The Human Right to Housing

Housing and homelessness are human rights issues—and that can be an organizing strength.

International models

Advocates can also look to international models such as Scotland and South Africa.

Scotland passed its Housing and Homelessness Acts in 2001 and 2003, and they include the right to be immediately housed for all homeless persons and the right to long-term housing as long as is needed for priority groups — a category that will be progressively abolished by 2012 at which point the right will extend to all. This includes an individual right to sue to enforce the law. Homeless people are placed in public housing or offered accommodations with subsidized landlords (similar to project-based Section 8 or Section 8 vouchers in the United States). Other legal provisions complement this law, including the right to purchase public housing units and the ability for homeowners to sell their house to the government and rent it back to maintain their residence through financial difficulty, perhaps ultimately repurchasing the home.

Communities are also required to plan for their affordable housing needs. According to Shelter Scotland, a major Scottish service and advocacy group, as the 2012 date approaches, implementation of the law has varied, but some localities have already achieved 100 percent housing for all homeless applicants.

South Africa explicitly guarantees a right to adequate housing, to be read in accordance with international human rights standards, as well as a ban on unjustified evictions, in its 1996 Constitution. While battling ongoing resource distribution problems, South Africa has developed some of the most progressive case law in protecting the right to housing. This has included orders to municipalities to find housing for squatters before they can be evicted, and orders to the police to rebuild the shacks of those living in slums that they had destroyed, despite the tenants not having formal title to the land.


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