A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not United Nations staff nor paid for his/her work. The Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Since June 2014, the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing is Leilani Farha.
For more on Special Rapporteurs, please refer to Fact Sheet N° 27: Seventeen Frequently Asked Questions about United Nations Special Rapporteurs.
The right to adequate housing
Housing is the basis of stability and security for an individual or family. The centre of our social, emotional and sometimes economic lives, a home should be a sanctuary; a place to live in peace, security and dignity.
Increasingly viewed as a commodity, housing is most importantly a human right. Under international law, to be adequately housed means having secure tenure – not having to worry about being evicted or having your home or lands taken away. It means living somewhere that is in keeping with your culture, and having access to appropriate services, schools, and employment.
The right to housing is interdependent with a number of other human rights: rights to health, to education, to employment, but also to non-discrimination and equality, to freedom of association or freedom from violence, and ultimately to the right to life.
Too often violations of the right to housing occur with impunity. In part, this is because at the domestic level housing is rarely treated as a human right. The key to ensuring adequate housing is the implementation of this human right through appropriate government policy and programmes, including national housing strategies.
Focus of the Mandate 2014-2017
Deeply concerned by the large and widening gap between the standards that have been developed on the right to housing, the Special Rapporteur will focus her work on how international human rights norms on the right to housing can be transformed into domestic law and policy. Particular attention will be given to some of the most vulnerable populations: women, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, Indigenous peoples and people living in poverty.
Thematically, the Special Rapporteur will focus on supporting national-international interaction, clarifying the obligations of States with respect to progressive realization, resource allocation, and equality and non-discrimination with respect to the implementation of the right to housing. Further attention will be paid to: homelessness, housing strategies framed in human rights, access to justice and remedies for violations of the right, the right to housing in the context of the post-2015 agenda and Habitat III, and the roles of national and sub-national governments in the realization of the right to adequate housing.
For more details on her priorities see the report of the UN General Assembly in 2014.
The right to housing is not just a rallying cry. It, like human rights more generally, offers concrete standards that can be implemented and measured for progress. The results can be transformative and can shift us away from charity toward social justice.
ISSUE IN FOCUS
How Human Rights Can Guide Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda
In her second report to the UN General Assembly (A/70/270), the Special Rapporteur outlined how the right to adequate housing must guide the development and implementation of a “new urban agenda” to be adopted at UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), in October 2016. Habitat III will be the first global summit of the twenty-first century where housing and urban challenges will be in the spotlight. At a time when more than half the world’s population lives in cities, with the majority of urban dwellers facing homelessness, lacking security of tenure or living in inadequate conditions, and a third of them living in informal settlements, the Special Rapporteur argues that the change needed is a new “urban rights agenda” with the right to housing at its core.
Challenging the dominant perspective that views housing as a commodity, the report notes that cities are on an unsustainable path where market forces have created vast inequalities that ultimately segregate those who have means from those who do not. Habitat III provides an important opportunity to shape the future development of urban spaces with an inclusive, rights-based approach. This can also give greater clarity to target 11.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which commits to securing adequate housing for all by 2030.
The report concludes with a number of recommendations to States, which include: ensuring the centrality of the right to housing in a new "urban rights agenda", and a commitment to eliminating homelessness as an immediate priority.