Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rice Implies Housing is a Human Right?

With the all the global outrage and condemnation that the country of Zimbabwe has received for its policy of demolishing illegal shanty towns, I thought it'd be a good time to try to expand this outrage to a place where Americans can actually affect change - that is in America.

A 1999 study by the (conservative) Urban Land Institute found that 2.3 million Americans were likely to experience homelessness during that year. We know things have only gotten worse in most cities since then, with the absurd prices brought about by the housing bubble. The study noted that 1/2 of these people were homeless because they were evicted or could not afford housing payments (that is 1.15 million people a year). Of course, we use nice courts and legal documents to kick people out who can't pay one by one, so we don't read about it in the newspapers.

Secretary of State Condi Rice called the eviction of 120,000 Zimbabweans living in crime-ridden, unsafe slums "tragic." She and her UK counterpoint Jack Straw, who normally obsess over "rule of law" and property rights, here see fit to make an international issue out of a country enforcing laws that exist in our own countries.

Condi might have done well to talk to her cousin Constance, who is fighting right now against uncompensated evictions of people (based on supposed gang association) in Watts and Los Angeles. Or she might have found equally tragic the forced evictions of thousands who had lived illegally in public housing in Chicago over the past couple years. Or she might even think about the fact that the United States has the largest amount of people on the strees than any industrialized country.

And no, I am not in support of Zimbabwe's evictions. I find evictions and homelessness disgusting in any country. But I do find it just a wee bit hypocritical for the US' leaders to go on about these things in one country of the world and not in our own backyard. Can we take Condi's words to mean she is against lawful evictions anywhere? Does then, she believe there is a fundamental right to basic shelter... as housing advocates have been trying to get the US to recognize since the 30s. Housing is in the UN Declaration of Human Rights but we've never taken the care to implement that inconvenient human right because it would jeopardize the market-based housing system.


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