Housing for All

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Housing for all?  In the U.S.A.?


Housing for all is well-established American idea.   In President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address, the president stated that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”  The President proposed a New Bill of Rights: “Among these are… the right of every family to a decent home.”[1]


Just like important goals of Veterans’ Adminsitration benefits and Social Security, the U.S. Congress in the late 1940s recognized the importance of promoting fair housing for everyone. The National Housing Act of 1949 [42 U.S.C. 1441 et seq.] set forth of the goal of the  “realization as soon as feasible of the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.”  The National Housing Goal, part of the U.S. Code (our national laws), § 1441A., included concrete measures including the promotion of 26 million housing units in the next 10 years, of which 6 million would be reserved for low and moderate income families.[2]  The fact that leaders and experts have recognized our profound need to deal with our nation’s housing needs has not been limited to the 1940s.  The National Housing Act goal was reiterated in the 1968 Housing Act, and in slightly different versions in the 1974 and 1990 Housing Acts.


Making affordable, high quality housing available for everyone will help create good jobs.  As we currently lack sufficient housing units to serve low and middle income families, construction, renovation, and other building services will be required to fill such needs.  And a new national initiative can avoid the problems of the past, such as energy inefficiency and sprawl, to make affordable housing of the 21st century more ecologically friendly and integrated with our natural environment.


The right to adequate housing is considered such an important and universal right for all human beings that it is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” (Article 25(1))


While these international treaties do not create legal obligations on the U.S. government, public opinion should.  According to an August 2007 study by the Opportunity Agenda, a public interest research organization, 77% of all Americans do agree that housing should be a basic right.[3] 
According to professors of public policy Rachel Bratt, Michael Stone and Chester Hartman, in 2006 there were over 100 million Americans who lived in inadequate housing.[4]   Homeless Americans, which make up about 1.6 million (in 2010), of which nearly one million were school aged children, are projected to increase, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.[5]

[1]    Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center Musem, “FDR’s Words 60 Years Ago Continue to Inspire Today,” http://www.fdrheritage.org/bill_of_rights.htm.

[2]    See Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, “§ 1441A. NATIONAL HOUSING GOALS”  http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/usc_sec_42_00001441—a000-.html

[3]    Belden Russonello and Steward for the Opportunity Agenda, Human Rights in the United States, August 2007 http://opportunityagenda.org/pdfs/HUMAN%20RIGHTS%20REPORT.PDF

[4]    Rachel Bratt, Michael Stone, and Chester Hartman, A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda (Temple University Press, 2006).

[5]    National Alliance to End Homelessness, “Increases in Homelessness on the Horizon,” 28 September 2011, http://www.endhomelessness.org/files/4226_file_Poverty_Paper_9_28_2011.pdf

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