Housing as a right, but not yet protected by US Constitution

December 9, 2012

PORTLAND, OR December 7, 2012–Members of Right 2 Dream Too and supporters will hold a press conference and rally at Portland City Hall at 10am on Monday, December 10, United Nations Human Rights Day. Right 2 Dream Too has maintained a self-sustaining rest area for people who are houseless at NW 4th and Burnside since October 2011. Even though the site provides emergency shelter to dozens of people every night at no cost to the City of Portland, the City’s Bureau of Development Services continues to fine the landowners for code violations related to recreational camping ordinance. After months of negotiations, testimony before City Council and public rallies there is still no resolution to the conflict between Right 2 Dream Too and the City.

“Housing is a human right, which is why this event is on Human Rights Day,” says Lisa Fay, an organizer for the group. “Why is the City fining our successful project that provides shelter, is cost-effective, democratic, and builds community? It should be replicated, not fined. On December 10, 2012 we will announce a new level of fightback against the City’s unjust policies.”

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: ‘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.’

The Universal Declaration is a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which creates a high expectation that it will be taken seriously. However, a declaration does not create obligations that are technically binding in law. Nevertheless, since the Universal Declaration is so widely used as the primary statement of what are considered human rights today, it is often regarded as having legal significance and considered “customary” international law and as the authentic interpretation of the references in the UN Charter.

The specific rights in the UDHR have been codified into the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). A covenant is a treaty which, under the rules of international law, creates legal obligations on all states that ratify it.

Article 11(1) of the ICESCR also guarantees the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. The ICESCR, ratified by 145 other countries, was signed by President Carter on October 5, 1977, and sent to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. The Senate, however, has yet to even consider the covenant. Advocates should contact their senators and push for ratification of these important international human rights treaties, and then continue to push for the full implementation and enforcement of the rights embodied in these instruments. The results of such advocacy would go far in improving the living conditions of all persons.

Supremacy Clause: Article VI, US Constitution: “The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Note: A “Declaration” does not create treaty obligations, but a “Covenant” does. The US has not yet ratified the “International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights” even though President Carter signed the Covenant in 1977. Thus, 35 years later, it awaits a US Senate ratification (2/3rd vote).


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