Friday marked another small step for activists in the long term movement to have a real dialogue about the human right to housing in the U.S.  Despite blizzard conditions, over 80 people came and participated at the New York City UPR listening session (see previous post for discussion of process), with high-ranking government representatives.

One of the most compelling moments of the day was when Arthur Wood offered his testimony of his forced eviction from his home and studio in New York, the Broken Angel, with the ashes of his recently deceased wife being held by his son next to him.  She had passed away in large part due to the stress of their eviction. It brought into sharp focus how the right to housing for many is literally a matter of life and death. Many others offered similarly personal and touching testimonies.

And, as I said in my testimony, although President Obama has said “it is unacceptable for families and children to be homeless in a country as wealthy as ours,” the testimonies and the statistics make it clear we do accept this every day.  And members from the State Department delegation continued to express the Bush-era mantra that the U.S. is already in complete compliance with all its U.N. treaty obligations, and economic and social rights were covered only as a courtesy.

Clearly there is more work to be done, and there’s plenty more I could critique about the process for developing the consultation.  But Jennifer Jones, Advisor to the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Public and Indian Housing at HUD, said that the Obama Administration acknowledges it is not doing everything it could to ensure the right to housing, and also that HUD Secretary Donovan believes housing is a human right and shares that mission with all in the agency.  That frank acknowledgment, and that spirit of engagement within human rights frame are an important base upon which to build a new conversation around housing rights. So I’ll try to leave with that note of optimism, and at a minimum consider us one small step closer to the right to housing.

-Eric Tars, Human Rights Program Director

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