Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Reporteur on Adequate Housing, visited the United States for an 18-day tour of the housing situation in six U.S. cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and New York City) and one rural Indian reservation. Her focus is public housing, Section 8, homelessness and the foreclosure crisis.
The post of Reporteur on Adequate Housing is mandated by the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights as a means of investigating claims of inadequate housing in U.N. member countries. The right to adequate housing is proclaimed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and adopted by the United Nations.
Under the Bush administration, the U.N. Reporteur was denied entry into the country for the purposes of this investigation. Rolnik was welcomed, however, by the Obama administration; during her tour she met with officials of Housing and Urban Development, the State Department, numerous non-governmental agencies and persons affected by housing shortages.
The three aims of Rolnik's mission were: to examine and report on the status of the realization of housing rights in the United States; to meet with government officials, U.N. and intergovernmental agencies and representatives of civil society; and to identify and follow up on practical solutions to housing problems.
Rolnik presented her initial impressions in a press release Nov. 8. She noted that the U.S. attitude toward housing has gradually shifted from being a social need to a financial asset -- never a human right. She pointed out that the U.S. is a rich country, one that should be able to fund adequate housing for all. In her tour of the six cities and a South Dakota Indian reservation, she saw overcrowded, substandard housing located far from services, and many people with no roofs over their heads at all. She noted that the global economic downturn has brought government rescue to banks instead of the poorest Americans.
Rolnik made an oral report to the State Department and requests a government response. Her formal report will follow in March.