Foundations To The Right To Adequate Housing – How Countries Sign On

2 homeless women hunker down in the rain between tents of a homeless encampment
This scene was created by and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Everyone should have the right to housing. The statement is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really tell us much about what it means on the ground. As well, when confronted with a situation like homelessness, where the right to housing is obviously absent, verbally invoking the ‘right to housing’ doesn’t say much about how we would achieve it.

When working at the local or even the national level, an international resource about the right to housing might not be top of mind. Yet the United Nations has thought and written extensively on the subject. This post joins others in the terms and concepts section of, which present some of the UN’s resources.

Some countries, including South Africa, include the right to adequate housing in their constitutions. Others, including The United States, are pursuing a route that does not directly reference the right to adequate housing. Canada has followed a third route, incorporating the UN’s language about the right to adequate housing into Canadian law through legislation. Why are these processes so varied?

The UN issues a series of Fact Sheets to help navigate its resources on specific aspects of human rights by assembling it in one place. The UN’s work about adequate housing is woven throughout its efforts and assembled in Fact Sheet 21. This includes

    • nine international treaties that recognize the right to housing, and
    • seven groups of people who are entitled to the right to adequate housing but often excluded. People who are homeless and refugees and migrants are examples, along with women, indigenous people and people with disabilities.

Fact Sheet 21 states that individual nations are responsible to determine their own process for realizing the right to adequate housing. This makes it highly likely that each country’s process will be unique. At the same time, it is highly likely that each country’s process will include legislative measures.

Fact Sheet 21 also indicates that states are expected to fulfill their commitment to the right to adequate housing, using the all the tools that are available to them. In addition to legislation, tools include policies and programs, budgets, the judicial system and promotional activities.

Fact Sheet 21 also provides some examples of legislative measures and other tools used in individual countries. The examples remind us to look at work in other countries as well as the United Nations.

To learn more, you can find Fact Sheet 21 at the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights: The Right To Adequate Housing