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Exploring the Link Between Housing and Human Rights in Houston

On December 10th, Human Rights Day commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Throughout the world, this day aims to raise awareness and respect for human rights. We should reco

What is Human Rights Day?

Every year on December 10th, Human Rights Day is celebrated internationally. This day marks the anniversary of the Universial Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The Universial Declaration of Human Rights is defined as the “power of ideas to change the world and inspire us to continue working to ensure all people can gain freedom, equality, and dignity”, according to the United Nations.

During Human Rights Day, it is important to raise awareness about the many households without fair and quality housing.

How is Housing Rights connected to Human Rights Day?

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized adequate housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, according to the United Nations. To be considered adequate housing, it must also have the following key elements: Security of tenure, Availability of services, Affordability, Habitability, Accessibility, Location, Cultural Adequacy, according to the United Nations.

Security of tenure in housing protects tenants from forced evictions, harassment, and other threats. As part of the availability of services in housing includes access safe drinking water, energy for cooking, lighting, etc. Habitability in housing refers to the physical safety of the residents, protection from cold, heat, rain, and threats to health and structural hazards. In order to be accessible, housing must take into account the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized groups. A housing location should be accessible to employment opportunities, health care services, schools, and childcare centers. Cultural adequacy in housing includes respecting the expression of cultural identity.

What does this look like in Houston?

Households are often cost-burdened (renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing), which makes it difficult to maintain a living and afford other expenses. The 2023 Kinder Institute Study found that Houston rent increased by over 40% between 2015 and 2021. According to the table presented in the study, Second Ward's median rent in 2015 was $608, compared to $1,213 in 2021. In Settegast, the median rent in 2015 was $612, compared to $865 in 2021. In East Downtown, the median rent in 2015 was $1,165, compared to $2,223 in 2021.

According to research, rent increased significantly from 2015 to 2021 and will continue to rise. As most of households' income goes toward paying rent, they are unable to afford housing. Housing will become unaffordable for families if households continue to spend most of their income on rising rent.

Rent and other living expenses become burdensome for many households to prevent homelessness and other negative outcomes. This can also lead to stress and other mental health issues. In a time when households struggle to make ends meet and afford housing, this is not an adequate human right or housing right. The availability of affordable housing should be fair to all individuals and should be easily accessible.

While many households are facing affordable housing challenges, others are facing the issue of habitability due to unsanitary living conditions in Houston apartment complexes.

Research on housing quality is limited compared to affordable housing, according to the 2023 Kinder institute study. In Harris County's central appraisal district, there are estimated to be 333,376 rental structures, all of which are subject to an implied warranty of habitability, meaning the landlord must ensure that their property is liveable, such as fixing anything that affects a tenant's health or safety, according to the study.

The Houston Landing reported that residents who lived in two apartment buildings in disrepair said the Houston Housing Authority and its partner agencies pushed to evict nearly 250 tenants because of unsafe living conditions.

A letter was submitted by tenants to housing officials with multiple requests, including a priority in relocation to safer housing. In addition, the letter contained ongoing issues that tenants alleged in the apartment community, including eviction notices delivered to residents receiving rental assistance, mold and pest infestations, broken appliances and air conditioning units, and frequent water and power shutoffs, the Houston Landing reported.

In addition, residents of the two complexes claim that housing officials were aware of the horrible conditions, but ignored their complaints. Additionally, caseworkers no longer showed up at the properties for fear of their safety. In response, Houston Housing Authority officials said that they were concerned about the reported conditions at the two apartment complexes and were committed to resolving them.

Consequently, many households face housing issues such as mold and pest infestations, broken air conditioners, and water and electricity shutoffs, which are unfair and unsafe. A tenant’s human right to housing includes freedom, safety, and protection, all of which were neglected by some residents as described above.

Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing inequality living conditions, you can contact 311 or submit an online service request. For affordable housing resources, visit here.

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