Housing as a human right

Housing advocates have repeatedly made the call for brave, creative solutions for Sacramento’s growing homeless and housing crisis. Stakeholders have laid on the table many proven solutions, including immediately resourcing and building new homes affordable to the most vulnerable Sacramentans and preventing further displacement of our neighbors.

But to fully gather the support needed to proceed, we need to adopt a new paradigm in framing our crisis, one which shows compassion to our neighbors and sets a clear, established standard to measure our commitment as a region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asserts the human right to adequate housing. Adequacy here consists of seven core elements: security of tenure; availability of services, materials and infrastructure; affordability; accessibility; habitability; location near opportunity and away from pollution and danger; and cultural adequacy.

Security of tenure includes the tenure of “informal settlements, including occupation of land and property.” All people ought to have “legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats,” something to keep in mind as Sacramento County discusses ramping up anti-camping ordinance enforcement along the American River, or as our undocumented neighbors face increased harassment from their landlords, while our state legislature debates the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act of 2017.

A sign in a resident’s window at Mutual Housing at Lemon Hill in Sacramento advocates for affordable housing. [Photo: Dave Kempa]

As our partners at Sacramento Area Congregations Together remind us, evictions are another form of deportation for these tenants. Sacramento has recently reaffirmed its commitment to being a sanctuary city and backed it up with a commitment of public funding. But usefulness of such commitments is necessarily limited when the average immigrant family can afford to live in fewer and fewer Sacramento neighborhoods, eviction protections are overtaxed or non-existent, and Sacramento landlords and property managers can legally threaten to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on their tenants’ children, as area residents have reported to us.

The clear, well-defined standard the UN sets for housing as a human right is at odds with the common paradigm–which describes housing as a commodity, a piece of infrastructure, and views the creation and preservation of affordable housing as charity. The perils of not recognizing shelter as a human right, as a neighbor’s home, are clearly proven.

Treating homes as commodities allowed for the creation of mortgage-backed securities, which gave us the 2008 recession. Now, again, Wall Street has moved to commoditize rental housing in the same way.

Blackstone is the world’s largest real estate manager. It has the largest private portfolio of single family homes in the country and in California. This company owns over 1,500 homes in the Sacramento area. Tenants with Wall Street landlords such as Blackstone can expect to see  higher than average rents, less attention paid to maintaining their homes and swifter evictions.

The growing housing need in Sacramento demonstrates that, to truly realize the human right to housing, we need to fundamentally rethink our approach.

Sacramento residents discuss affordable housing at the Tenant Town Hall on July 15, 2017. [Photo: Sacramento Housing Alliance]

Knowing a home as a human right, and not housing as a commodity, compels us to move forward in the face of flagging political will, a short news cycle and a daunting housing need. It provides a yardstick to measure how far we have to go. It urges us to commit to finding new local and state revenue sources to make up for the Sacramento region’s loss of over two-thirds of the funding we used to have available to create affordable homes.

Framing housing as a human right forces us to fight for robust tenant protections, such as just cause eviction protections, acknowledging the fact that more than half of Sacramento residents are now renters. It encourages us to preserve public land for public good through reuse of city, county and Regional Transit land as shelter locations or affordable housing sites.

By remembering that housing is first and foremost a home, we must include affordable homes in publicly assisted developments, dedicate land to community land trusts and prohibit discrimination against people who pay for their home through Housing Choice Vouchers.

Most of all, with the paradigm of a right to a home, we are forced to evaluate all of our decisions–personal and political–about places people call home by asking whether it allows more of our neighbors to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.

Readers interested in housing as a human right can attend the Regional Affordable Housing Summit, hosted by the Sacramento Housing Alliance on Monday, Oct. 30. For more information, contact Aileen Joy, Communications & Events Director, at aileen@sachousingalliance.org.

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Veronica Beaty, Policy Director at Sacramento Housing Alliance since 2013, is passionate about lifting up people and places to build a more just society. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Public Policy from Mills College.

Aileen Joy joined Sacramento Housing Alliance in 2017 as the Communications & Events Director. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Literature and a commitment to stable, healthy homes for all, her passion is using language as a tool to end homelessness.

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Veronica Beaty
Aileen Joy