affordable housing is available for all our neighbors. As we continue to change the narrative around housing, we invite all our supporters to join in helping with this campaign. There are several ways you can do this:
- Begin a discussion group in your community to explore this topic.
- Let your political leaders know your support for creating genuinely affordable housing.
- Write a letter to the editor about the housing crisis and the need for more options for people living in extreme poverty to find housing.
- Join groups that are trying to change the narrative around housing. Among those are:
- Follow online organizations that seek to improve housing justice in the US. Among those are:
Housing is a human right! Please keep the conversation alive and make it louder.