WHAT IS THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING?

“Adequate housing was recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

Housing as a concept is not limited to shelter, or having a roof over your head. And it’s not a matter of affordability either. Housing is one of the most important life components giving shelter, safety and warmth, as well as providing a place to rest with dignity and security. The right to housing adequacy attempts to holistically develop the concept of housing such that it moves beyond the number game of space and affordability to present a list of key elements that need to be considered to make housing adequate. 

Photo: Rajesh Vora

Adequate housing is universally viewed as one of the most basic human needs. The right to adequate housing is one of the economic, social and cultural rights to have gained increasing attention and promotion, not only from the human rights bodies but also from the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. The United Nations Declaration on Social Progress and Development (1969) and the United Nations Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements (1976) recognize a universal right to adequate housing. The right to adequate housing includes ensuring access to adequate services, extending but not limited to seven important elements: legal security of tenure, availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location and cultural adequacy. 

What do these terms mean? Consider “security of tenure”, a major obstacle to ensuring this facet of adequate housing is eviction. “Protection against forced evictions is a key element of the right to adequate housing and is closely linked to security of tenure.”1 According to the 2011 Census, there are 1.77 million homeless people in India which make up around 0.15% of the population. A report published by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), estimates that about 190,000 Indian people get evicted from their homes every year. and as many as 14.9 million face a threat of eviction and displacement. To counter this extreme condition of urbanity, the right to housing adequacy insists that Nations take responsibility to  ensure that evictions are only permitted in exceptional circumstances, and adhere to the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, the International policy along with reinforcement through National and State level law and governance intends to provide protection to vulnerable persons and affected groups. 

The right to adequate housing attempts to establish the connection between health and dwelling, it recognizes that secure shelter and basic sanitation are essential for living a healthy and stable life. Key elements to recognize housing adequacy include the availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure. “In India it is estimated that 17 percent of the urban population currently has no access to any sanitary facilities at all, while 50–80 percent of wastewater is disposed of without any treatment.”2 Furthermore, a WaterAid report in 2016 ranked India among the worst countries in the world for the number of people without safe water. An estimated 76 million people in India have no access to a safe water supply, and the situation is only getting more serious. The right to adequate housing ensures that housing encompasses sustainable access to natural and common resources, clean drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, site drainage and emergency services.

Source: 2013_State of Housing in India_A Statistical Compendium_MHUPA; 2011_Report of the Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage(TG-12)

Housing has always been closely associated with affordability. The case of India is particularly lacking in this regard. The Urban Housing Shortage (households) in 2012 was 18.78 Million, 56% of this total came from the economically weaker section with a monthly income of up to ₹5000, 40% from the lower income group with a monthly income between ₹5000 to ₹10000 and the remaining 4% comes from the middle income group with a monthly income of above ₹10000. The right to adequate housing establishes the need to develop affordable housing for all income groups by providing the citizens a greater expanse of policies and fiscal benefits to buy/build a house. “The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) that precluded it, are initiatives of the Government of India which aim to provide affordable housing to the urban poor by the year 2022. The RAY scheme was launched in 2011, and amended into the PMAY in 2015. The interest rate for the PMAY scheme starts at an interest subsidy of 6.5 percent on housing loans availed upto a tenure of 15 years”3, these government initiatives attempt to generate positive externalities of consumption through housing.  PMAY aims to develop affordable housing in a public-private sector partnership and promote affordable housing for urban poor through credit linked subsidy. However the rollout has faced multiple hurdles. “At this rate, it will take 66 years to achieve a target of 10 million units, 120 years to build 18 million units”.4

Another key component of the right to adequate housing is habitability of housing. According to the WHO, habitable houses should comply with health and safety standards; including providing the inhabitants with adequate space, “protection against cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health and structural hazards.”1 Habitability ensures inhabitants  the needed space to live in dignity and peace, as well as protection from natural elements, structural hazards and disease vectors which threaten their physical well-being. Indian habitability standards are developed by respective National and State housing agencies and lack international applicability. The right to adequate housing understands that humans are the direct beneficiary of habitability and that there is a need to evolve habitability standards that reflect the perceptions, expectation, and satisfaction of humans in line with their unique multi-cultural residential landscape.

“Urban inequality is a blight experienced by many cities, even in the developed world. In developing countries like India, these social and economic inequalities become even more pronounced, with living conditions in certain populations crossing the line to the abysmal”5. The Indian society is highly stratified and hierarchical in character. The stratified and hierarchical nature of Indian society involves institutional processes that economically and socially exclude, discriminate, isolate and deprive some groups on the basis of characteristics like caste, ethnicity or religious background. The right to adequate housing promotes the development of housing that is free from discriminatory practices against the disadvantaged or the marginalized. It tries to establish housing as a practice that does not restrict accessibility in any way, shape or form. 

The right to adequate housing has an important focus on ‘location’, this not only establishes the need for available employment opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities but also ensures that housing is not displaced in zones of extreme pollution or conflict. According to the National Disaster Management Plan 2019 (NDMP), 68% of India’s land is prone to drought, 60% to earthquakes, 12% to floods and 8% to cyclones, this makesIndia one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, affecting 85% of Indian geography and more than 50 million people. Considering the influence of social, cultural, climatic and economical factors, location becomes a key aspect in determining whether the conditions of adequate housing are being met. Furthermore, the right to adequate housing ensures the expression of cultural identity. Since culture is not a constant, it keeps changing and also accommodates changes. People tend to have changes in their aspirations — and accordingly culture, due to the influence from neighbouring cultures, education, globalisation, economic empowerment or other parameters. The expression of culture and its identity is also enshrined as a key element in determining the adequacy of housing. 

“Human rights are interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. In other words, the violation of the right to adequate housing may affect the enjoyment of a wide range of other human rights and vice versa.”1 The World Health Organization has asserted that housing is the single most important environmental factor associated with disease conditions and higher mortality and morbidity rates. Having access to adequate, safe and secure housing substantially strengthens the likelihood of people being able to enjoy certain additional rights. Housing is a foundation from which other legal entitlements can be achieved which makes the right to adequate housing a fundamental right that needs to be recognized and practiced in equal spirits. 

References

  1. Fact Sheet No. 21/Rev.1, The Right to Adequate Housing, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 
  2. Draft National Urban Sanitation Policy, 2007
  3. PMINDIA
  4. business-satndard.com_22May 2017
  5. Social Marginalisation in Urban India and the Role of the State, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, 2015
  6. Forced Evictions in India in 2019: An Unrelenting National Crisis, Housing and Land Rights Network, New Delhi, 2020
  7. Right to Shelter is just a Constitutional Right and not Fundamental Right : Part 1
  8. Basic Principles And Guidelines On Development Based Evictions And Displacement

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