Housing Facebook Chat

Housing Facebook Chat

Amnesty: Live Facebook chat today at 1pm ET on our Wall! Ask our experts how we can fulfill housing as a human right by addressing forced evictions, the criminalization of homelessness, the foreclosure crisis, and more.

Mayra Gomez: Hi everyone, my name is Mayra Gomez and I am the Co-Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. I have worked for several years on international housing rights issues, particularly with respect to women and housing rights. There is a lot of work to do to ensure that housing as a basic human right is enjoyed throughout the world and I am looking forward to chatting with all of you shortly on the Global Housing Rights Crisis!

Eric Tars: Hi AI Watchers, I'm Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children's Rights Programs at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and have been working to bring a human rights perspective to housing issues in the U.S. for the past 5 years, bridging the gap between the international framework and domestic policy. For more background on our work check out our report, 'Simply Unacceptable': Homelessness and the Human Right to Housing in the United States: http://nlchp.org/view_report.cfm?id=357 . Looking forward to chatting about housing as a human right in the U.S., and all around the world!

A: 1 billion people live in slums worldwide. 1.6 million homeless in the US. Find out how you can help protect housing as a human right. CHAT LIVE right now with Eric Tars and Mayra Gomez on our Facebook Wall!

Question: Hi, I'm Mandy and I have some questions. At first, would you please explain: What does it mean to say housing is a human right?

Answer/MayrA: Hi Mandy, thanks for the question. I think it's important to recognize that housing is a human right, and that without housing people cannot live a life of dignity. The right to adequate housing iis included in the international human rights framework, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, housing rights issues, because they are so interconnected with other human rights issues, have also been read into other international legal instruments, as well.

A/Amnesty: For more on Housing as a Human Right see: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/campaigns/demand-dignity/housing-is-a-human-right

A/Eric: According to international standards, the human right to housing consists of seven elements: security of tenure; availability of services, materials, and infrastructure; affordability; accessibility; habitability; location; and cultural adequacy. Human rights law requires that the progressive realization of the right, to the maximum of the country's available resources, in a non-discriminatory manner. The government can use a wide variety of measures, from market regulation to subsidies, public-private partnerships to tax policy, to help ensure the right. Implementing the human right to housing would not require the government to immediately build a home for each person in America or to provide housing for all free of charge. But it does require more than some provision for emergency shelter -- it requires an affirmative commitment to ensure fully adequate housing, based on all the criteria outlined above.

Q: Thank you for answering my question. I also want to say that your blog is very interesting. I was very shocked when I read some articles, e.g. about the women in Nairobi who are too scared to pee in the evening and at night. Keep it up!

A/MayrA: Yes - that's a serious issue, and again it underscores the interconnectedness of housing rights issues with other human rights issues. It's also interesting to note that in its most recent Concluding Observations on Kenya, for example, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern over "the situation of women and girls living in urban slums and informal settlements and who are under threat of sexual violence and lack access to adequate to sanitation facilities, which exacerbate their risks of being victims of sexual violence and impact negatively on their health."

A/MayrA: For those who are interested, here is the report which Mandy is referencing: KenyA: Insecurity and indignity: Women's experiences in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR32/002/2010

A/A: FYI, here's the original blog post http://blog.amnestyusa.org/africa/women-in-nairobi-too-scared-to-pee/

Q: How many people's human rights are affected by housing issues?

A/MayrA: Well, I think all of us are affected by housing issues. Worldwide, about 1 billion people live in inadequate housing, and about 100 million are estimated homeless.

A/MayrA: The other thing which I find really staggering to think about is the scope of global slums. In the world today, about half of the human population lives in cities. About one out of every three people living in a city worldwide is a slum dweller.

A/Eric: Prior to the foreclosure crisis and economic recession, homelessness was already a national crisis in the U.S., with 2.5 to 3.5 million men, women and children experiencing homelessness each year, including a total of 1.35 million children and over a million people working full or part time—but unable to pay for housing.

Since then, homelessness has increased dramatically:

  • In 2010 alone, family homelessness rose at a shocking average of nine percent in U.S. cities.
  • In the year from 2008 to 2009, the number of people living doubled up with family or friends out of economic necessity increased by 12%, to over 6 million people.
  • In the 2008 to 2009 school year, nearly 1 million school children were homeless—up 41% from the previous two years.

A/Amnesty: We have some numbers on this here: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/us/human-right-to-housing-11-numbers-you-need...

A/Eric: Over 2.5 million homes have been foreclosed upon since 2007, and among renters, close to one-quarter of households spend more than half their income on rent, putting them one paycheck away from homelessness; of extremely low-income renters, 71% pay more than half their income in rent. Overall, in 2008 (the most recent year for which data is available), compared to need, and only 37 units were affordable and available for every 100 households. Meanwhile, foreclosed homes and abandoned government properties stand vacant as families are living on the streets

A/MayrA: The foreclosure crisis in the UN also impacts women and communities of color disproportionately. See 'Baltimore Finds Subprime Crisis Snags Women ' : http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/us/15mortgage.html?pagewanted=all

Q: What are next steps Amnesty is taking to address the issue of slums and housing

A/MayrA: Amnesty is doing a lot of work right now to campaign for housing as a human rights worldwide and there are several actions to take! To find out more you can go to: http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/take-action-now?issue=15

A/MayrA: Many of the actions deal with the problem of forced evictions, which is the removal of people against their will from the homes, or land, they occupy without due process and other legal safeguards. Because evictions can have such devastating impacts on people's lives, prior to any eviction, authorities must consult the people who are going to be evicted to identify all feasible alternatives. Evictions may only be carried out as a last resort. People must be provided with adequate notice, legal remedies and compensation for their losses. Governments must also make sure that no one is made homeless or vulnerable to human rights abuses because of an eviction. Those who are unable to provide for themselves must be given adequate alternative housing.

A/Eric: I'm not sure what Amnesty is doing, but here in the U.S., we have problems with slums and tent cities as well. In urban areas, systemic failure to adequately fund capital needs of public housing has created a $30 billion dollar backlog in repairs, leaving many buildings and units in a state of chronic disrepair and threatening this vital safety net; in rural areas, impoverished and racially segregated areas suffer from lack of access to basic water and sanitation. Measured against the nation's "available resources," this failure is especially egregious.

A/Eric: While overall housing conditions have improved significantly through the latter half of the 20th century to the present, many poor residents continue to face housing conditions that seem to be from another era. From 2005 to 2008, the number of people in families sharing the housing of others due to economic hardship increased by 8.5%, and some states have reported a doubling of their shared household families; poor maintenance of buildings leads to health problems, particularly for poor youth who experience double the rate of asthma of moderate income youth. Without a right to counsel, many housing code violations go unpunished and un-remedied

A/Eric: There are efforts to legalize, or at least regularize some tent cities around the country. For example, Seattle just passed a progressive ordinance last week: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016396646_homeless04m.html - legalized tent cities are no one's idea of a permanent solution, but a legal place to lay one's head at night is better than no legal place to do so!

Q: Hi. My Name is Billy and I'm a VP at my high school's Amnesty Club. What can we do locally to protect housing?

A/MayrA: Hi Billy! That's great to hear you are in an Amnesty student group - that's how I got my start in human rights : ) I think that there is lots that you can do! First and foremost, I think it's important to educate yourselves and your community about housing as a human right. There are lots of materials available from Amnesty. You can decide to work on housing rights issues here in the US, or worldwide. You can participate in letter writing, or think of other ways to get involved, like having a housing rights display at your school or in your community.

A/Eric: Hi Billy, Feel free to be in touch with the National Law Center (nlchp.org). We have a wide variety of outreach and educational materials, and you can definitely get involved in raising awareness about homelessness. For work within the high school, there's a federal law on access to education for homeless students - you could make sure your school is fully aware and compliant with the law and reaching out to service agencies in the community to identify homeless students. http://wiki.nlchp.org/display/Manual/Education+of+Homeless+Children+Overview

A/Amnesty: In order to get involved locally, our regional offices are your best resources. Field organizers will be able to connect you with human rights activism happening in your area. Please contact AIUSA's Demand Dignity Campaigner at jdisterhoft@aiusa.org and Jason will put you in touch with the appropriate field organizer. Thanks for your interest!

A/Amnesty: Here is also a sorted list of all our of housing related actions you can take:
http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/take-action-now?issue=15

Q: What is the connection between poverty and the right to housing?

A/MayrA: Well, many times it is people who are living in poverty who are unable to access their housing rights. As we know, poverty also many often times combines with issues of discrimination and inequality, whether on the basis of race/ethnicity, gender, etc. People who are poor are also often excluded from the development of housing policy, which negatively affects them and leaves them at the margins of their societies.

A/Eric: In the current national market, there is no county in the country where even a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent is affordable for a person working full-time at minimum wage. Many individuals and families, coping with high rent burdens due to the shortage in affordable housing, are required to spend a large percentage of their income on housing. For far too many others, the financial burden is untenable and they are forced into homelessness. This problem is especially acute for racial minorities. African-Americans constitute 45-47% of the homeless community, and approximately 60% of homeless people are racial minorities.

A/Eric: According to federal guidelines, established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, affordable housing should account for no more than 30 percent of household income. Using 30 percent as a gauge, it becomes clear that affordability is a major problem in the United States. From 2000 to 2007, the number of households facing serious affordability constraints increased by 33 percent. By 2007, approximately 22 percent of the 36.9 million rental households in the United States were spending more than half of their income on rental costs.

A/Eric:Low-income families must make difficult decisions about how to allocate their limited funds between high housing costs and other basic needs. Even in cases where homelessness is avoided, individuals and families are forced to reduce their spending on other necessities such as food, medication, and transportation. Moreover, the lack of affordable housing compels many to move into housing that is deficient in one or more of the elements that the CESCR has identified as essential to adequate housing. In such cases, people inhabit housing that is overcrowded or unhealthy, or in neighborhoods with failing schools, high crime rates, or limited access to basic services, thus interfering with the enjoyment of other aspects of the right to housing.

Q: What countries are doing a good job assisting people experiencing homelessness? best practices?

A/Eric: Scotland has a great model law: http://www.nlchp.org/view_report.cfm?id=314.

A/Eric: It's not perfect, but the situation is improving. France also passed a law creating an enforceable right to housing. And South Africa has a fantastic constitutional right to housing, and some great cases enforcing that right, though lack of resources continue to prevent full enjoyment of the right.

Q: How does your work overlap with disaster management? Have you seen a trend of heightened vulnerability of the homeless in disaster? If so, what recommendations do you have for persons working in disaster relief to help address the existing homeless before and following disaster?

A/MayrA: Yes, absolutely. Here in the US, Amnesty has done work to protect the housing rights of people affected by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf region. There have been human rights standards which have also been specifically developed to address the rights of people affected by displacement, including the The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (see: http://www.idpguidingprinciples.org/).

A/MayrA: For more information on Amnesty's work in the Gulf Coast, please see: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/poverty-and-human-rights/human-rights-in-the-gulf-coast

A/Eric: Homelessness is a significant problem, both before and after disasters. The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/idp/standards.htm offer a human rights based approach to homelessness due to disasters.

Q: Some of the issues that arose around housing here in Joplin, MO after the tornado this year... http://www.joplinglobe.com/local/x177905601/Renters-face-pressure-as-housing-demand-rises-after-tornado

A/Eric: I participated in an international mission to New Orleans after the hurricanes there - check out our report and other materials summarizing the application of human rights to the post-Katrina situation at:

Q: I would love to see the report - do you have a link for it

Q: I work with victims of domestic violence in the rural south. Many times the victims are trying to escape abusive situations but have few options especially in regard to public housing as many are still married at the time with meager resources to file for divorce from spouses who may have criminal records that prevent them from qualifying for public assistance. Suggestions?

A/MayrA: Thanks for the comment and the questions, Derrick, you are absolutely right. This is a major problem form women living in situations of domestic violence throughout the world, as well as here in the US. In the United States of America, women living in federally funded (including 'Section 8') housing are protected by the federal Violence Against Women Act of 2005 (VAWA 2005). In part, this legislation ensures that federal public housing authorities and Section 8 landlords cannot refuse to rent to a person simply because she is or was a victim of domestic violence. In addition, VAWA 2005 provides -- at least in cases of federally funded housing -- that while abusers may be evicted from housing, victims must be allowed to stay. Prior to VAWA 2005, however, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) so-called 'one-strike' policy allowed housing authorities to evict entire families for crimes and disturbances committed by family members or guests. The effect of the application of the 'one-strike' policy was that women who were victims of domestic violence could be evicted from federally funded housing, along with their children, simply for being the victim of the crime of domestic violence. VAWA 2005 now prohibits these evictions based on a tenant's status as a victim of domestic violence, and allows providers to bifurcate leases to evict only the perpetrators.

A/Eric: Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness nationally. Among cities surveyed in 2005, 50% identified domestic violence as a primary cause of local homelessness. A recent study found that one out of every four homeless women is homeless because of violence committed against her. In several regions where studies have been conducted, between 22% and 57% of homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness.

A/Eric: The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first enacted in 1994, and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, provides legal protections for survivors of violence against women by encouraging victims to seek civil protection orders against their abusers, to summon police in response to domestic violence, or to seek other services.

A/Eric: Fortunately, with the most recent VAWA 2005 reauthorization, Congress recognized that domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness nationally, and that victims of domestic violence around the country are discriminated against in housing because of the acts of their abusers against them

A/Eric: To protect victims from losing their housing as they seek safety, VAWA amended the federal public housing and Section 8 housing assistance statutes to ensure that victims and their families are not wrongfully evicted from or denied housing in these programs. These housing statutes now provide that an individual's status as a victim of domestic or sexual violence is not an appropriate basis for evictions or denials of housing. VAWA explicitly provides that an incident of actual or threatened domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking does not qualify as a "serious or repeated violation of the lease" or "good cause for terminating the assistance, tenancy, or occupancy rights of the victim.

A/Eric: Further, a public housing authority (PHA) or Section 8 landlord may bifurcate the lease in order to evict the abuser while still allowing the lawful tenant to keep her housing. However, these protections are limited to public and Section 8 housing, leaving the residents of a majority of private housing, as well as other federally funded housing, unprotected.

A/Eric: The Law Center, and other organizations, like the ACLU Women's RIghts Project and Legal Momentum, have lawyers who are working to improve DV survivors access to housing. Chronic lack of affordable housing and even basic DV shelters is a human rights violation that our country should be ashamed of. Feel free to be in touch and we can see if there's additional help we could provide.

Q: Thanks for the answer. I think too many times housing officials see criminal proceedings and then don't take the time to investigate the circumstances, thus causing yet another crisis in the lives of these victims. A crisis that too often leads them back into the home of the perpetrator.

A/MayrA: Yes, that's absolutely right, and it's a global problem. At COHRE, we documents very similar issues in Latin America. See: http://www.cohre.org/sites/default/files/100708_a_place_in_the_world_eng_summary-_final.pdf

A/MayrA: Globally, there have been some advancements which you might find interesting. New policies adopted in recent years increasingly protect women's right to adequate housing within the context of domestic violence. In Europe, for example, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (CoE) issued a Recommendation on the Implementation of the Right to Housing in 2009, advocating for the adoption and implementation of national housing strategies by the CoE Member States. Section 4.3.6. of the Recommendation deals explicitly with women and women victims of violence, calling upon Member States "to protect women victims of violence through specific legal and policy initiatives including the provision of specialised emergency shelters and other alternative housing."

A/MayrA: New laws related to women's right to adequate housing within the context of domestic violence have also been adopted at national levels. For instance, in Serbia, the Family Law (adopted in 2005) introduced a provision on protection measures for victims of domestic violence, including shelter. According to Article 198(2) of the Family Law, courts can issue an order for the removal of the perpetrator from family housing, and they can also order that victims of domestic violence be allowed to move into family housing, in both cases regardless of the ownership of housing. Similarly, India's Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) explicitly recognizes the right of women victims of domestic violence to reside in a shared household. The Act provides that "every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same." In addition, the Act provides that a person suffering domestic violence "shall not be evicted or excluded from the shared household or any part of it by the respondent [i.e. the abuser] save in accordance with the procedure established by law."

A/MayrA: The recognition that ensuring women's housing security is vital to their ability to leave a violent relationship is spreading. In Brazil, what has become popularly know as the 'Maria da Penha Law' (2006) for the first time in Brazil allows for the removal of the abuser from the home. In the past, as is the case in many countries, it was abused women who would have to leave their homes -- not their abusers -- in order to seek safety for themselves and their children. For a woman with no adequate housing alternatives, this situation amounts to an impossible one, offering her little choice but to remain with her abusive partner. The case of Maria da Penha turned the tables on abusers by allowing Courts for the first time to intervene in order to let abused women remain in their homes, and to live free of domestic violence.

Q: If only this was a more common practice more women and their children would be safer in their own homes, a statistic that is sadly reversed with women being safer on the streets than in their homes.

Q: What in your opinion is the added value of the human rights framework in tackling housing issues?

A/MayrA: I think the most important argument for favoring a rights based approach is that it puts everything into a common legal framework. This framework creates legally binding obligations and duties upon one side (which is the state) and creates legally enforceable entitlements and rights on behalf of others (which are the people). Applying a rights framework says that every person in the world should have a right to adequate housing -- as defined by the seven elements which Eric mentioned below. If States refuse to recognize this right, there are certain mechanisms and procedures in place that people can evoke very easily that should lead to governments changing their laws and policies so that they actually provide these things. That way rights also entail mechanisms of accountability.

Q: What connections can be made between local US homelessness services and global right to housing efforts?

A/Eric: As a first step, starting to talk about housing as a human right is essential.

A/Eric: Next step is to get educated - our report on the status of the right to housing in the US is a good first place: http://nlchp.org/view_report.cfm?id=357.

A/Eric: Then, start working with us to implement the right to housing here at home in the U.S. There are several upcoming reviews by international human rights bodies that local groups can use to highlight their issues and bring an international spotlight to their cause. And many recommendations (in the report) that can be used in conjunction with local advocacy.

A/Eric: There are groups like the Habitat International Coalition where groups can connect directly to their counterparts abroad: http://hic-net.org/

A/Eric: Also the International Alliance of Habitants :http://www.habitants.org/

Q: Where enforcing rights requires government money, and many folks are on a campaign to further reduce the size of government, and where some places are considering things like decriminalizing domestic violence to save money, do you have a plan for meeting the financial needs of ensuring rights like this? http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/10/06/338461/topeka-kansas-city-council-considers-decriminalizing-domestic-violence-to-save-money/

A/Eric: Our country's current struggle with budget deficits is not a reason to defer actions to improve Americans' access to adequate housing. Rather, it is precisely in this time of economic crisis that the need to do so is most acute, and a rights-based approach to budgeting decisions would help generate the will to protect people's basic human dignity first, rather than relegating it to the status of an optional policy. There are many steps that would bring us closer to compliance with our human rights obligations and require few additional resources, including laws and regulations to rebalance rights within the private housing market. Where additional public resources are required, framing these expenditures as part of our government's basic obligations to its citizens, the same as its duty to ensure freedom of speech or a speedy and fair trial, allows us to establish a new baseline as budget debates intensify.

A/Eric: Moreover, in many cases, increasing affordable housing resources actually saves communities money. Many studies have shown that criminalizing homelessness costs far more in police, jail, and hospitalization costs than simply providing adequate shelter or supportive housing. We need to let communities know that the cost of doing nothing, or worse, of criminalizing homelessness, is NOT zero, and that it's far better to make sure families have housing and can use that to maintain their jobs and community connections than to do nothing.

A/MayrA: People often think about issues of government expenditure when it comes to issues of housing rights, but in reality ensuring housing rights is not only about that. Those of us who work in the housing rights field talk about obligations of 'respect,' 'protect' and 'fulfill.'

A/MayrA: The responsibility of respecting the right to adequate housing means that States must abstain from carrying out or otherwise advocating the forced or arbitrary eviction of persons and groups. States must respect people's rights to build their own dwellings and order their environments in a manner which most effectively suits their culture, skills, needs and wishes. It does not costs governments money (in fact it costs them money to violate people's housing rights).

A/MayrA: To protect housing rights, Governments must ensure that any possible violations of these rights by "third parties" such as landlords or property developers are prevented. This involves regulation, not necessarily the provision of housing. Where such infringements do occur, the relevant public authorities should act to prevent any further deprivations and guarantee to affected persons access to legal remedies of redress for any infringement caused.

Q: The monetary costs of domestic violence run into the billions domestically, it is counterproductive from a budgetary standpoint to create the opportunity for more and more serious crimes to be committed. What is the cliche...an ounce of prevention...

A/MayrA: The obligation of a State to fulfill the right to adequate housing is both positive and interventionary. It is within this category of obligations, in particular, that issues of public expenditure emerge. And when designing programes for housing, governments need to take steps, to the maximum of their abailable resources, and they must also prioritize the most marginalized.

Q: Are there popular mobilizations in the U.S. or around the world that are fighting for housing rights?

A/MayrA: Yes, there are excellent groups -- including Amnesty International that are working for housing rights worldwide.

Organizations like the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty are also helping to lead the charge for housing as a human right here at home.

A/Eric: Here in the U.S., there are several coalitions: THe Campaignt to Restore National Housing RIghts http://restorehousingrights.org/, the US-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants, and the Land and Housing WOrking Group of the US Human Rights Network: http://www.ushrnetwork.org/.

A/Eric: For international connections, see my response to Sarah's question below

A/Eric: And of course, feel free to get in touch with me at the Law Center to find out where you can best fit in!

Q: How does the housing picture vary with people of color?

A/Eric: the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1992 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1994. Both of these treaties recognize the right to be free from discrimination, including in housing, on the basis of race, gender, disability, and other statuses.

A/Eric: The U.S. government began to engage more directly with international human rights monitors beginning in 2006, when it was reviewed for compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As noted above, the right to housing is not directly addressed in the treaty, but the right to non-discrimination and the right to life are. Advocates submitted "shadow reports" to the Committee, including one organized by the Law Center on behalf of a coalition of homelessness and housing organizations. The Human Rights Committee, which oversees the treaty, questioned the U.S. delegation on issues ranging from treatment of African Americans after Hurricane Katrina to deaths of homeless persons due to exposure in areas where there is inadequate shelter. The Committee in its Concluding Observations, expressed concern "that some 50% of homeless people are African American although they constitute only 12% of the U.S. population," and recommended the government "take measures, including adequate and adequately implemented policies, to bring an end to such de facto and historically generated racial discrimination." It further noted that, "[i]n the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it should increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of poor people and in particular African-Americans, are fully taken into consideration in the reconstruction plans with regard to access to housing."

A/MayrA: We see globally a pattern when racial and ethnic minorities are excluded from housing due to discrimination. We see this certainly in the United States, where people of color are disproportionately poor. Another example is with the Roma in Europe. Amnesty also has some good information about discrimination faced by that community in relation to housing: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/cases/romania-roma-families

A/Eric: In 2008, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed the U.S. for compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). U.S. organizations, including a coalition organized by the Law Center, again submitted multiple reports on housing discrimination, prompting the Committee members to unfavorably compare segregated housing conditions in the U.S. to apartheid South Africa, as well as condemning disparate treatment of African Americans after Hurricane Katrina. In positive terms, the CERD noted "with satisfaction the California Housing Element Law of 1969, which requires each local jurisdiction to adopt a housing element in its general plan to meet the housing needs of all segments of the population, including low-income persons belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities." The CERD also recommended the government: (i) support the development of public housing complexes outside poor, racially segregated areas; (ii) eliminate the obstacles that limit affordable housing choice and mobility for beneficiaries of Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program; and (iii) ensure the effective implementation of legislation adopted at the federal and state levels to combat discrimination in housing, including the phenomenon of "steering" and other discriminatory practices carried out by private actors," as well as "increase its efforts in order to facilitate the return of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina to their homes, if feasible, or to guarantee access to adequate and affordable housing, where possible in their place of habitual residence."

A/Eric: Also in 2008, the Special Rapporteur on Racism (Racism Rapporteur) visited eight cities across the U.S. on his first official mission to the country. The Law Center and other housing advocates organized testimony and site visits, and the Racism Rapporteur's resulting report raised concern about reducing housing segregation and countering the racially disparate impact of policing patterns on homeless communities of color. In particular, the Racism Rapporteur recommended establishing a bi-partisan commission to examine the ongoing process of housing re-segregation and intensifying funding for testing programs and "pattern and practice" investigations to assess discrimination in housing.

A/Eric: For tons of information on racial disparities in housing and homelessness, check out the shadow reports at:

Q: This policy is great and sounds good but how will Amnesty help enforce this in peolple day to lives right here right now?

Q: Until we seek tangible remedies that will change peoples condition in the immediacy we are only providing lip service to those effected. Has there or will there be a political phase to this campaign that will allow members to address this with elected officials, especially coming into the election season?

Q: We're working on Forced Evictions here at WITNESS.org with a focus on Brazil (major sporting events), Mexico (dams), Egypt (urban settlements), India (infrastructure), and Cambodia (urban evictions + landgrabbing). Wanted to ask you about pressuring intl groups like the IOC and FIFA into requiring host govts to end the practice of forced evictions in the lead up to major sporting events like World Cup and Olympics. Brazil is hosting both in 2014 and 2016 and we're working with local activists to support advocacy around the evictions - any insights from you on specific pressure points at the international level or good case studies on transnational advocacy on this specific theme would be very much welcome! Also, if interested, you can see some of our campaign videos here: http://blog.witness.org/category/campaigns/forced-evictions/

A/MayrA: That's excellent - thanks for this!At COHRE we did a lot of work on mega events and forced evictions. You can look at the Multi-stakeholder guidelines on mega events and the protection and promotion of housing rights. http://www.cohre.org/news/documents/multi-stakeholder-guidelines-on-mega-events-and-the-protection-and-promotion-of-housi

A/MayrA: The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing also did a report on mega-events: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G09/176/13/PDF/G0917613.pdf?OpenElement

A/MayrA: I hope those resources will be useful!

Q: have both printed and pasted above my desk ;) if you think of good case studies that show specific tactics for reaching/influencing IOC + FIFA pls send my way! thks much!

A/MayrA: Thanks, Priscila, please feel free to be in touch and we can chat more - I think we are unfortunately running out of time, but there is certainly more I can share with you.

Q: That would be great - will message you offline!

Q: Is a human rights frameworrk in the US a more advesarial approah than say, housing first?

A/Eric: They're not mutually exclusive. Human rights would embrace housing first as a strategy (but not the only strategy) to ensure the right to housing. And human rights isn't adversarial. 2006 polling shows that 72% of Americans agree that housing is a basic human right, and this number has probably gone up since the housing crisis has touched more families.

A/MayrA: I'm not exactly sure what you mean - can you explain more what you mean by an adversarial approach?

A/MayrA: I would agree with what Eric has said, but again, I also think its important to remember that what the right to adequate housing also embodies is an understating that there should be accountability when housing rights are violated. I don't know that I would see what as adversarial, per se, it has more to do with a principle of apllying justice where justice is due.

A/Eric: Of course, there may be some backlash from some groups, but it's important to reframe things by talking about what we believe as Americans. We (or at least 72% of us) believe that housing is essential to ensuring the basic human dignity of every person. Calling housing a human right isn't about imposing some international framework on us, it's about what we believe we should be doing for ourselves. The international framework is there for reference, but housing as a human right is as American as apple pie.

A/Eric: Coming out of the Depression, and heading into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt set out four freedoms essential for world peace in his 1941 State of the Union address: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. This notion of interdependent civil, political, economic, and social freedoms laid the groundwork for the Atlantic Charter later that year, which also embraced these four freedoms. In his 1944 State of the Union address, Roosevelt took another bold step, declaring that the United States had accepted a "second Bill of Rights," including the right of every American to a decent home.

A/Eric: Indeed, we believe, as President Obama has stated, "It is simply unacceptable for individuals, children, families and our nation's Veterans to be faced with homelessness in this country."

Q: I was curious about the political impact of ppresenting homelessness as a basic human right in a politcal system that contains viewpoints such as the Tea Party's.

A/MayrA: I think that as with any human rights issue - there will sometimes be detractors, but that should not stop us from fighting for these rights -- we have the international human rights framework on our side!

Q: Two weeks ago I read an article on spiegel.de (a german magazine) which described the bad situation in California, especially in Stockton and San Francisco because of the economic/financial crises. Do you know if there is a really alarming raise of homeless persons?

A/Eric: California has indeed been hit hard by both the foreclosure crisis and the economic crisis causing cutbacks in state aid programs just as the need is increasing. I don't have statistics on hand, but we definitely have heard reports from our local partners of dramatic increases (in some cases doubling) of families seeking assistance.

Q: I know - it's a very new phenomenon, so I don't think there are significant statistics yet. Thank you!