Housing – a Human Right

Photo: Tanya Tull and Rachel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Housing, visit an illegal shelter during her 2009 visit to Los Angeles.

As defined in human rights law, the right to housing does not require nations to immediately ensure that the right is fulfilled; rather, it imposes an obligation on countries to “progressively” realize the right. This means that continuous progress be made to ensure that everyone has adequate housing – whether through private initiatives, government incentives, or direct government intervention.

Human rights law defines the right to housing to consist of seven elements:

1.   legal security of tenure
2.   availability of services, resources and infrastructure
3.   affordability
4.   habitability
5.   accessibility
6.   location
7.   cultural adequacy

 When a nation recognizes the right, it takes on four-fold obligation: to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Governments have the responsibility to enact systems and controls that promote the progressive realization of these human rights – and that do not impede the progressive realization of human rights. 


Partnering for Change believes that “the human right to adequate housing” can become a vital means to engage not only policy makers and local, state and national government, but also the electorate. Our strategies are based within the context of the progressive realization of basic human rights as defined in The International Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

PowerPoint Presentation – Homeless Families & the Human Right to Housing PDF>>

For more information about the Right to Housing movement in the United States and internationally, please go to National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty >>