Poverty has been a social issue that most, if not all, human civilizations have faced throughout their history. In our modern society where we can stay in one place and dedicate time to pursuits other than sustenance, the access to adequate housing has been a key contributor to get people out of poverty levels and become a positive participant of the local economy. Furthermore, access to the basic human needs which adequate housing provides – shelter, electricity, water, waste management – more often than not plays a pivotal role in the development of healthy and productive civilians in their societal groups. Given the vital role that housing plays in our human development and the real negative impacts of not having adequate housing, it is imperative to resolve the issue of valuing housing as a human right rather than as a commodity.
The problem at hand touches on a controversial moral issue, what do humans value more and what can provide the most value to us as society advances? The lack of financial regulation in the US housing market allowed vast destruction in the 2008 financial crisis. Millions of household owners went under water when the value of their houses went below the value of the mortgage they were responsible for. This forced financial institutions to foreclose houses for non-payment and evict house owners from their homes affecting millions of families. This massive resettling was done so that these institutions could make up for their shareholder losses and allowed big financial corporations to benefit from the misery of those displaced. The impact this had in the people that lost their way of living played no role in the action that was taken by the government and the banks involved in the foreclosure process. To this end, I will strongly advocate that when foreclosures occur, state governments must play a role in ensuring due process or alternative accommodation and compensation for those placed in financial jeopardy.
If it is a known fact that housing is crucial to our society’s progress, it is then a risky proposition to use it as a vehicle to serve the greediness of the wealthy. As Leilani Farha stated in her UN Report, “When housing is bought and sold as a speculative commodity, it becomes dehumanized.” Cities in the United States are facing raising numbers in homelessness due to exorbitant increases in housing prices. In Portland, Oregon, the city I call home, part of my daily morning commute includes the view of the “pavement dwellers” as they rise to another unpredictable day to find food and shelter. Portland has seen an increase in the number of apartment buildings, priced so high that the average Portlander cannot even dream to afford one. The only solution is to move out. It is as if cities in the US belong to the wealthy and not to those who’ve lived there for most of their lives. To this end I agree with Farha, in that “States must change their relationship with the financial sector to insist that markets serve the social function of housing.” States at a national and local level must develop a regulatory framework to make housing affordable to those living in them and not let the free market model alone, mostly driven by global investors, dictate the housing prices. The needs and capacities of the people must be taken into account if we are to let the free market model serve human needs.
Humans have the right to live, the right to own things and the right for freedom of thought. Let us work towards a future were access to a home becomes a given not an impossibility.