Housing Is A Human Right

Bint shares the bad news that all public housing units in New Orleans are set to be destroyed. If you’re in Louisiana or the surrounding areas, or if you want to make the journey to engage in some civil disobedience, contact action@peopleshurricane.org with your response to the pledge copied below:

A major human rights crisis exists in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It is a crisis that denies the basic rights to life, equality under the law, and social equity to Black, Indigenous, migrant, and working class communities in the region. While this crisis was in existence long before Hurricane Katrina, the policies and actions of the US government and finance capital (i.e. banking, credit, insurance, and development industries) following the Hurricane have seriously exacerbated the crisis.

One of the clearest examples of this crisis is the denial of the right to housing in New Orleans, particularly in the public housing sector. Since the Hurricane, the US government through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has denied the vast majority of the residents of public housing the right to return to their homes. Unlike the vast majority of the housing stock in New Orleans, the majority of the public housing units received little to no flood or wind damage from the Hurricane. Yet, as of October 2007 only ¼ of the public housing units have been reopened and reoccupied. The Bush government refuses to reopen the public housing units in New Orleans because it appears intent on destroying the public housing system, demolishing the existing structures, and turning over the properties to private real-estate developers to make profits.

Based on the discriminatory Federal Court ruling issued on Monday, September 10th, all of the major public housing units in New Orleans are now subject to immediate demolition (the latest report from Monday, November 5th is that HUD will attempt to start the demolition on Monday, November 19th. However, this is being challenged by various legal advocates and will be delayed until at least Wednesday, November 28th pending a Federal court hearing). The first site on the schedule for demolition is the Lafitte housing project. Lafitte therefore, is the line in the sand that must be drawn by all peoples in support of the human right to housing.

“I Pledge”

I believe in the fundamental human right to housing, and I will not be a witness to the denial of this right to the peoples of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I therefore pledge myself to resist the denial of this right by all civil and humanitarian means available, including civil disobedience. I pledge to stand ready to take action against this imminent threat and to put myself on the line, either directly in New Orleans or in strategic locales throughout the US, in support of the demands and leadership of the peoples of New Orleans and their organizations in the struggle for housing and human rights.

We ask that all those interested in coming to New Orleans to contact us before making the journey. We need to ensure that everyone coming is registered, properly orientated and trained in order to partake in this act of resistance in the manner determined by the local leaders and residents. Please contact us via email at action@peopleshurricane.org, with the word “registration” in the subject line. Also, please include the following information:

Affinity Group/Organization (if applicable):
Have you ever received any training in civil disobedience?
What skills/resources are you able to bring to New Orleans?

All making this pledge must be advised of the following:

1. As of now we do not know exactly when the demolition orders will be given. We hope to have this information within at least 48 hours of the scheduled demolition to contact you and give you sufficient time to act (including travel for residents and allies coming in from out of town).
2. Given the limited timeframe and resources of the various organizations spearheading this fight back, access to the following will be limited:

Legal counsel and aid. All effort is and will be made to provide adequate legal support, but the reality is that it is limited at present.
Lodging and food. Again, given the uncertain timeline and limited resources, housing venues are presently limited, but all effort will be made to support all those making this bold pledge.

For more information, please contact the Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF) at 504.301.0215 or info@peopleshurricane.org or Survivors Village at 504.239.2907 or survivorsvillage@gmail.com.

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!

If you are coming to New Orleans:

Please think about forming an affinity group before you get here. Different roles in an affinity group can be:

* legal support person/people for members of your group
* medics
* photo/videographer
(for documentation of events and indymedia coverage in your own area)
*police liasion
etc, etc.

if your group has some of its own logistical needs taken care of, this will help local organizers coordinate on a broader level. For example, if each affinity group has a legal support person, they can coordinate with the local legal team to make sure everyone’s legal needs are taken care of.

The Homecoming Center | 1222 Dorgenois | New Orleans | LA | 70112

Similar Posts (automatically generated):

40 comments for “Housing Is A Human Right

  1. Luis Bup
    November 12, 2007 at 10:24 am

    When last I checked, jus cogens does not include the right to housing. While it may be in the South African Constitution, statements like “housing is a human right,” just like other assertions of positive rights for people, are far more difficult to enforce in practice. While I agree that this situation is tragic, I think we should focus any civil disobedience more on protecting our negative rights–those rights that constrain the power of the State over the individual–before we start further expanding the scope of the State’s spending and control over the lives of individuals, such as requiring housing to be paid for. I have faith that the decency and charity of the average American is far better suited to this task than our federal government. Either that or I’m a heartless bastard.

  2. Betsy
    November 12, 2007 at 10:59 am

    I’m going with the latter. That, or an ignorant bastard. Luis, if the “decency and charity of the average American” were enough to tackle this task, we wouldn’t have the kind of disaster that is still enfolding the lives of countless Louisianans.

  3. M.
    November 12, 2007 at 11:18 am

    All this “government should be kept to a minimum” libertarian talk never made sense to me – but maybe that’s because I’m living in Canada and I can see every day what a wonderful thing a government can be.

    As far as I am concerned, a big government that serves the people and cares for the people’s needs is ALWAYS better than a small government out for its own interests.

    As for the “decency and charity of the average American,” it is neither stable nor guaranteed. All it takes is for the average American to be distracted, feeling the pinch of a recession, or saving up for a new TV for that help to stop. This is not acceptable. It is not a workable solution to put the well-being of any nation’s poor and destitute into the hands of a fickle populace. Say what you want about governments, at least the income is steady and can be contested if reduced – if help stops coming, there is someone who can be held accountable.

  4. Cara
    November 12, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    Funny how the anti-government libertarians still want to drive on public roads, rely on public sewer systems, drink public water, have the police come when they get robbed…oh, but those don’t count, I guess.

    All this blather about how it should be a choice to give charity and not a required tax fails to take into account that even WITH required taxes crap like this is still happening. Doesn’t that sort of demonstrate quite visibly just how “charitable” most of the wealthy really are?

  5. Luis Bup
    November 12, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    I don’t see how public roads, public water and police is related to a “right to housing.” I guess you could rely on the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Soviet Union’s alternative to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights), which guarantees a right to housing, and would be valid, and then we could just agree to disagree. Or you can look at the wonderful housing provided in South Africa, except for the fact that there is a many years delay on the right to housing as the government cannot keep the promise guaranteed by the Constitution, which kind of erodes at its own legitimacy.

    And condemnation of the wealthy and their “charity” is equally as played out as your arguments about public roads and libertarians. But that’s why I can never seem to get along with my fellow Democrats–there is no strategy for incrementalism, which I’ve always thought was the whole point to democracy.

    What’s happened in New Orleans is hideous. We are the United States of America. New Orleans is a major city. We are not Aceh, we should have already fixed the situation. But nothing about our federal government’s recent actions has proven to me that they should be entrusted with fixing this situation either, so why should we ask them to do this? I think my point was less of a defense of the rich and their charity (the rich aren’t the only American people I was speaking of, you know), and more of a call to grassroots-ism. Maybe we should just build the damn houses ourselves rather than waste time protesting a court decision. I await your vitriol with bated breath.

  6. nonskanse
    November 12, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?
    Nowhere does it say “housing”, and I live in Seattle, so I see a lot of homeless and feel it.
    I truly wouldn’t mind paying a bit to guarantee that the guys on the street looking for change had a place to live. I can’t even begin to imagine the misery and it’s nice to help. Ok, and it will make me feel better, and the streets will smell nicer (not so much piss on the walls), and the tourists will be happier and maybe spend more money in this fair city. And maybe crime will go down. There are nice benefits for me.

    But then free or subsidized housing can create other problems, such as inflation of housing prices – the first X-thousand dollars becomes invisible to the market, and the amount of money you need to have to afford a house increases, and so the number of people needing this housing goes up to the next rung on the income ladder. Since the original beneficiaries were homeless and likely jobless, this is still fairly low, but that’s another increase in taxes, and the cycle repeats until it reaches stability.
    Where is stability? When do we stop? Do we stop once the crime rate stops dropping enough to be profitiable (no doubt it would drop some).
    Do we stop when everyone has a home, even if it means that everyone up to the mean household income is getting free housing? Do we stop when we feel we’ve been “good people” and we “aren’t racist” because look, there’s just as many white homeless as black homeless now? Tearing down something that already existed seems to be going too far in the other direction. But then, will the money enable New Orleans to rebuild? Will it do more good than harm? What if it would? Would you still protest?

  7. November 12, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    I don’t see how public roads, public water and police is related to a “right to housing.”

    I think perhaps we’re coming at this issue from different angles; I’m not arguing that there is a Constitutional right to housing, but rather a moral and ethical one based on human rights theories, not strictly legal documents.

    But nothing about our federal government’s recent actions has proven to me that they should be entrusted with fixing this situation either, so why should we ask them to do this? I think my point was less of a defense of the rich and their charity (the rich aren’t the only American people I was speaking of, you know), and more of a call to grassroots-ism. Maybe we should just build the damn houses ourselves rather than waste time protesting a court decision. I await your vitriol with bated breath.

    It’s true that our federal government is currently pretty inept. But that doesn’t mean that the government is unable to do better. As it stands, private charity isn’t getting the job done, and I would argue that it’s the government’s responsibility to provide the basics for its citizens (and I would include shelter in “the basics”). The Bush administration’s incompetence shouldn’t get them a get-out-of-providing-services-free card; it should encourage us to push them harder until they do their jobs, or get rid of them and replace them with an administration that will.

  8. M.
    November 12, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Can you truly not see how the right to drive on a safe paved and clearly marked road is connected to the right to have shelter to bed in?

    The government *can* be trusted if we hold it accountable when it fails to do what it should do. Making sure that all citizens have a roof over their heads is something our government should do, but instead of holding them accountable, you are merely suggesting that we let them off the hook and go build shelters ourselves (where will we get the materials? How much will our families suffer when we go build houses pro bono instead of earning wages? Where will we sleep while we do this work?).

    Democracy only works if the government is held accountable when it fails its people. This rolling-up-your-sleeves and just doing the job yourself may make a small difference, but not only will it be that much slower and more difficult without organizational backing, it also sets the dangerous precedent of forgiving government mistakes and injustices.

  9. November 12, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?
    Nowhere does it say “housing”, and I live in Seattle, so I see a lot of homeless and feel it.

    Well, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” weren’t laid out as the end-all be-all to human rights doctrine. They were part of the Declaration of Independence, and listed as inalienable rights — and the Declaration was pretty clear that it wasn’t giving an exhaustive list (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”).

    I’m also from Seattle, and I live in New York. So I see homelessness too. A lot of it. But keep in mind that what we’re addressing here isn’t even your run-of-the-mill homelessness (of which the vast majority is temporary, by the way, but that’s another issue altogether). Here, we’re addressing homelessness caused by government ineptitude in the face of natural disaster; we’re addressing people who had homes, and who no longer do because levees went unsupported and a whole city drowned while our President sat around playing the fucking guitar. In other words, natural disaster caused their homeless, but the government was complicit in it. While I stand by the assertion that the government is obligated to shelter all of its residents, I’d say it has an even stronger obligation to do so when its incompetence led to their homelessness in the first place.

  10. M.
    November 12, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    nonskanse – Where do you get the impression that free housing will do this? Can you think of a real world example where this has happened? I admit my understanding of economics is limited, but the few real world examples I’ve seen don’t seem to support your conclusions.

    For example, I have a close friend who grew up in government-sponsored housing. It wasn’t free, but it was very cheap. Part of the deal was that every member of the family above a certain age had to spend X number of days providing free labour in the building of more houses for the same programme. Housing in my city isn’t significantly higher than in any city of the same size in the US as far as I can tell. It seems reasonable and affordable – all the more so because there are so many housing options, from fairly cheap to very expensive. Something for everyone.

    My other real world example is Russia. Some parts were terrible. As Luis says, there were long waiting lists for housing. But most areas worked fairly smoothly and everyone had an apartment for free. There was also the option to rent or buy country/summer cottages that were fairly affordable. Just to give an example, my husband was on the lower end of the income scale and they had a free apartment, a small cottage just outside of town that was used as a farm, and rented a summer cottage by a lake. In the US, a family of their income bracket would have struggled just to maintain an apartment.

    So if you could provide some of the facts that you’ve used to reach your conclusions, that would be much appreciated.

  11. William
    November 12, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Hey everyone, just a message from your friendly neighborhood libertarian (with a small “l”). Luis’ isn’t the only strain of thought in our little camp. While s/he makes some good points regarding negative and positive liberty, as well as some good points about just how untrustworthy our government is. I also disagree with the rhetoric of the OP about housing being a human right, and I think thats a pretty dangerous road to go down for a lot of reasons.


    Luis, you’re missing the point in New Orleans. Yeah, in a perfect world the government would be out of the discussion and us classical liberals would be able to band together and argue that negative liberty is far more pressing and valid than positive liberty. Thing is, we don’t live in that perfect world. We live in a society which puts some value on positive rights, which recognizes and extends those rights. Further, for better or worse, our government has made a commitment to provide public housing for those who need it. There might be a good discussion over whether or not they should have done that, but that isn’t really whats at issue here. Whats at issue is the government making a commitment, then backing out using deceptive means.

    Now, if the issue here was HUD saying they didn’t think providing housing was the province of the federal government and then congress liquidating the agency and it’s assets, it’d be a different story. Hell, I’d probably be firmly within the “heartless bastard” camp if that was the case. But it isn’t. More importantly, you know it isn’t.

    Do your fellow travelers a favor, Luis. Pick your battles more carefully. Trying to parry every discussion into a libertarian issue, especially in places where you know the audience isn’t going to be receptive, just makes the rest of us look bad.

  12. nonskanse
    November 12, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Jill, as I implied, I wouldn’t mind paying the tax to keep those buildings up or even make new ones. I am aware that a lot of homelessness is “rotating”. I did say tearing down public housing that already existed is going too far. We fucked up(with our votes for Bush, etc), so we should pay with our money to fix our fuckup.

    M, My thing about subsidies making some of the $ invisible… it may affect the price of housing if we provide free housing. Just something to take into account and think about. Hence all my questions. Notice it was “can increase” and not “will increase”. I believe that college subsidies and cheap loans are still the largest contributors to making college education costs increase more rapidly than inflation today. You asked for facts and all I have is an example that people don’t agree on anyway.
    I am trying to avoid statement of fact with my wording because I know that there are too many conditions to take into account that also have an effect on the economics of the situation.

    Housing in my city isn’t significantly higher than in any city of the same size in the US as far as I can tell.

    Then maybe the housing-for-work is a functional and effective program. The effect of the subsidy may be tiny or nonexistant because work is required and therfore the first X-thousand dollars becomes “visible” again. Glad it’s working in your city.

  13. Sojourner
    November 12, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Luis Bup:
    “I guess you could rely on the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” No, you don’t need to look any further than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN general assembly and ratified by the US:

    “Article 25.
    (1) 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.”

    And yeah, the answer to your questions is, you are a heartless bastard.
    As a side note. I’d like a T-shirt that reads: “Die Libertarians! Die!”.

  14. November 12, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for posting this. What the Pledge of Resistance does not clarify, but is the foundation of the housing is a human argument by public housing activists in New Orleans (and elsewhere, see The Coalition to Protect Public Housing, in Chicago, for instance), is that this principle is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (I may be getting the precise title incorrect), which is a document from the 1940s that the U.S., along with myriad countries, signed. Within the declaration are our rights to housing, eduation, secure and non-exploitative work, health, etc.

    This principle was the basis of the lawsuit by public housing residents to preserve the four public housing developments in NO slated for demolition (you can learn more about this lawsuit, which they unfortunately recently lost, at the website of their lawyers, the civil rights firm The Advancement Project), and is the foundation for economic justice struggles across the country and abroad (see also the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign).

    If you want a longer update on the latest in public housing activism in New Orleans, check me out here. I’ve been writing about the struggle to preserve public housing in New Orleans for over a year now. I urge anyone interested to look through the archives and links.

    If you want a deeper discussion of rights-based activism, check me out here.

    I’m sort of chagrined to be incl. so many links including my own (see: Shameless Self-Promotion), but it’s so rare this topic is covered in the mainstream blogosphere. Thanks again for posting about this. It’s a major issue and I’m thrilled to see Feministe bringing it up.

  15. M.
    November 12, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    nonskanse – I understand and I appreciate your use of milder language :) I think it’s important to examine many of the “welfare programmes make money worthless” arguments because I have found them to based on theory rather than fact and what happens in the real world often doesn’t reflect it. I do understand your reasoning and, to me (still not an economist), it seems sound. I just haven’t seen it play out that way in the real world.

    Same as the US argument that if socialized medicine is adopted, the US will become some crazy Communist country with an awful economy where everyone will be poor and starving. And yet the Canadian dollar is on par with the US dollar. Socialization and welfare programmes, if handled with a moderate amount of planning and intelligence, really don’t seem to destroy the economy as much as the right wing would like us to think (or at all).

    As for college education, we pay far less here in Canada because so much of the education is subsidized. So again, I don’t understand your point. If subsidies and cheap loans (of which we have both in abundance here) make educational costs so much more expensive, why do we pay so much less here? I am not only talking about the tuition I pay out of pocket, but also what the government spends (which has been going down in recent years due to poor choices, forcing the students to pay more – but that’s a different argument). I don’t know if the increase is disproportionate to inflation or not, but the amount each student pays extra for tuition seems to work out fairly neatly with the amount the government is decreasing spending by.

  16. November 12, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Jill, as I implied, I wouldn’t mind paying the tax to keep those buildings up or even make new ones. I am aware that a lot of homelessness is “rotating”. I did say tearing down public housing that already existed is going too far. We fucked up(with our votes for Bush, etc), so we should pay with our money to fix our fuckup.

    Ah, sorry, I misread you! I think I’m a little too quick on the defensive today ;-)

  17. Travis
    November 12, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Housing is a human right? Since when? Luis is quite right that housing is not even approaching Jus Cogens in international law. Even for the signatories of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights (and the United States is not one) the duty is limited only to non-discriminatory progressive implementation. The U.S. is only a signatory of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It’s also quite odd to posit that governments owe positive, rather than negative obligations to citizens, because a positive obligation necessarily entails trodding over another’s rights (e.g. forcible taxation).
    But all this talk of “rights” misses the point. From a policy standpoint, whatever you feel about humanitarian concerns, things like universal healthcare, public housing, etc. are prima facie inefficient, end of story. The real debate is whether efficiency is all that matters. It might be the case that by having public housing certain externalities are prevented and so on a cost benefit level they are ultimately justified. I can buy that, but that doesn’t mean that as a matter of policy when trying to rebuild an economically important region of the U.S. it makes sense to keep the housing where they previously were. If you move the housing to less economically important areas it will maximize the value of the land, and the cost of insuring the public housing in a flood prone area like New Orleans will be drastically less, saving money for everybody.

  18. November 12, 2007 at 2:56 pm


    They’re not moving public housing. They’re knocking it down and building fewer units for a range of incomes in the same place. MIT architects specializing in building technologies (disclosure: I’m in the planning dept. of the same school) have testified to the structural soundness of the 5,000 units in question. Local chamber of commerce-esque agencies have testified to the need for workers to rebuild NOLA’s service and tourism sectors, as well as fill the construction industry. The LA Recovery Authority, the state agency charged with governing rebuilding, has found similar workforce shortages. There’s a corresponding shortage of affordable housing in New Orleans in which these desired workers could live; rents are up 200% in some places in the city and in LA (The Greater NO Community Data Center is a great place to track the changing demographics and economic circumstances of the city).

    The post-Katrina issue at play in New Orleans, LA and the Gulf Coast, broadly, is the denial of the lowest-income residents of the region their freedom to return to their former homes. The public housing case in NOLA is only the most egregious example. This is not an issue of rebuilding in less flood-prone zones at all; Lafitte housing, for example, in Treme, is next to the French Quarter, and barely flooded, just like the FQ. Proposed redevelopment of these sites will be more costly than preserving and re-habbing the buildings, less efficient because it does not allow for phased re-dev that would relieve the housing and workforce crunches the city is experiencing, and will overall reduce the # of units, and the # of units for the very-low-income, which is something economic justice advocates like myself care deeply about. Issues of efficiency and equity are both bound up in this struggle.

  19. M.
    November 12, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Travis – How do you define “efficient”?

    EVERYONE has access to health care in Canada while only a certain segment of the population does in the US. In my books, the system that is able to cater to the greatest number of people is the one that is efficient. I would be interested to hear how you would measure such a concept.

    Also, what’s wrong with taxation? I like to think of it like buying insurance. I pay my taxes and if God forbid something were to happen to me or my family, I would be supported and protected. The fact that my tax money goes to support everyone else who needs it as well suits me just fine. Honestly, I am happy to pay taxes because the services I receive in exchange are good and helpful.

    As for the right to housing, it’s easy to say that housing shouldn’t be a right while you have a roof over your head. I wonder if you would say the same thing if it had been your own that was destroyed by the flood, or if it had been your home that you lost because you were laid off, or if it was you who, for whatever reason, were forced to spend your nights outside in the cold.

  20. nonskanse
    November 12, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    All good points. I don’t think welfare programs make money worthless, but there is always a risk of that happening. Anyway I’m going to avoid taking the libertarian debate further since it already seems to be getting unreasonable as always.

    I think that everyone agrees that what is happening in New Orleans isn’t right, but Jill’s title is causing some controversy, and instead we are all focusing on that which is silly… me too, I admit.

  21. Travis
    November 12, 2007 at 4:43 pm


    Efficiency is a mathematical concept used in economics, the progeny of the felicific calculus posited by Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian philosopher.


    Pareto efficiency is a subset of Kaldor Hicks, and something is Kaldor efficient iff it could be made Pareto efficient via a side transaction (compensation to the losing party if there is one).
    Generally Pareto efficiency is regarded as a desirable outcome. It does NOT take issues such as distribution into account, and thus is purely utilitarian. For instance: yes, everyone in Canada has equal access to healthcare – but, let’s assume for a moment, it was the worst healthcare in the world – in that case, clearly the American situation, where 20% have great healthcare, another 40% have good healhcare, and the other 40% or so lack it, would clearly be preferable, on a strictly utilitarian basis. But once you acknowledge this thought experiment it is hard to see why distribution should EVER matter in situations of scarce resources, such as healthcare (where is the metaphysical line where suddenly distribution matters?). All else being equal, of course everyone should have access – but all else is not equal for any scarce resource. Because of limited medicine, limited numbers of trained Drs, etc., it is better to rely on the “invisible hand” of the market to distribute resources, even though it may lead to unequal distribution. The same of course applies to housing.
    My own view is that because of the emotional force of housing or healthcare etc. people tend to assume that they are somehow different than all other scarce goods which we assume best left to operation of the market.

  22. Micky
    November 12, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    I support a right to two free vacations to exotic locations per year.

  23. Luis Bup
    November 12, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    @ Soujourner: Well done. I had not realized the UDHR contained that provision. And I appreciate the persuasiveness of your point–you’ve got me pinned down on a treaty that is generally considered to be the most binding international law on these matters in all treaties (though with the sneaky lawyer-word caveat of the Preamble’s “…shall strive by teaching and education to promote the respect for these rights…” and Article 25’s “…adequate for…,” which pretty much makes it non-binding), so on any international law argument I made, you win. On legal philosophy, however, I continue to disagree, as my primary concern is with the legitimacy and efficacy of government, which I think only suffers with the assertion of positive rights, such as housing. But on this matter, I hope we can agree to disagree on a fundamentally ethical level, and I welcome your expression of free speech on your soon-to-be-available-from-Gawker shirt.

    @ Jill: I agree with your point, but I wish only to point out that you (apart from being an avid blogger and engaged citizen) are a lawyer. Be careful with your wording. It’s a curse of the profession, I know, but one that carries with it tremendous consequences. As to your second point, I don’t know that any administration will ever be forced to do sometihing without a majority of outrage. I don’t mean to say that your point is ethically incorrect–to the contrary, I think I made it clear that I agreed that New Orleans is a morally reprehensible situation, given America’s current standing–I only mean to say that we have somehow lost our persuasiveness in public discourse. Where have the moderate and liberal voices gone in taking there arguments to the public forum? Why do we feel our primary course of action should be through the (mind you, rapidly conservative-izing [if I can coin a phrase]) court system? Are our arguments so doomed to failure in public fora that bringing them would be pointless? I don’t think so.

    But I do not consider this point to somehow condone the idea that government, whether faults be their creation or otherwise, should be relied upon to solve all problems. Yes, I agree that the Bush Administration is largely to blame for the devastation that occured in New Orleans two summers ago. However, I do not think that government is necessarily always the solution to problems created by the government itself. Government (central/federal, anyway) is often the problem itself, which is one of the central tenets our country was founded upon, and whether one finds this relevant in the nascent 21st century is a point of philosophical contention. But still, I have more faith in the Bill Gates’/other rich peoples’ foundations and, more importantly, disgusted college students’/law students’/average American plumbers’/roofers’ ability to solve problems in New Orleans than I ever would with George Bush’s government or Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama/John Edwards/John McCain’s government (regardless of their likely increased level of competence) ever would garner.

    Morally and ethically I agree with you entirely. I guess I never expected any of that leadership from my government, because I expect neither moral or ethical leadership from my government regardless of whatever party is in power.

    “If [women/]men were angels, no government would be necessary.” – James Madison, as liberally modified by Luis Bup

  24. November 12, 2007 at 8:49 pm


    As sarcastic as you meant that, in some civilized parts of the world the government does in fact provide for vaction time for it’s citizens.

  25. Mnemosyne
    November 12, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    I support a right to two free vacations to exotic locations per year.

    Move to France or Germany, then.

    What, you thought that no country did that for its citizens? Silly you.

  26. octopod
    November 12, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    The phrase you want, Travis, may be not “emotional force” but rather “huge comparative improvement in quality of life”. I suspect that most people would, as rational actors, choose health care, food, and housing over just about any other good, and in that way they are qualitatively distinct from most other goods which are less necessary to life.

  27. Travis
    November 12, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    Just wanted to make a technical point about the UDHR….

    It is not self executing and was never meant to be. The two international covenants, the covenant on civil/political rights (U.S. is signatory) and covenant on economic, social, cultural rights to which the U.S. is NOT a signatory, were the treaties necessary to implement the aspirational language of the UDHR. To hold the U.S. to the substantive provisions of the ICSCR would be completely illegitimate from an international law perspective – there isn’t even customary international law on the matter since the U.S. and other states explicitly rejected such economic rights by refusing to sign the treaty. You cannot “sneak a treaty through the back door” as it were by trying to create some international norm by pointing to a multilateral treaty which other states are parties to but others explicitly rejected.

    So contrary to what has been conceded here, it is in fact not the case that any international norm, much less any treaty, binds the U.S. on these “rights”

  28. Travis
    November 12, 2007 at 11:55 pm


    And as another point, the UDHR contains a provision saying that private property should be a human right – yet even the United States has rejected such a notion, and no international treaty exists on that matter. If the UDHR were binding international law, communist and even socialist states would be in violation of it.

  29. micky
    November 13, 2007 at 3:16 am

    I don’t just want time off, I would also like air tickets and money to enjoy the said trip.

  30. November 13, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Micky, if you’re going to be an ass, I’m going to delete your comments.

  31. November 13, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I literally just got back from a conference on the right to adequate housing, and defense against unlawful and forced evictions of people living in informal settlements (i.e. squatter settlements.)

    If you have questions about housing rights, check out the website of COHRE, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. It’s the world’s leading authority on these matters.

  32. November 13, 2007 at 8:54 am

    Wow, there are a lot of asinine ideas about economic and social rights on this thread.

  33. November 13, 2007 at 10:50 am

    *sigh* How sick is it that notions of universal human rights have to narrowed down to “rights that don’t make it inconvient for privileged residents of the global north”

    Notions of economic efficiency have no place in discussions of human rights because making sure every one has basic human rights is inherently inefficient.
    See: Darshak Sanghavi’s article in Slate
    or anything Paul Farmer has ever written

  34. Sailorman
    November 13, 2007 at 10:59 am

    I struggle a little with this type of housing debate.

    I think housing is essentially a moral obligation in the U.S. But what is “housing” and what is implicit in that right?

    Do we have an obligation to put houses where people want them to be? Or are we as a society, entitled to demand concessions from the residents in “exchange” for providing housing?

    If we have an obligation to provide housing for a poor resident of New Orleans who lives in a below-sea-level district, do we need to rebuild at the same location? In the same district, so she has some connection to her new home? In New Orleans? In Louisiana?

    I struggle with that type of question myself. In the end, I lean towards providing the housing but allowing some sort of modifications, even if the recipients of the housing wish otherwise, SO LONG AS those modifications are based on efficiency and not on punishment.

  35. micky
    November 13, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    Ok, I’ll behave, don’t spank me. It’s just that I don’t think expanding every possible desire into a “right” is a good thing to do. It leads to a gradual encroachment of government into every facet of life and makes things potentially even worse than what they could be. From what I see of government provided housing to poorer sections in countries like France and others, you get vast ghettos with high crime rates, and a cycle of poverty that people never leave.

  36. November 13, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    I’m not sure I would describe housing as “every possible desire”; it’s pretty damn essential for life.
    Oddly enough, segregated ghettos are not an example of people having a right to housing. Nor do I believe for a nano-second that any self-described libertarian cares one bit about the residents of urban slums anywhere in the world.

  37. Syd
    November 13, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Bint reposted my original message from another board on her blog. Whether or not you agree with “housing being a human right”, the bigger issue is that the poor are being attacked in New Orleans. I live in the 6th ward. Lafitte is three blocks from me and before the storm represented the majority of the population in my neighborhood. I returned to the city 5 weeks after the storm and the development was already sealed…not boarded up, SEALED. With steel caps over the doors and windows, which I understand ran a couple of grand each. People who lived there had to make appointments to gather their personal belongings. It has sat that way ever since, for over two years. We have a housing crisis in this city and many people cannot afford to come back and pay two or three times the rent before the storm. The businesses in my neighborhood are dying because of lack of people – restaurants and stores that have been around for decades. Why take down perfectly good housing when people are desperate for it? Because they want to build a film school or some other nonsense. There are plenty of really screwed up structures they could tear down, but no, it has to be these buildings because they have this chance to get rid of them. This is a flat out attack on our neighborhoods. Also, New Orleans does not have the same kind of “segregated slums” that folks have up North. Three blocks one way I have Lafitte, three blocks the other way million dollar homes. That’s the way we roll here. The Mardi Gras Indians originally came from my neighborhood, a big part of our culture. Our unique culture is also under attack by preventing folks from coming back. This isn’t just about housing, it’s about our PEOPLE. And I want everyone who wants to come home, HOME.

    And honestly, I see a lot of judgment here regarding folks who live in public housing. Do you KNOW anyone who lives in public housing? Many folks DO have jobs, it’s not a bunch of people who have no choice but to live there. It’s a COMMUNITY, get it? Many people grew up there and have known the folks around them their entire lives.

Comments are closed.