The Human Right to Adequate Housing: A Changing Definition Of “Adequate”

man sitting beside a computer device on very long bamboo poll, with wire trailing to the ground
Bush Internet photo by IMAGICITY is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Getting access to the internet calls for creative solutions, unless a community decides it's essential for everyone.

Adequate housing as a basic human right? Many countries have formally accepted this United Nations-promoted vision.1 Others, such as America, have large populations that aspire to the principle, even though road blocks may stand in the way of formal affirmation.

But, what exactly does “adequate” mean? The raging coronavirus pandemic highlights differences in modern development between countries, which in turn shade the meaning of “adequate.”

In a country where closing schools sends children to work barefoot in garbage dumps for family survival, adequate housing may well be as little as a roof to protect against rain, and a hopeful four walls to provide some privacy and security. For such an example read more in the Deccan Herald: As Covid-19 shuts schools, children across the world go to work

Modern development, however, creates ongoing changes to the meaning of “adequate.” It comes about not only because communities are concerned about the health and welfare of individual home dwellers, but because they are also concerned about the health and welfare of the community itself.

As a consequence, adequate housing is enforced by laws, which define the necessary links that housing must have with that community. It becomes no longer permissible to bang together a simple hutch on the edge of town, then walk across a field or two on the way into the community to look for work.

To live in urban and suburban environments of more developed countries, “adequate” extends beyond walls and a roof to include road access, electrical and/or gas service, fresh water access, and sewerage. Some or all of these connections are essential components of the term “adequate.” Without them, housing is simply not allowed.2

This discussion so far is a preamble explaining why “adequate” needs expansion to include a fundamental community connection that has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education is universally accepted as a means of escape from the meanest, most inadequate forms of human family survival. To aspire for a better life means sacrificing to support the education of children. Yet the pandemic has largely prevented a traditional, yet entirely essential, link to the community from the home — the road to school. That road has by necessity become in part a broadband (in other words, fast) internet road, still existing as a patchwork of connectivity across virtually all nations.

At the same time, “needs must” ingenuity has demonstrated how the same patchwork of internet connectivity can turn the internet into an effective highway to work for many jobs.

There are many indications that essential portions of education, as well as some employment, will continue to require connectivity to this electronic highway. Thus, for equal opportunity for all citizens of modernizing countries, a broadband internet connection must move beyond a patchwork consideration of free market telecommunications profit, and towards an essential, universal component of the term “adequate” when applied to a country’s housing aspirations.

Read more about the absence of an internet “road” to education at PIX11: 77,000 NYC students struggle without tablets, internet for remote learning


  1. Here’s a discussion of adequate housing in UN Terms: Fact Sheet No.21, The Human Right to Adequate Housing
  2. Although the growth of camps of people experiencing homelessness give the lie even to this.

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