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The International Housing Crisis

Nikita SHUKLA is US' Head Delegate to the 2019 Y7

Health care, clean water, and sanitation – what do these things have in common? They are all widely accepted and discussed as basic human rights for people across the globe. However, frequently left out of discussion is the basic right to affordable, habitable, accessible and culturally adequate housing. In the US, 17 out of 10,000 citizens experience homelessness on any given night. Seven percent of the homeless population is youth under the age of 25 and this figure is only growing.

This is not acutely an American problem. The last global survey conducted by the OHCHR in 2015, estimated that nearly 150 million people were homeless worldwide and as many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing. According to the latest fact sheet on the Right to Adequate Housing, 1 billion people live in slums, of which 930 million slum-residents live in developing countries. These informal settlements lack: durable housing, access to water and sanitation, sufficient living spaces, adequate electricity/plumbing, and protection against evictions. UN Habitat reports that around 2 million people, mostly slum residents, are forcibly evicted every year -- pushing them deeper into poverty.

The national economic benefits to expand housing is an investment with long and short-term returns. According to the National Housing Federation in England, every new public house built to assist the homeless generates an additional £108,000 to the economy and creates 2.3 jobs. While this would initially require an increase in national fiscal spending, within 30 years the welfare savings and increased tax revenue would “create a net annual surplus of approximately £102 billion a year.”

Furthermore, the cost of inadequate housing on the health sector is estimated to be around £600 million per year due to higher risk of: infection, pollutants, and mental health conditions. According to the World Bank only 26% of urban excreta was safely managed in 2016. Poor sanitation and lack of access to safe food and water contribute to a high burden of diarrheal disease, environmental degradation, poor school performance, and low productivity. Thus, by implementing provisions for public housing, countries will stimulate economic growth, encourage sustainable urban development and reduce the costly burden on health systems.

The first document to codify the right to adequate housing was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. While all 192 member states of the United Nations have signed the Declaration, little has been done to uphold the statutes. To truly understand how to combat economic inequality, the G7 member states should take measures to provide fair housing for all their citizens. Housing should be seen as not only a development strategy, but as a public health priority and a basic human right.

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