The Right to Housing

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for [herself or himself] and [her or his] family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.

Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

What is the Right to Housing

Everyone has the right to housing. Adequate housing, as a component of an adequate standard of living, is fundamental to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights. It should not be understood as being limited only to basic shelter. Instead, States should advance appropriate national frameworks to realise this right, including addressing immediate threats to housing, developing policies and practices to respond to the long-term housing needs of changing populations, and regulating housing provision by the private sector.

In its General Comment 4, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) provided detailed guidance to States regarding their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing. The Committee also noted that the right includes the following seven interrelated and essential features: 

  • Legal security of tenure. Everyone should have a level of security in their housing situation to protect against forced or arbitrary eviction, harassment and other threats. Such protection may take varying forms, such as legal ownership, rental or cooperative arrangement.
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure. States must ensure that housing contains the facilities necessary for health, security, comfort and nutrition. This includes sustainable access to natural and common resources, safe drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, means of food storage, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services.
  • Affordability. Housing and housing-related costs should be commensurate with income levels, and at a level that does not compromise other basic needs. States should establish housing subsidies for those unable to obtain affordable housing, put in place protections for tenants against unreasonable rents, and ensure availability of natural materials in societies where such resources are the main sources used to build housing.
  • Habitability. Adequate housing should provide its inhabitants with sufficient space, be safe to live in, and give protection from cold, heat, rain and other elements of nature, and structural hazards. States should pay particular attention to the links between inadequate housing and threats to health.
  • Accessibility. Everyone should have access to adequate housing, especially the most vulnerable. States should offer housing priority to disadvantaged groups including, among others, the elderly, children, persons with disabilities, the terminally ill, and victims of natural disasters. States should develop appropriate housing frameworks to increase access to land by landless or impoverished sections of society.
  • Location. In many cases, in both cities and rural areas, transportation can be expensive and time consuming. Adequate housing must be in a location which allows access to employment options, health and education facilities, and other social services. Houses should not be built in unsafe or polluted locations.
  • Cultural adequacy. Home building materials and construction must be connected with the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing, as appropriate to the communities within the particular context. Efforts to modernise housing should take into accounts the beliefs as well as developing needs of the inhabitants.

In its General Comment 7, CESCR confirmed that forced evictions can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances and in accordance with relevant principles of international law, such as theBasic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement. Among other things, States must ensure legal safeguards including non-discrimination, non-arbitrariness, due process and procedural fairness, including consultation and participation in decision-making, access to remedies, compensation, and adequate rehousing.  

Photo: NESRI.

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