Decent housing is not just a wish, it is a human right
This opinion piece was published in the Guardian on Monday 20, 2011.
The former US president says we are morally obligated to act, and should do so more urgently and effectively.
In order to create true, sweeping changes in providing decent housing, we must begin to talk about this human necessity as a basic human right. This is not something that families around the world can only wish to have, not something that only the luckiest can hope to realise, but something that everyone should have an opportunity to achieve.
When we understand the magnitude of housing needs and their different forms in communities worldwide, we will recognise that as more fortunate people we are morally obligated to act. Once we view the issue of housing in these appropriately urgent terms, we will begin to act in concert more effectively.
A good first step is to make sure we are personally engaged in striving together to achieve specific goals. There are many unified and well-proven advocacy efforts that we can support. We need to raise awareness so that our fellow citizens will join us in providing solutions for those who are struggling to overcome the obstacles that prevent their families from having a decent home. We can take an active role, from participating in large-scale efforts such as the UN-designated World Habitat Day, to joining local organisations that meet housing needs and provide funding for projects in our own towns and neighbourhoods.
Creating safe and decent places to live can have incredibly positive effects on a family’s health, on study habits of students, and on a neighbourhood’s overall attractiveness and stability. With so much at stake, it is time for our definition of decent housing to expand to include a spectrum of solutions: new construction, repair and renovation, housing finance, infrastructure development, secure land tenure. It is time for us to plan and build together.
Through my international work with the Carter Centre and 28 years of volunteering to build homes with Habitat for Humanity, I have seen that the best, most sustainable results achieved when communities and families are deeply involved in orchestrating their own changes.
In locations around the world, from South Africa to South Korea, my wife Rosalynn and I have had the privilege of building simple Habitat homes alongside the parents, grandparents, and neighbours who will inhabit them. We have experienced the very real difference that a strong roof and sturdy walls can make to a family that has never known the security of either, and we have come away with a lasting impression of achievement and gratification.
Efforts that invite families into the process of improving their own lives and their own homes ensure that those individuals have the materials, assistance, and skills they need to lay all the right foundations. People sometimes just need a little help to transform their lives, and community-based efforts work best. So does creating an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to come together in a common cause to help each other; because that’s exactly what happens.
When we work alongside families and play a part in helping them achieve what we consider to be a basic human right, we participate in a potentially world-changing result. Their lives aren’t the only ones that change. So do ours.
Former US president Jimmy Carter is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity International.
What is next?
Habitat wants people not only to read about poverty housing but do something to fight it. You can support Habitat’s work in Europe and Central Asia in a number of ways. Here are some examples:
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