The Right to affordable housing represents the means to fulfill the Right to a Vital Minimun as an end in itself”

Agency and dislocations

The French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu developed a social theory which is anti-dualistic attempting to reconcile or to seek a dialectic, a mutual constitution and correspondence between the subjective/objective, material/symbolic, synchrony/diachrony, micro/macro. He introduced and reformulated new and different concepts such as Habitus, Field and Capital, which creates Practices.  The concept of “Practice” is used to bridge the gap between these traditional dichotonomies. His theory of Structure and Agency is becoming more revelant today especially in the area of Social Rights. The Right to Adequate Housing from a Practice perspective entails, treating homeless people as active agents, who not only interpret experience but actively produce it. Homeless people interpret and act in the world in accordance with the understanding, the meaning it has for them and they react purposively towards it. Bordieu does not reduce agents to bearers of social structures or functions neither he abolishes agency. This interpretation has been adopted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to adequate housing who claims homeless people must be recognized as central agents of the social transformation necessary for the realization of the Right to adequate housing. The UN Rapporteur  has also warned that when  we see homeless people on the streets, in a shelter o in a informal settlement what we are actually seeing is the failure to implement the Right to adequate housing, what we  are really seeing is the failure of governments to implement their human rights obligations under international law. According to the Special Rapporteur homelessness is directly linked to increased inequality of wealth and property and caused by the omission of States that allows and reproduce the lack of regulation of housing investment and real estate speculation.  The failure of States to respond to both individual circunstances and to a myriad of structural reasons, abandoning their responsibilities is causing social exclusion of a high number of people from any form of housing therefore this issue requires the adoption of urgent actions by the international community.  This is certainly true in a context where the discourse of austerity still is alive and is generating social dislocations in the entire world. Current housing supply in both developed and developing countries is only targeting the super rich leaving the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society with no choice but to live on the streets. Just in the UK for instance current policy changes have increased homelessness in the last years. According to the statistical release of the government for instance the autumn 2015 total of rough sleeping counts and estimates in England is 3,569 up from 825 (30%) from the autumn 2014 total of 2,744. Many people are also now found even sleeping in recycling bins in the UK. This situation is also repeated in Ireland, Canada, Israel and Syria due to not only State omissions but also direct attacks, direct action from governments. The failure of not providing adequate housing and alternative accomodation also applies to the Refugee population since hundreds of them are currently sleeping with no shelter, while European countries are actually demolishing refugee camps. In England and Wales also more than 170 tenants were evicted everyday in 2015 according to the Ministry of Justice figures while in Colombia and Argentina forced evictions without providing alternative accommodation has become the rule affecting vulnerable groups such as the indigenous people. To put it in simple terms people cannot access adequate housing due to high prices, inequality and poverty. Affordable housing policies are not longer in fashion, for instance just under 8% of british people now live in council housing (in 1979 the figure was actually 42%). Therefore a number of actors are now calling for strong reforms, pressing governments to include the Right to adequate housing in their legal frameworks through new Laws to make it justiciable while the Special Rapporteur on Adequate housing is calling on Governments to commit to eliminating homelessness by 2030. There is certainly a need for a radical rethink of housing policy. The promotion of new policies such as the universal voucher in the USA and the affordable housing programmes might help to fulfill this obligation. However, a change in Law and Policy cannot be achieved without a change in attitude and beliefs. The position of the international community in this issue seems not to change. There is a universal belief that the lack of housing and the problem of homelessness is caused by personal failures, lazyness, lack of effort, therefore governments should only look at these issues from a market perspective as a commodity to be invested by the private sector who knows very well how to increase efficiency and reduce costs. This has led many Governments such as the UK to be moving in that direction implementing austerity measures and cutting welfare benefits for the most vulnerable.

This type of austerity policies are against international human rights standards that establish obligations for the States to Respect, Protect and Fulfill the Right to Adequate housing. Governments have commitments to adopt immediate measures to fulfil this right with the maximun of available resources in a progressive way. They should immediately guarantee essential levels to protect the vital minimun in order to guarantee a dignified life while ensuring no one is discriminated. 


The need to strenghten the Monitoring process and the recognition of the vulnerability of right holders.
Despite the commitments acquired at the international level governments are not fulfilling their obligations to Respect, Protect and Fulfill the Right to Adequate Housing. Rather many governments still believe the solution is to “outsource” their obligations to the market forces. This is clearly creating more social exclusion and violations of the rights of the individual. Therefore, any strategy designed to fulfil international human rights obligations must take into account two central aspects: on the one hand the Monitoring process and on the other hand the recognition of the condition of the vulnerability of rightholders and their vital minimun. The latter aspect also implies to take into account the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights (Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 1993). The lack of Provision of affordable housing is against international human rights law. Human Rights are interdependent and indivisible, whenever there is a violation of the Right to Adequate Housing this has catastrophic consequences on other rights. In a situation of lack of access to housing, the right inmediately violated and at risk is the Right to a Vital Minimun in connexion with the right to Adequate Life with dignity and the right primarily violated is the Right to Adequate Housing. The Right to affordable housing represents the means to fulfill the Right to a Vital Minimun as an end in itself”. Therefore,  strategies designed to deal with homelessness and the Right to housing must take into account the indivisibility and interdependence of Human Rights. The Right to Adequate Housing should recognise the agency of rightholders but also at the same time their vulnerability, this entails also perceiving the individual trapped into their fears unable to free himself from this prison of homelessness. This perspective also recognizes that the  individual in the globalized world is alone confronting new risks and urgently need the help from public institutions and society in general. The individual is certainly an active agent  with the capacity to change the world through his actions however due to his vulnerability needs some guidance and support.


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