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UN Review of United States Reveals Severe Shortage in Affordable Housing

Earlier today, with the knowledge that a majority of Americans fear for their ability to pay their mortgage or rent , the United States underwent its first-ever Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council.  The UPR was a rigorous examination of U.S. human rights policy, and has demonstrated that the U.S. has a long way to go in order to live up to its human rights obligations.

“We welcome the U.S. government's engagement with the Human Rights Council as an excellent way to lead by example on human rights,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.  “But this engagement internationally must be matched with a commitment to bring human rights home to the U.S. This is especially important for our most vulnerable populations – people fearing eviction or foreclosure, or those already on the streets.”
 One of the most glaring issues identified by the Council was the failure of the U.S. to ensure the human right to housing.  This comes as no surprise.  Last spring, in preparation for the UPR, the U.S. State Department held consultations with advocates and experts across the country.  At a May training on the UPR process in DC, David Sullivan, Attorney-Adviser at the U.S. State Department, was asked what human rights issue he thought was most urgent based on the consultations.  He said, “We have heard more about housing than you would believe in these sessions. If I had to pick the number one issue brought to the U.S. it would be housing.” As millions of Americans are sliding into poverty and homelessness, advocates continue to assert that federal intervention is necessary to ensure housing rights.

Housing rights violations at both the local and national level have already brought international scrutiny.  In her March report to the Human Rights Council , the UN’s top expert on housing rights, Raquel Rolnik, observed that the U.S. has been cutting public housing funding for years.  Still, the report issued for the UPR by the U.S. State Department fails to acknowledge the severity of this problem or the voices of those affected by it.
 In response, a coalition of national and local housing organizations, coordinated by the National Law Center and including USACAI, member of International Alliance of Inhabitants, delivered concrete recommendations for ensuring Americans’ housing rights, including: 1) expanding federal programs making vacant properties available for use as housing; 2) placing a moratorium on demolitions of public housing; and 3) ending policies, such as lifetime bans for minor arrests, that prevent people from accessing public housing.

By participating in the UPR, and contributing to the report, the USACAI members are ensuring advocates and affected persons at the local level have a voice in this key international process. Meanwhile, the IAI continues to monitor and be a voice in this key international process.  They will work to ensure the U.S. government is held accountable to its obligations, and that recommendations issued through the UPR are fully implemented.

The Universal Periodic Review process holds all UN member nations accountable to international human rights standards.  Each country is reviewed every four years.  This morning, representatives from the U.S. expounded on its report and answered direct questions from the Human Rights Council and other UN member nations.  Based on this testimony, the Council will prepare an outcomes report identifying areas of concern in U.S. human rights policy and recommendations for how it can better comply with international standards.
 On November 9, the U.S. will respond in writing to concerns raised through the UPR and indicate which recommendations it will accept.  The Council’s report, and the U.S.’ written response, will then undergo edits before formal adoption in March 2011.
 “There’s clearly a long way to go before Americans’ housing rights are ensured,” said Foscarinis, “We and our partners are committed to holding the federal government accountable to the Human Rights Council’s recommendations.”

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