Harris & Ewing, photographer / Library of Congress

In 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the U.S. had a “Second Bill of Rights”, including the right to a decent home. It wasn’t for another four years that the right to adequate housing was accepted under the Human Rights Law (as part of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Yet leaders in this country continue to treat housing as a commodity rather than a necessity. When we acknowledge housing as a human right, we can begin to commit funding to address the affordability crisis.

To say the topic of “housing” is on fire right now is an understatement; both the U.S. President and Vice President highlighted housing as a human right in their campaign platforms and California has even introduced a constitutional amendment. In Connecticut, we have supported right-to-housing legislation. Even the CDC understands the relationship housing has on our health, as they issued a nationwide eviction moratorium at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. But for those who need it most, declaring housing as a human right is not just a slogan — it’s their lifeline.

A recommendation from the Human Rights Council, in 2015, was supported (in part) by the U.S. government, to “guarantee the right by all residents in the country to adequate housing, food, health, education, with the aim of decreasing poverty, which affects 48 million people in the country.”

Too many Connecticut families simply cannot afford the average housing rates across the state. In a town like Old Lyme, for example, the options for low-income households are scarce when less than 10 percent of homes are valued at lower than $200,000 and there are few rentals and multifamily units. Poverty rates have increased, home values have increased, and this state doesn’t have enough affordable developments to house our most vulnerable citizens. With stats like these, you think our leaders would put more funding towards affordable housing; alas, that would be too easy. On the contrary, some Connecticut legislators are against more affordable housing options and housing rights, as heard during the public testimony hearing of House Bill 5429, by Greenwich State Rep. Kimberley Fiorello who stated “housing is not a human right.”

Oh, but it is. 

Maybeth Morales-Davis

Housing is a necessity for achieving many other human rights, and legislators who vote against more affordable housing, housing the homeless, etc., are not fulfilling their roles to uphold our nation’s bill of rights. With a surplus of $4.8 billion, CT leaders have an opportunity to invest in affordable housing projects which will impact the many, not the few, and with the recent June 1st deadline for all municipalities to adopt their affordable housing plans – which aim to address how they will increase the number of affordable housing developments – we must invest more money into the execution of the plans reassuring our municipalities that these development projects will come to fruition. To date, only about half of the state’s municipalities have submitted their plans which begs us to question the importance of affordable housing in this state. 

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Connecticut has a shortage of 85,403 affordable rental units for low-income families, and 66% of low-income residents are cost-burdened – meaning they spend more than half of their income on housing. For these families, living in affluent communities like Greenwich is unrealistic and out of reach when there are no affordable housing options – close to public transportation – available. High housing costs don’t just impact those who can’t afford them – they can negatively shape our communities and neighborhoods too:

  • Employers (large and small) find it difficult to hire workers of all wage levels in a mostly affluent community
  • Cost-burdened families spend less on goods and services when their housing costs are high
  • Traffic tends to be an issue in cities and towns with little to few affordable housing options.

With the threat of Covid-19 still lingering, families continue to feel its impacts including a rise in evictions and foreclosures. Pre-pandemic, my hometown of Waterbury, CT was listed #1 in the state for eviction filings (#22 nationwide) and while the pandemic did decrease these numbers considerably thanks to state and federal eviction moratoria, since their expirations, the eviction numbers in CT have nearly reached pre-pandemic levels. It’s of note to mention that eviction filings in CT disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic females, and nearly half occur in the state’s largest municipalities (there’s my hometown again).

When we don’t house families adequately and equitably, the consequences are severe. With housing instability folks are more likely to lose their job, children are disrupted and their education is negatively impacted, and health outcomes become more fragile. These crises can be avoided when our legislators begin to fund and prioritize affordable housing policies and acknowledge that housing is a human right just as our 32nd President did.

To support affordable housing efforts, engage your local and state representatives in conversations to leverage the states surplus dollars, testify on bills and policies which uplift affordable housing, speak out against housing instability, and advocate for the state to introduce and pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing adequate housing for all residents.

Maybeth Morales-Davis is the deputy director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury and a member of the Connecticut Mirror’s Community Editorial Board.