CPPH Human Rights Campaign History
CPPH members started discussing housing as a human right when we developed a workshop for the Chicago Social Forum on January 31, 2004. The Chicago Social Forum was a local effort to connect to the World Social Forum. (The World Social Forum is organized as an alternative to the economic summit of government leaders in Davos, Switzerland. The World Social Forum brings together many people’s organizations from around the world concerned about human rights.)
At the Chicago Social Forum we presented a workshop on our work in Chicago and how it relates to international efforts to fight for housing as a human right. The attendance at our workshop was approximately 50 people. Before this, members of the coalition had attended the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in New York City in 1998 and had testified at the United Nations. The Chicago Social Forum gave us an important and timely opportunity to build on these earlier efforts and to further explore how our public housing work could be connected to broader human rights standards and principles.
Our participation in the Chicago Social Forum generated an interest and enthusiasm both within the Coalition and also in the broader public, to articulate the concept that housing is a human right. Consequently, at the Coalition’s annual retreat in early February 2004, CPPH members decided to more aggressively develop a human rights campaign. In part, the human rights approach is being adopted because of our frustration with our inability to affect change at the local and national level with the actions and remedies we have already tried in the past eight years. However, it is also an appeal to build an alternative social vision based on the dignity of human life. It is a new approach by the CPPH to resistance the current policies that are eroding the long fought for social programs such as public housing.
To better focus this work, we created a Human Rights Committee to guide the entire body. Since Spring 2004, the Coalition, led by this Committee, has been intensively studying international law on the right to housing and how to access international and regional structures such as the United Nations and the Inter-American Human Rights system, and having been turning this education into action.
The Human Rights Committee’s first major effort was to develop a Human Rights Statement. In April 2004, the Coalition drafted, debated, revised and approved a detailed statement on human rights and housing, which has been widely circulated throughout Chicago, to the media and on the Internet.
Thus far, one of our biggest accomplishments was a historic visit with Mr. Miloon Kothari, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. Mr. Kothari flew to Chicago on April 25, 2004 to specifically meet with public housing residents at Cabrini-Green. Mr. Kothari is the international community’s highest-ranking expert on housing issues, and he reports directly to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.
CPPH had invited Mr. Kothari to learn about CHA’s massive demolition of more than 20,000 units -- slated to be razed as part of the city’s 10-year plan. In his discussions with Cabrini-Green residents, Kothari acknowledged that there indeed seems to be a human rights crisis in the forced evictions of public housing tenants from their units. It is important to note that Mr. Kothari has never undertaken work in the US before, so his Cabrini Green visit was all the more significant. We continue to work closely with Special Rapporteur Kothari. We continue to advise him about conditions in Chicago. We have also helped him prepare correspondence regarding the national public housing crisis.
The Coalition also organized a forum on April 28, which focused on the right to housing in international law, and the human rights violations that are occurring as a result of the demolition of public housing in Chicago. Significantly, the event had a high percentage of public housing residents in attendance. More than 250 people attended this event, which was well covered in the media.
In May 2004, we invited two internationally renowned experts with extensive experience in using the human rights framework to conduct a daylong training session for coalition members. Bret Thiele, the Legal Director of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), and Bruce Porter, the director of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre in Canada, facilitated sessions on topics including: Overview of the International Human Right to Adequate Housing; Successful Use of Human Rights Strategy in Canada and Around the World; how to document human rights violations and gather personal testimonies; How to do a shadow report; and Petitioning the Inter- American Human Rights System.
In the relatively short time since the Coalition launched this effort, CPPH has attracted national and international attention. One member spoke at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual meeting on a panel about “housing and human rights.” Other Coalition members have been invited to participate in several national networks of U.S. groups that are using a human rights framework to fight for social justice in their communities. We have also been invited to be a lead agency in the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, which is the most significant national initiative to fight for justice using economic rights strategies.
On March 4, 2005, Cabrini Green residents, along with others facing displacement and homelessness from across the continent, testified before the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. that the current federal policy of public housing demolition is violating their human rights. The OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sympathized with the residents and encouraged us to exhaust our efforts in our domestic court systems and file a formal petition.
After the hearing, CPPH organizers regularly fliered the community about human rights issues. Two months later, on May 21st 2005, Maurice Edwards Jr., a Cabrini Green teenager, organized residents to march around the community and declare their human right to housing.