"A Right To Shelter"
… or maybe not
The most common reaction of opponents of the idea that housing is a right is "oh yes, and who's going to pay for it … you mean I have a right to pay for my housing and you have a right for me to pay for yours too?"
The first thing to say is obvious … that a right to housing is debatable
… but less obvious is the nasty possibility that that is actually intentional … a red herring to preoccupy advocates for those lacking housing in a never ending unresolvable fight that keeps them permanently distracted from a hidden deeper agenda.
Too cynical of me? … too elaborate a game for "our betters" who drafted the UN Declaration to have designed?
The "commonness" of that negative reaction to "housing is a right" should tell us that either the message is wrong, badly worded … or calculated to cause unending opposition.
"Rights" were under fierce discussion in the drafting of the Declaration. Opposition to this particular right certainly would have been a predictable reaction, & it's one which promoters of capitalism are still happy to reinforce.
We know the drafting of the Declaration involved LOTS of lengthy discussion among the most successful (ie. rich) & very brightest minds of the time … they were very astute people.
They composed that Declaration, & would have known the wording "a right to shelter" was guaranteed from the outset to be controversial … to entrench tension … a tension that would always force people into two camps.
It thereby entrenches ongoing debate & so it distracts us from questioning the validity of the parameters its authors want to preserve. It entrenches the debate AND it limits the boundary for the debate.
A "right to shelter" seems to mean that if you need housing, you have a right to expect someone else to supply it as "welfare" or out of "charity".
Neither welfare nor charity is tolerant of "abusers" or "bludgers" … & that's another potent dynamic that the statement also reinforces about the deserving & undeserving poor.
The context is capitalism, which the wording seeks to universalise by using particular terms in order to CONTAIN the idea of "rights". To reinforce an unstated agenda & to ensure that no "right to shelter" can interfere with it, the Declaration goes beyond manipulation to specify that people have a legally enforceable "right to property", the cornerstone of capitalism.
The significance of this for the landless poor is that "property", which they can't afford, denies them rightful access to a free gift of nature … indeed for most of us, getting secure access to land for shelter requires us to serve "capital" for life (or until we've fully paid off the mortgage).
That's a hidden agenda for this very debatable "right to shelter" wording.
Worse still, the "right to shelter" for the landless poor is promoted as "achievable OVER TIME" … depending on the wealth & budget priorities in any given country or government. So not much of a "right" at all really … & it always remains open to challenge … as intended⁉
Advocates for those lacking housing would be wise to go back to first principles & look for a much less debatable statement to help win the cause.
For example, the "right to life" is undeniable. If it means anything, it must mean a right to nature's free gifts to each & every one of us to sustain life … & so to build shelter for ourselves. If we have a free right to life, who could say we don't have a free right to BUILD secure & safe shelter SOMEWHERE? … where we are born? … where we must go to? … even where we choose to live?
Now, IF you want someone else to take responsibility for building, materials & maintenance, that IS subject to a "price".
We see in PUBLIC housing that a low rent approximates a suitable payment for land IMPROVEMENTS it makes for tenants upon free access to public land.
So establishing a right of access to land & a right to build for yourself would leave no budgetary excuses for delay in delivering on that undeniable right, because public land can be made available immediately.
It's the right to self build shelter that adds real pressure on government to build public housing, rather than having to train & supervise self builders in skills it has systematically destroyed over time through its demand that we all serve its system in more PROFITABLE ways (…to "Earn or Learn")
Now in case you think this is a pro socialism or an anti capitalism rant, it's clear the system has delivered great benefits … but it's not all roses. It's undeniable that it's also created great problems by operating out of control. Climate change springs to everyone's mind today … & homelessness.
Let's give the "right to shelter" a much sounder foundation so it is "actionable" by the landless poor … & let's reconsider the duty that goes with a land right in order to keep it sustainable. That duty is to LIVE sustainably upon the land.
The internationally accepted definition of sustainable developments is
"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"
The UN Brundtland definition 1987
Society as a whole URGENTLY needs to see a viable and SUSTAINABLE way to live a modern life well.