The Demolition of Public Housing in Chicago:
A Human Rights Crisis
Public housing units in the City of Chicago are being (and have been) destroyed in record numbers in the last 5 years. As part of a deliberate policy based, in part, upon federal legislation, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority in conjunction with the United States Department of Housing have systematically demolished more than 13,702 housing units since 1999.
Some results have been: (1) forcing more than 20,000 legal residents — primarily female-headed families with children — from their homes against their will into an uncertain fate including, for many, absolute homelessness; (2) breaking up and dispersing established communities of neighbors and friends against their will; and (3) depriving thousands of non-legal residents (“squatters”) who occupied public housing structures because they had no adequate housing of their own of even the most minimal housing. Overwhelmingly, the people forced to move were (and are) people of color.
This massive destruction of public housing is not yet complete. A planned 22,000 units total are to be destroyed. Though there is a stated goal to return some legal residents to new or rehabbed units, there will be a net loss of 13,629 low-income units overall. Moreover, 5 years into the 10-year plan, only 200 new low-income units have been created and now the source of funding for more units is disappearing from the federal budget.
Yet, despite this massive demolition, the need for housing continues to grow. More than 55,000 families are now on the waiting list for public housing in Chicago. In addition, more than 7,000 households are on the Cook County Housing Authority waiting list for public housing and housing choice vouchers. Finally, more than 75,000 households are on Illinois’ Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) waiting list, with almost half of those living in the city of Chicago.
Finally, we consider all of this disruption within the current local and national economy, which has created a paradoxical “jobless recovery.” Indeed, we are especially aware and fearful of the growing gap between the cost of housing and current wages.
Relevant Human Rights Law
International human rights law speaks clearly to the rights and concerns of displaced public housing residents in Chicago and around the nation:
--The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the United States was a principal drafter and has adopted, provides: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including housing.” Art. 25(1)
--The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the United States is a signatory, “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living ... including adequate. . .housing.” Art. 11(1)
--The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has further clarified the right to housing (General Comment No. 4) such that the right prohibits mass, planned, forced displacement of persons against their will particularly when their displacement will result in homelessness. General Comment No. 7. Indeed, whole communities within public housing — against their will as part of a nationally legislated, locally planned effort, designed to reduce housing options and remove many housing subsidies for low-income Chicagoans constitutes a “forced eviction” under human rights law. Forced evictions are a gross violation of the human right to adequate housing.
--The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed and ratified by the United States, includes a right to “life” and the right to protection from arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s home. Art. 6 and Art. 17
--The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, signed and ratified by the United States, prohibits actions with respect to housing that have the effect of discriminating against persons of color. Art. 5(e)(iii)
-- The International Convention on the Rights of the Child provides both a right to adequate housing and a right to an education. Art. 27 and Art. 28. There is an intimate relationship between housing stability and a child’s readiness to learn. Families displaced by forced eviction from public housing have suffered from repeated educational disruption — recent research suggests a loss of 4-6 months of educational progress every time a family moves. The United States is the only country besides Somalia not to have ratified this Convention, although both Somalia and the USA have signed the Convention, indicating their intention to ratify it at a later date.
--The American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man speaks of the right to life, well-being and personal security and the inviolability of the home, including the right not to be forced to leave against one’s will. Arts. I, IX, XI and VIII
--Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights, signed by the United States, and Article 34(k) of The Charter of the Organization of American States, also binding on the United States, requires progressive measures on the part of governments to fully realize a universal goal of adequate housing for all sectors of the population.
The Coalition to Protect Public Housing is a network of public housing residents and support organizations including the Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Americans for Democratic Action and the UIC Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement. For the past seven years the Coalition has worked to protect public housing residents’ rights and ensure a future for public housing.
The Coalition is committed to ensuring the implementation of the human right to adequate housing and the right to be free of forced evictions for the residents and former residents of public housing in Chicago. Consistent with this, CPPH is moving forward with an action agenda using a human rights framework. Activities may include:
--Organizing throughout the Chicago community in neighborhood forums to document human rights violations
--Working directly with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing
--Filing a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in which violations of the human right to housing in Chicago will be highlighted, investigated and documented.
--Hosting a local conference for education and discussion of the human right to housing
--Filing a “shadow report” with the United Nations Human Rights Committee
--Urging the UN to set a deadline for the United States to report on its human rights’ compliance
--Advocating national, state and local legislative measures to ensure at a minimum the recognition, and, also the implementation of the human right to adequate housing
--Developing a media strategy based on human rights principles and the action agenda
The Coalition welcomes the support of all Chicagoans in our struggle to end the human rights crisis that has been created by the Chicago Housing Authority’s demolition plan.
Click here to get involved in our campaign.