Can the Human Right To Adequate Housing Include Bits Of ‘Unhousing?’

A view of several apartment balconies obviously in use as extra storage

“Adequate” can be a vague term when not supported by a more detailed explanation of what what it actually means. ‘Has a roof?’ Well of course, in that particular case ‘adequate’ doesn’t really need to be spelled out.

But what about ‘has a balcony?’ Essential to adequate housing? Really? Surely not!

Wander about a big city such as Toronto and gaze upward at the lofty high-rises walled with balconies. Often, you may scan a 40 storey wall of them and seen not a single person.

There’s a bicycle on a 35th floor balcony. Convenient storage, but hardly a reason to be included in an ‘adequate housing’ description. And then there is the size of the balcony. That balcony on the 10th floor, with two chairs and a small table set out for tea, doesn’t appear to have room for people. How could those spaces be part of a definition of ‘adequate housing?’

But you can’t be dismissive of balconies as a mere frill of living space if you live in Rennes, France. There, developers will be required to build balconies on every apartment building higher than two stories. This is not about balconies as a frill, but as a vital recipe for adequate health. What’s more, the city has passed on more powers to individual citizens to influence laws and by-laws that help define their right to adequate housing.

Is this writing on the wall for other communities, in France, indeed in countries around the world, that are considering the construction of high rise housing, whether luxury housing or deeply affordable public/social housing?

Take this Hamilton, Ontario aging high rise which survived classic ‘tear it down’ sentiments. It was refurbished to strict ‘green’ standards. Is it a global warming triumph, or an adequate housing oopsie? To handle the refurbishment economically, its balconies were sacrificed to energy efficient cladding. Try Is EnerPHit the Future of Affordable Housing?

As for the balcony requirements in Rennes, two important health issues informed the city’s decisions. Read more in The Rennes forces developers to put balconies on every new building, thanks to Covid