By Jackie Smith, Intro by Cheryl Bauer
The US Human Rights Cities Alliance and national human rights organizers are encouraging local organizers around the country to share with local and state officials the text of a letter written by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Housing, Leilani Farha, to the United States and other governments earlier this year. In this letter, Farha explains how government policies, particularly those following the 2008 financial crisis, contributed to mass displacement of low-income urban residents and fueled a global housing crisis.
Below is the text of a letter the Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance has been directing to local, county and state officials whose work impacts the availability of affordable housing in our region.
We encourage NewPeople readers to help us make sure our public officials hear this message. To get involved in local housing justice work, attend our next meeting, Saturday June 29 at the East Liberty public Library (10:15AM- 12:00 noon).
Dear [various public officials, including elected representatives at City, County and State levels and Planning Commission members]:
As you consider upcoming legislation and policy related to economic development and affordable housing, I write on behalf of residents who are working to promote human rights in our region to remind you that the affordable housing challenges in our region reflect an unprecedented global housing crisis that has direct links to the 2008 financial crisis.
This point is made very clearly in the text of a letter written by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Housing, Leilani Farha, to the United States and other governments earlier this year. An important conclusion in Farha’s message is that the affordable housing crisis results from a particular set of policy decisions that have privileged elite interests while neglecting the basic needs of other constituencies.
In her letter, she warns national leaders that many of their regulatory, taxation, and housing policies contradict national obligations under international human rights treaties and standards.
We provide Farha’s letter here, and we hope you will consider this carefully in your policy planning and deliberation. As you know, state, county, and municipal leaders have an obligation to enforce U.S. international obligations and to protect internationally recognized human rights, including the right to housing.
Ms. Farha cites the following specific violations in her letter to the United States, and each of these relates directly to many state and local policy decisions:
-Financial supports and tax breaks that encourage the institutional investment in housing undermine government’s responsibility under international law to ensure access to adequate housing for the most vulnerable populations.
-Failure to enact legislation to ensure adequate supplies of affordable housing, such as rent control and policies linking housing prices with minimum wage regulations.
-Disproportionately impacting African American households and other minority groups, contrary to the U.S. government’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Her letter goes on to conclude:
To address the issue of financialization and its impact on the enjoyment of the right to housing, your Government must develop policies and laws that include a full range of taxation, regulatory and planning measures in order to re- establish housing as a human right, promote an inclusive housing system, prevent speculation and limit the extraction of profits at the expense of tenants.
This will require a transformation of the relationship between your Government and the financial sector, whereby human rights implementation becomes the overriding goal.
We are eager to work with you to try to find approaches to development and planning so that we can better achieve these goals. We note too that we are working with policy makers and activists across the country to encourage similar responses to Farha’s message.
We want our region to help lead the way to the development of urban policies that make our communities “most livable” for every resident. We should aspire to the challenge posed by international leaders to make human rights the overriding goal of our policies, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full human potential.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance
Jackie Smith is professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and co- coordinator of the Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance. She serves on the steering committee of the US Human Rights Cities Alliance.