Effective Right to Housing Petition

I suggest to include a petition on the Effective Right to Housing, as part of the Petition Pack. Below is the context, the problem and the proposed petition. I would be grateful for input on this petition.

 

The context – the Right to Housing is recognised at international and EU level

The right to housing is recognised at international level. It is, in fact, one of the universal human rights, adopted by the UN in 1948 (https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html), and was further included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx), ratified by 153 states in 1966.

Article 11(1) states:

"The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent."

 The Council of Europe, which brings together 47 European Countries, including the European Union, also protects the right to housing, in Article 31 of the Revised European Social Charter (https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/163) of 1996.

In addition, the right to housing is one of the fundamental rights on which the European Union is based, and is included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_en.pdf), which came into legal force in 2009 with the Treaty of Lisbon, as paragraph 3 of Article 34 reads:

3. In order to combat social exclusion and poverty, the Union recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources, in accordance with the rules laid down by Community law and national laws and practices.

 

The problem – the EU enforcement of the Right to Housing is weak

The number of homeless people in Europe is estimated to be 700,000, according to FEANTSA & Foundation Abbé Pierre. This is estimated to be an increase of 70% compared to ten years ago (https://www.feantsa.org/public/user/Resources/magazine/2019/Spring/Homeless_in_Europe_magazine_-_Spring_2019.pdf).

There are no official EU statistics which measures the scale of the problem and no directives which make member states accountable for managing the problem.

 

The petition’s ask – make the Right to Housing effective

For an effective enforcement of the right to housing, we request that the EU:

  • Issues official EU-wide statistics on the numbers of homeless in each member state, using a homogeneous method
  • Establishes a ten-year plan to eradicate homelessness in each member state, overseen by the EU, with focus on providing adequate short, medium and long-term housing solutions for those in need and unable to provide for themselves, in addition to emergency shelter
  • Defines annual homeless threshold levels, as part of the ten-year plan, which member states are required to achieve or otherwise they would be subject to EU sanctions

I disagree with the proposition that the EU should try to enforce the right to housing through coercive measures including sanctions for failure, for two reasons.

First I think that, despite Brexit which is mainly self-inflicted, the EU has been a very successful endeavour as a result of getting the balance right between pooling of sovereignty and retention of sovereignty over many things at national level. More centralised powers could easily provoke a backlash not just in the UK. That does not mean that no new powers should be considered but they should be clearly justified by joint action being likely to be much more effective as it may be in tackling the climate emergency. 

 

Second if there were to be sanctions for homelessness that would be likely to prompt members states to take an even harsher approach to immigration, including acceptance of refugees, than they already do, since significant numbers of homeless are migrants and migration adds to pressure on the housing stock. 

 

There should be attempts to spread best practice, looking for example to Finland, and there could be a good case for allocating a portion of the EU budget to helping member states tackle homelessness especially where linked to higher immigration whether from within or outside the EU.

 

Charles Jenkins

Charles,

many thanks for your feedback. Le me try and comment on your points:

1. The EU has been an incredible succesful political project: it has managed to bring together 28 (now 27, unforntunately) nations under a single over-arching institution safeguarding peace between them. Whilst the EU has also progressed in centralising powers, it still suffers from two main issues: the EU powers are insufficient to be effective in a large set of policy areas and, somehow a consequence of this, the EU still remains an institution too distant from the every-day life of its citizens.

It is in this context that I feel that, to succesfully evolve the EU project, the EU should take a more active role in implementing key policies which defines it, to ensure the fundamental values which the EU is based upon are respected. I also feel that it is important the citizens can rely on EU institutions to deliver change on policies which impact their day-to-day lives. This process will take time, but imagine if the EU were able to change society such that the right to housing was effectively implemented EU-wide, as opposed to be stated in its Charter of Fundamental Rights, but then not fully acted upon! Coercive measures are clearly not the only way to achieve policy change, however they reflect the importance and focus which should be given to policies. It often feels that the lack of coercive measures on human rights reflects the lower importance given to such policies, as opposed to financial policies, and we need to rebalance focus from finance measures to "quality of life" measures.

2.  This is, in fact, a clear example of why more attention on the right to housing should be enforced with stronger rigour. Taking the UK as case study, the reason why migrant homeless has risen is due to the "hostile environment for illegal immigration", first implemented by Theresa May at the Home Office in 2012. As a result of this policy, immigrants were denied access to basic rights (they could not work, could not open a bank account, could not access health services, etc) even though they were not illegal, but awaiting to regularise their status, a process which could take years.

A policy to restrict immigration may have its own political debate. But a policy of denying fundamental rights to citizens to "discourage" immigration should be rejected. Member states should enact immigration policies which do not negate fundamental rights, and it would be right for the EU to ensure that fundamental rights are respected.

You can find more info on the impact of the hostile environement on migrant homeless in UK here: https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/the-plan-to-end-homelessness-full-version/solutions/chapter-12-ending-migrant-homelessness/

 

3. Thanks for pointing out the best practice implemented in Finland. I absolutely agree that the EU should champion the spreading of such best practices. In short, in Finland they have implemented a "Housing First" policy which is, funnily enough, rather the opposite to the "hostile environment" implemented in UK and has worked very effectively by drastically reducing the number of homeless. The concept is: first provide a house to people in need, without preconditions. Then support people in finding a job and rebuilding a life. It is much easier to rebuild a life once people are given a stable accomodation, rather than attempting to do that without a residence. Without a house, people are not given jobs, bank accounts, references, etc etc and their life digs deeper in desparation. And financial and social costs to society is higher.

https://scoop.me/housing-first-finland-homelessness/