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Could Declaring a Right to Housing be the Way to Solve Homelessness?


Could Declaring a Right to Housing be the Way to Solve Homelessness?

June 21, 2021
housing and money separated
Photo: Андрей Яланский |

In the city of Los Angeles, the housing gap is illustrated by multi-million-dollar homes steps away from homeless encampments—but the Los Angeles Times argues wealth should not be a determining factor for fair housing. Half of those with housing pay more than half of their income on rent and utilities. The city has called upon agencies to research the idea of making housing a right, which would ensure all residents have an adequate home, meaning a unit offering privacy, dignity, and autonomy. Beds in shelters are simply not enough, suggests Los Angeles Times editorial board member Carla Hall.

In January 2020, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimated that there were about 66,000 homeless people in the county and around 41,000 in the city.

A right to housing won’t completely alleviate the need for temporary shelter for homeless people. But as permanent housing becomes more available, the less time people will need to spend in shelters.

This is not a right to shelter. In fact, a right to shelter would siphon off money, time and energy all better spent creating and preserving housing for poor people, including homeless individuals. Shelter is not cheap. Even setting up a safe campground for homeless people with security, food, restrooms and service providers can cost more than $2,500 a person per month. You could get an apartment for that.

Nor is this a revolutionary idea. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of it in his 1944 State of the Union address. The United Nations has recognized a right to housing for decades. The treaty into which it was codified was signed by the U.S. — but never ratified. Finland, Scotland and South Africa all have implemented a right to housing, with worthy if varying results.

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