Housing is Not a Human Right in the US
By John Lawrence
Why does homelessness persist in the world’s richest nation? The simple answer is that having a roof over one’s head is not a human right in this society. Fortunate people, those with a home and a car and other assets will not vote to give others what they possess even on the most basic level. Article 25 of the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
However, the United States of America does not agree with or abide by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It is not a right here to have housing and necessary social services.
There is a policy called Housing First which attempts to provide housing without qualifications or conditions and a social worker to deal with follow-up problems of substance abuse, job search, and mental health. But Housing First is not a right. It’s subject to the same funding problems or lack thereof that every other government program is subject to.
If it were a right, then it would be society’s top priority and would come before new sports stadia, military expenditures on weapons of war, tax subsidies to the likes of Exxon Mobil and GE and tax breaks for “carried interest” which only benefits hedge fund managers. Boeing made $26 billion in U.S. profits over a five-year period and received a U.S. federal tax refund of $401 million over the same time.
Obviously, housing, affordable and otherwise, is not a human right or even close to it in the USA. It would take a new Constitution to make it a right. The US Constitution provides the right to own a gun, the right to free speech, assembly etc. Anything having to do with real human needs is not a right as far as the US Constitution is concerned. Not education, not medical care, not social security, not unemployment insurance.
That’s why all of these things are political footballs, tossed back and forth between Republicans who want to get rid of any safety net, and Democrats who seek to provide one. If the Repubs had their way, they would even get rid of Social Security and Medicare. The only program they support is more money for US militarism. Lobbyists for Defense Contractors obtain hundreds of billions of dollars each year for the US military-industrial complex. To the extent that the middle class is supported at all, it is supported by the likes of Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman which hire Middle Americans to do their dirty work.
Lobbyists for Defense Contractors obtain hundreds of billions of dollars each year for the US military-industrial complex. To the extent that the middle class is supported at all, it is supported by the likes of Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman which hire Middle Americans to do their dirty work.
Rents Continue to Rise in the Low-End Market
Many think it’s antithetical to US values to provide free housing for people who can’t provide it for themselves. They would just as soon people who can’t pay rent go without just as they would have to go without if they weren’t able to pay for any other consumer item.
Since the market prevails, US values are tilted in favor of not interfering with the market even if people are priced out of the market by high rents. It’s no wonder that people can’t afford to pay rent as rents continue to soar thus pricing more people out of a roof over their head. For government to provide a floor on housing prices or rents would be interfering with the market according to Republicans, so we can’t do that. Nothing can interfere with the market no matter how much misery it causes. The market is sacrosanct.
There was an article in the August 11, 2016 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune: County Rent Rose Quicker at Low End.
Builders are building high-end rentals because that’s where the most profits can be made. They aren’t building low-end rentals so there is a housing shortage for the low end with the result that there is only a 1% vacancy rate. This makes it possible to raise rents at the low end faster than at the high end where there is a larger vacancy rate. Talk about the perversions of the capitalist system!
The people who need it the most get shafted the most while the people who are well-off continue to get preferential treatment. The Market sees to that.
The “low end” is defined as rents below $1950. Rents for low-end apartments have gone up 21.7% in San Diego just in the last year. People in this category are spending 69% of their income on rent according to the Union-Tribune. At the same time, the article points out, money for subsidized housing has decreased at the federal and state levels. What this means is that we can expect to see more homeless people soon as rents soar out of reach for most low-income people.
American priorities are not with those who live in poverty and need help with just the basics of life in order to survive. Survival of the fittest ethics, which the US espouses simply by benign neglect, dictate that those on the bottom rung of the social ladder can just fall off and get no sympathy from government authorities or the civilian population.
US government priorities are militarism and rugged individualism which say that everyone has to fend for themselves and devil take the hindermost. This has led to a society where the upper few percent own most of the assets and make most of the income. The 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the population.
San Diego authorities think it’s perfectly OK for all the tourists they are trying to attract to come here and observe the squalor represented by a thousand or more people living on the street, taking care of basic human needs there and discarding tons of trash.
Imagine how much pleasanter it would be if tourists could walk down any street and not have to step over the homeless or step in their feces. But the authorities think that this is a small price to pay for San Diego’s wonderful weather and amenities. Homelessness, side by side with tourist attractions, is not a problem for those who can put their blinders on and focus on their own pleasure. There is no money in providing housing for the homeless, and besides it would interfere with the market. It would actually put a damper on rising rents and home prices which would be a good thing except for those builders who are striving to maximize profits. They will continue to build high-end apartments because that’s where the money is.
Housing for Homeless Needs Dedicated Funding Source
Here is what’s needed: an increase in the sales tax with the increased funds earmarked for building housing and providing services for the homeless. So far there has been no dedicated funding source for the homeless. It needs to happen now as the City of Los Angeles is proposing.
Furthermore, if the City of San Diego can contemplate a $1.8 billion bond measure for a new sports stadium for the Chargers, it can contemplate a $1.8 billion bond measure to build housing and provide services for the homeless. It’s the right thing to do, as I heard a politician say once.
Until such time as dedicated and increased funding sources are available, homelessness will continue to be a thorn in San Diego’s side, a canker that continues to fester.
Other funding sources are also available like the money the City of San Diego is hoarding in various funds like the LMIHAF. There’s $28.7 million in the Low and Moderate Income Housing Asset Fund. There’s also $259 million in long-term assets that can be leveraged by using it as collateral and issuing bonds for much more. See the 4-part series by Kathryn Rhodes and myself: Is Affordable Housing in the City of San Diego an Oxymoron?
In past versions of US society, there were actually prominent politicians who wanted to eliminate poverty. Remember the War on Poverty?
FDR had programs that put people back to work in the Works Projects Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, however, workers are expendable. Robots and automation can provide everything that consumers can pay for. In a consumer economy, the homeless have little to offer.
If people cared, they would vote to use their tax dollars to help the homeless. It wouldn’t be the function of charity to provide for them. It would be a priority of government to see that everyone was well housed, well fed and well educated. Instead, we have a society that is well armed and well entertained by the spectacle of violence every night on the evening news.