Housing justice is the notion that all people have the right to safe, affordable housing without threat of displacement resulting from gentrification. A community meeting Saturday March 2, 2019 began the process of “Movement-building for a Just and Livable City for All”. Various local groups and activists were in attendance to begin planning an approach to tackle the issues plaguing Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities.
Discussion focused on existing work and ways to build on experiences of different groups to promote affordable housing, resist displacement of residents, and advance human rights in our region. A key concern was how we can move from reacting to threats towards promoting transformative change that addresses the growing gap in affordable housing. There was agreement that we need to work to shift the policy discourse away from market-based housing and towards the recognition that housing is a human right. Until leaders and the wider public understand housing as a basic human right, we will not be able to stem the displacement of residents. The discussions led to a proposition to go a step further and frame this as a “housing bill of rights”—this would broaden the base to include rights for homeowners (many of whom are essentially renting their homes from a bank), and to recognize the legitimate rights of landlords.
Four key areas of work were identified: building residents’ collective power, democratizing policy and planning processes, shifting policy and public discourses towards a human rights-based approach, and supporting alternatives to market-based housing. The public can support these initiatives by connecting with any of the groups involved in this work. Some suggestions for implementing work in these key areas are listed here for quick reference:
Build Collective Power:
Build and support tenants’ union organizing being led by the Landless People’s Alliance (https://www.facebook.com/ PghLandlessPeople/).
Support Affirmatively Forwarding Fair Housing (AFFH) Task Force Recommendations. Now that the task force work is concluded, it is up to us to make sure our politicians follow through on the Affordable Housing Task Force Recommendations submitted to the city in May 2016.
Promote a city/county/state tenant bill of rights. Washington, DC implemented a bill of tenants’ rights successfully in 2014, and it ensures the tenants’ rights of all city residents.
We need politicians and the public to see housing as a human right. Our homes should not be treated as real estate, and our communities should not be treated as commodities.
Democratize Policy and Planning Process:
Ensure community participation and consultation by reform of existing practices to ensure robust and transparent social impact assessments and meaningful community participation in planning and development. Residents must be consulted at the start of new development proposals.
We need to oppose the recent decision to limit participation in development and planning processes to “Registered Community Organizations.” A list of these organizations can be found here: https:// http://www.publicsource.org/pittsburgh-ordinance-registered-community-organizations/.
Build Community Resources:
Promote and develop community land trusts and housing cooperatives to establish collective control over access to housing.
More information can be found at the Homes for All website, https://homesforall.org.
See also the framework set forth in the New Social Contract (https://www.nesri.org/ initiatives/ansc), a culmination of efforts by the National Ecomomic and Social Rights Initiative.
Helping connect the groups already working along these areas and building mutually supportive strategies is critical, as well as engaging the community and leaders to invest in these goals. The effort to join forces across the region has made clear the need for a space to discuss ways to build a broader movement to support the human right to housing. A meeting will be planned in April to help develop strategic thinking for the Affirmatively Forwarding Fair Housing Task Force Report strategy session, which will be in May.
Affordable Housing & Housing Justice Work in our Region
Affirmatively Forwarding Fair Housing Task Force- http://pittsburghpa.gov/chr/affh/
Affordable Housing Task Force Recommendations – http://apps. pittsburghpa.gov/chr/Affordable_Housing_ Task_Force_Recommendations.pdf
Pittsburgh United Affordable Housing Roundtable- http://pittsburghunited.org Celeste Scott leads this roundtable, which meets on alternate Wednesdays at 1:00PM at the Pittsburgh United Office: 841 California Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Landless People’s Alliance/ Pittsburgh Regional Tenants Union –The Alliance is working to organize renters in the city and region to build our collective power to defend rights of tenants and to expand affordable housing in our region. https:// http://www.facebook.com/PghLandlessPeople/
Hill District Consensus Group- http://www. hdcg.org/ –Works in the Hill District to organize and inform residents.
Resources on Housing Justice
Pittsburgh Housing Summit, Housing Justice Resources Page: http://www.housingsummitpgh.org. This site has a number of links to resources that provide background on the housing crisis and its causes as well as solutions.
Alternatives to Market-Based Housing
Yes! Magazine: The Affordable Housing Issue- https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/ affordable-housing
National Economic & Social Rights Initiative New Social Contract– https://www.nesri.org/ initiatives/ansc
by Cheryl Bauer, a member of the New People editorial collective.