A term used for large luxury condo buildings that function primarily as investment opportunities and are thus often left unoccupied. At night, these tall buildings will stand dark against the night sky, as there is no one inside them to turn on the lights.
A court-ordered removal of a tenant from the property in which they reside. While not all evictions are a violation of the human right to housing, evictions into homelessness or that result in homelessness due to a lack of sufficient access to housing, is a violation of the human right to housing.
The increase in size and importance of a country’s financial sector relative to its overall economy.
When housing is used as a place to park, grow, leverage, or hide big money.
There are a myriad of ways housing is used as a financial tool to the detriment of everyday renters and home buyers. Some of the methods used include:
– The purchasing of residential land or properties by corporations that then sit empty until the price of that land or property increases and can be sold for profit. This is known as land speculation.
– Short-term stay companies like Airbnb and Vrbo, which decrease the availability of long-term housing for local residents by converting homes to short-term holiday lets specifically for financial gain. You can hear more about the extent to which this can impact a housing market in season 2 episode 10 of Pushback Talks, Greece without the Greeks.
– The purchasing of large numbers of homes by private landlords to generate income. These landlords will often spend less on improving building conditions or undertaking repairs in order to maximize their profits. The popularity of this practice has skyrocketed in recent years and often goes unregulated by governments.
The process whereby a historically poor or working-class neighborhood gradually changes as wealthier residents move in. These wealthier residents attract high-end businesses, which in turn attract more upper-class residents. Eventually, this influx of new residents, businesses, and amenities drives up demand for housing in the area, increasing the cost of housing until the working-class residents are pushed out of the neighborhood due to inaffordability.
There is no internationally agreed definition of homelessness. Definitions range from the narrow—equating homelessness with “rooflessness”—to the broad, based on the adequacy of the dwelling, the risk of becoming homeless, the time exposed to homelessness and responsibilities for taking alleviating action.
For statistical purposes, the United Nations has defined homeless households as “households without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters. They carry their few possessions with them, sleeping in the streets, in doorways or on piers, or in any other space, on a more or less random basis.” The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing has noted that narrow definitions are inadequate and that in developing countries the most common definitions recognize that an element of social exclusion is part of the experience of the homeless. UN-Habitat underlines in this respect that homelessness implies belonging nowhere rather than simply having nowhere to sleep. Given the lack of a globally agreed definition of homelessness, limited data are available about the scale of this phenomenon, which in turn impedes the development of coherent strategies and policies to prevent and address it.
In addition to the descriptions provided above, homelessness also encompasses:
Invisible homelessness: Those who wish to be, or who previously have been, living independently, but come to depend on friends, family, or acquaintances for housing and would be otherwise unable to keep a roof over their heads. Individuals in this predicaments are often forced to sustain unhealthy relationships (romantic or otherwise) to preserve their housing. Although this type of homelessness can take many forms, an example of this might be someone whose only alternative to homelessness or living in a shelter was to move in with an abusive family member.
Inadequately housed: Those whose accommodation does not meet their full housing need. A few examples of this are: families forced to live in units that are much too small due to budget constraints, housing that does not provide access to basic amenities like a kitchen, and or housing that is not properly secure against the elements or possibility of intrusion. The complete tenets of housing adequacy are listed under the definition for the Human Right to Housing.
UN Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), Fact Sheet No. 21(Rev. 1), The Right to Adequate Housing. All fact sheets are available online at http://www.ohchr.org.
Human rights are legal provisions intended to ensure all people are able to live with dignity, safety and security. These rights are inherently and universally given, meaning they are given to all of us equally simply because we exist and are not granted by a state. Human rights law specifies the treatment or conditions that people are either entitled to receive, or that they are protected from being exposed to.
For more information on the human rights we are each entitled to and the laws that guarantee them, visit https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/pages/whatarehumanrights.aspx
The human right to adequate housing is recognised in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Any State that has ratified either or both of these two agreements is required to recognize the human right to adequate housing under international law. The characteristics of adequate housing are clarified in the UN Committee of Economic, Social, & Cultural Rights General Comments No. 4 and No. 7., as well as Fact Sheet No. 21.
Housing must meet a number of criteria to be regarded as adequate. These criteria have been authoritatively set out as:
– Legal security of tenure: people should be protected against being removed from their homes or the land which they occupy without appropriate legal recourse.
– Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: housing should have facilities necessary for health, security, comfort, and nutrition and should provide access to, for instance, safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.
– Affordability: the cost of people’s housing should be comparable to their income, with subsidies provided to people whose housing is regarded as unaffordable. Generally, housing costs are considered unaffordable where they amount to more than 30% of someone’s income.
– Habitability: housing should be sufficiently spacious, guarantee the physical safety of residents, and should protect residents from hazards such as inclement weather, fire and disease.
– Accessibility: housing must be accessible to everyone who is entitled to live there, including people with disabilities, as well as members of other disadvantaged and marginalized groups.
– Location: housing should be located in areas with access to employment opportunities, services such as healthcare and schools, and other important social facilities.
– Cultural adequacy: housing policy and construction must enable residents to retain integral aspects of their cultural heritage. This is an important consideration when, for instance, governments seek to determine how to ensure adequate housing for Indigenous Peoples.
Human rights are not vague or general statements of what people are entitled to. When a government incorporates human rights into domestic law or signs on to international or regional human rights treaties, it also must accept obligations regarding the way human rights are realised.
In the context of the human right to housing, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that a government must ‘take steps … to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognised….’ This obligation has three main parts which can be broken down as follows:
– States must ‘take steps’: States must do something – they cannot simply avoid implementing policies or laws which are necessary to secure the right to housing. They must be continually moving forward in their objective of ensuring all people have adequate housing.
– States must ‘use the maximum of available resources’: States are required to use all the resources (both financial and otherwise) they can possibly make available to secure the right to housing.
– States must ‘progressively realise’ the right in full: While states must continually move forward towards providing adequate housing, providing fully adequate housing to all may take time. Therefore, policies introduced to bring about the full realization of the right to housing may be implemented over a period of time. However, states must prioritise those who are most in need of adequate housing (such as people who are homeless) and ensure they are provided with adequate housing as soon as possible.
Any form of housing, shelter, or settlement which falls outside of government control or regulation or is not afforded protection by the state. Many of these settlements are considered illegal and are thus vulnerable to action by the government. States with large informal populations can and have evicted thousands of people in order to make use of the land for profit, often without providing new housing for those evicted.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw an increase in both the population size of existing informal settlements as well as the total number of informal settlements around the world.
When governments commit to securing the right to housing, they commit to using all the resources they have available or can make available in order to progressively realize the right to housing. This includes assessing budgetary allocations for their ability to progressively realize the right to housing (ex: police spending vs. spending on housing), assessing whether all resources that may be available have been levied (taxation), and assessing the impact of corruption on the level of resources. Resources are also not just about money, they are also about investing time, people, and capacity.
In working towards progressive realization (see below), states cannot revoke access to any currently enjoyed right. For example, if a homelessness assistance program provides shelter to someone who was previously sleeping rough, that person’s living circumstances should only improve from there. If they end up sleeping rough again, that is considered retrogression.
The idea that States must work continually toward the fulfillment of economic, social, and cultural rights obligations to the maximum extent possible in the face of economic resource constraints.
Think of it like having a savings goal; if you make a final goal to save $100,000, then you plan to save a consistent amount over time to reach that goal with a clear timeline. That timeline will vary depending on how much you can save at a time. You might also consult a financial professional to create the strongest plan possible, and schedule check-ins periodically so you can track your progress and see if you need to make changes to your plan in order to stay on schedule.
In the same way, if a State has agreed to recognize the human right to housing, it must then make a plan to steadily and consistently work toward that goal with a clear timeline and measurable benchmarks. The State should also consult with experts in the right it is attempting to fulfill as the plan is created to make sure it’s comprehensive and effective.
As part of progressive realization, governments must take immediate, urgent actions to protect the most vulnerable and marginalized. When talking about the right to housing, these actions include:
The timeline and scope of endeavors by a government to address an issue must be proportionally sufficient to the magnitude and urgency of the problem. The size and nature of the solution needs to fit the size of the problem.
A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns, operates, or finances income-generating real estate. Modeled after mutual funds, REITs pool the capital of numerous investors which, in addition to private corporations, can include pension funds and unions (yes, the pension funds people pay into for retirement and the unions that support workers’ rights). By pooling capital it becomes possible for these investors, which are often corporate entities and not people, to earn dividends from real estate investments—without having to buy, manage, or finance any properties themselves. It is in the best interest of these investors that the properties owned by REITs generate more money (AKA if the building value goes up and the tenants pay more in rent).
Because many countries have laws against drastically raising the rent while a unit is under contract and against evicting a tenant just to list the same unit at a higher rent, REITs will often engage in something called “renoviction.” This is when a tenant is evicted primarily so the unit can undergo minimal renovations to then be rented out at a higher rate.
Many people belong to or support unions, pension funds, or other institutions that invest in REITs without knowing.
A fund which invests in weak debt in order to then sell the debt for a larger amount.
Expropriation, sometimes also called Eminent Domain, is when the government takes ownership of property or land for public use or benefit. If you’ve ever ridden a city subway or driven on a highway, you’ve used resources built with expropriated property or land. Every country has different laws and policies surrounding the use of expropriation.
When the government needs land or property to create a service or good that will benefit the public, like building a subway line, they purchase what is needed and fairly compensate the previous owners for any losses or damages that arise from the expropriation.
The idea is that when the larger population has great need of certain resources that the government will be able to procure those resources for the sake of the greater good.
Expropriation is not the same thing as socialization, which grants government the right to precipitate change on a scale large enough to influence an entire sector. That sector must then also be democratically managed to be considered socialized. See the two examples below for further clarification.
Expropriation of Housing
Let’s say the government has decided to increase the supply of affordable housing in the heart of the city. To do this, they purchase several apartment buildings from their current owners and provide compensation for the buildings. The government then prices the apartments at an affordable rate and establishes an application process for residents to apply for one of these apartments now owned by the government. The properties are then managed through the appropriate government office.
Socialization of Housing
Now let’s imagine that a motion was passed to socialize housing in the same city. In this case, the government would purchase/build enough affordable housing to influence the entire housing sector. Privately-owned rental properties could continue to set their own price, but if enough publicly-owned housing is set at an affordable rent, then privately owned apartments would need to be priced competitively to avoid losing their tenants to the more affordably priced socialized government housing.
These housing units would also be democratically managed, meaning residents have a say in how the apartments are run.
For more on the differences between expropriation and socialization, check out the DW Enteignen episode of PUSHBACK Talks.