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Why does everyone deserve housing?

A human right is something that everyone — regardless of class or color — deserves just for being alive. Amongst the most basic, universally agreed upon is the right to live.

Following the horrors of WWII, the United Nations broke down the aspects of this human right. They included the essentials of survival: food, water, and adequate shelter. These, and other rights like education and personal freedom, produce lives of prosperity, joy, and health. Catalyst Miami is working to protect these rights in our communities through our power-building initiatives and partnerships (like our co-submitted letter to the UN here.)

We know that these basics are the foundation for everything else in our lives. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes this plain. At the very bottom are the basics like a place to live. Once these elements are secure, we can pursue the things that make us human and allow us an opportunity to thrive.

Whether you're a Miami native, just arrived off the coast yesterday, or were drawn from far-flung states, you deserve to live a safe, healthy, and happy life. Black, brown, or white, rich or poor, we are all born with a common dignity.

The ultra-rich and greedy developers profit when we scapegoat each other. Through a united front, we stake our claim and protect human rights for us all.

If you're in need of housing resources or financial assistance, please click here.

Safe and reliable shelter is necessary to live a healthy life that’s within your control. The right to housing has been codified by international law but is not protected by the US constitution.

The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights outlines peoples’ rights in relation to the US government and is probably the closest governing document we have to a human rights declaration. The Bill of Rights protects human rights like freedom of speech, freedom to organize, freedom to practice religion, but it does not protect human rights like health, food, education, or housing.

Without shelter, food, and water, it's much harder to meet other needs like safety, employment, health, or love. These basic needs contribute to our stability as individuals and families. Like Aristotle said, “family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday wants.” The health of our society is directly linked to our personal health.

Individual rights are never just individual. Their presence or lack thereof affects us all—Black or white, rich or poor. Once people's basic needs are met, they create more bonds in their community. They become less inclined to engage in criminal activity. They contribute more to their families and a healthy society as a whole.

When everyone has access to safe and affordable housing, we all prosper.

The United States is a “negative rights” country. We have historically prioritized human rights that center individual freedoms, like being able to practice religion freely and speak our minds freely, with limited or no government interference. The rights to education, food, health care access, and housing are considered “positive” rights because the government would have to act proactively to guarantee those rights. Some states in the United States do protect the right to housing but the right to housing is not protected at the federal level.

Our capitalist economy treats housing as a commodity or privilege, not a right in practice or policy. This is done by failing to address the roots of our lack of safe, affordable, and reliable housing for everyone while continuing to place the burden on tenants to enforce what limited protections we do.

If your rights to fair housing are being encroached upon, in many cases there aren’t even laws in place to attempt to enforce a right to safe and affordable housing. To enforce the limited housing rights that we have in Florida law, you would probably need a lawyer to represent you—and there are numerous barriers to legal representation, especially cost. Of course, this deepens inequity even more as only those already with wealth and education privileges can afford to obtain a lawyer and know how to navigate the legal system.

Consider this example of a Miami resident who shared her story at a local organizing meeting. Her son had a rare medical condition that required expensive surgery but, thankfully, the boy qualified to have the costs completely covered. Unfortunately, they had been living in rundown housing for a long time where no repairs were being made. The boy’s mother complained to her landlord who retaliated illegally and evicted the entire family.

They went from place to place staying with relatives, friends, and other community members. They had to postpone the boy’s surgery with all the ongoing instability. The children were living in constant distress, never knowing how long they would be under one roof, if their mother would be able to keep her job amidst all the chaos, and if there would even be money for food.

Affordable, safe, stable housing was the cornerstone of everything else in the life of this mother and her family. From her son's surgery to her daughter's academic performance, to her ability to work, to their sense of safety, to the most minute aspect of their lives, everything was disrupted and at risk without housing. And in Florida, her only recourse was to somehow have the money, time, and system knowledge to sue her abusive landlord and maybe, just maybe, get the court to intervene.

Many other issues of our time impact our housing security and access. To name just a few:

You cannot address one issue without considering the other.

The American Bar Association states that our housing system “reflects income inequality and environmental injustice. From federal- to local-level laws impacting air and water, along with homeowners and the homeless, regulatory processes that influence where and how people live have an immediate and profound effect on shaping public health. It is essential to address how these regulations affect communities that have suffered from the distributional disparities of environmental and economic harm concurrent with the disproportionate protection of the law."

Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more prepared you are to defend your right to housing and that of your neighbors. You can develop your individual advocacy skills through a training series like HEAL. You can connect with local organizers like the Miami Workers Center. Or start by researching the roots of our country’s and county’s housing crisis.

  • Learn more about the history of our country’s founding. We didn't magically acquire this land nor "work hard" to earn it. We took it from others. Sometimes people use the same “self-made” logic against those who are unhoused. They don't take into account the full realities of how a person becomes unhoused in our country.
  • Speaking of, know the history of how homelessness even began. It was usually because of post-war economic losses that compounded over time. Take a look at some of the myths behind homelessness as well.
  • Read and understand the vicious problem of the jail cycle in our country. Why do we pay to imprison people, but won’t pay to house them?
  • Understand the cycle of poverty and the limits people have in receiving federal benefits (benefit cliffs).
  • Know your legislators and hold them accountable. Speak truth to power by sharing your story and vision for housing justice. Keep track of their voting records to stay informed.
  • Hold yourself accountable & ask questions. Do not just accept things for how they are. Why is this the way it is? Who is affected positively or negatively? Why do I or don't I care? Who stands to benefit from keeping entire groups in poverty? How would my feelings change if someone I love ended up in the streets?
  • Center the stories of people’s lived experiences. We all want the same good life for ourselves. However, some corrupt politicians and corporations want us to blame each other for scarcities. Combat those mindsets by making space for stories from different perspectives than your own.