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Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context

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. While the structure itself is important, housing is more than four walls and a roof. It is a place where families connect, where relationships develop, where meals are shared, culture is nurtured, and safety is fostered. Housing is 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. 

Housing is increasingly viewed as a commodity, but it 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 such as: 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. For example, it is rarely considered in the drafting of relevant laws and policies let alone incorporated into them. Even when national housing strategies exist, they are seldom informed by human rights standards.

The key to ensuring adequate housing is the implementation of this human right through appropriate government policy and programmes. In most States around the world the implementation of the right to housing happens at the local level, in cities, villages and boroughs: it is imperative, therefore, that all levels of government know and understand their human rights obligations with respect to housing. 

Focus of the Mandate 2014-2017

The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned by the large and widening gap between the standards that have been developed on the right to housing, and the realities of daily life for hundreds of millions of people across the world. 

Systemic homelessness, substandard housing conditions, unaffordable rents and insecure tenure, and lack of access to adequate housing for many vulnerable and marginalized groups in both affluent and less affluent countries suggests a crisis of commitment to effectively implement the right to adequate housing. In response to this, 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 and made effective in addressing this human rights crisis. 

The Special Rapporteur will devote particular attention to the most vulnerable populations as it is their voice that often goes unheard with respect to housing, specifically 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. The Special Rapporteur will also focus on specific topics including: 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 of 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.   


The report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/28/62) considers how local and other subnational levels of government can be fully engaged in the realization of the right to adequate housing. The Rapporteur finds that while decentralization may have significant advantages, it must always be guided by human rights.

In the Special Rapporteur’s view, local and subnational governments have growing responsibilities to implement the right to adequate housing, but face numerous challenges to do so. States must ensure that they have the capacity and resources needed to fulfil those obligations.

The Special Rapporteur emphasizes the importance of international human rights mechanisms engaging constructively with the responsibilities of local governments. The report finds inspiration from emerging human rights initiatives bringing together cities and subnational governments, civil society, community-based organizations and human rights institutions, the report underscores the benefit of interactive relationships with local struggles for the realization of the right to adequate housing.

Summaries of the report in E | F | S


Special Rapporteur presents her report on role of local and subnational governments in implementation of the right to housing, March 2015

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