Why your new neighborhood is violating other people’s rights

The right to housing is one of the most fundamental rights, and yet it’s no secret that millions of people around the world are going without. While commonly thought of as a developing world problem, the UN Human Rights Commission estimated in 2005 that 100 million people across the world were homeless, meaning that the problem is not isolated to just deep, dark Africa.

The right to housing is articulated in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which states in article 11 that everyone has the right to “an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

I’m not even going to touch the androcentric nature of this, and most of the international human rights instruments whose drafters seemed to believe that the inclusion of half of the world’s population was unnecessary.

In modern and urbanized cities like London, Cape Town, New York, gentrification is receiving increased attention, and it has serious implications for working class people who are forcibly displaced from their homes due to their inability to keep up with dramatic hikes in rent.

Joel and Aaron Israel, brothers and landlords in Brooklyn, are alleged to have let their property go into disrepair in an effort to force out their current tenants and dramatically increase rent prices.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that neighbourhoods never evolve, or that rent prices will never increase, the actions of these brothers clearly reflects a lack of respect for the right to adequate “housing…. And to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” The people in this building, and those worldwide who are subjected to forcible relocation as a result of gentrifying trends need to be protected. Whether that is through inclusionary zoning or the provision of council housing, states worldwide have a responsibility to make sure that no one is forced to stay in inadequate living conditions.


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