Part 1 of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Yet, housing is not always guaranteed. To make matters worse, we all know the housing market nearly collapsed during the crisis. Now known as the Great Recession, the crisis started in December 2007, ending in June 2009, the longest recession since World War II, not to be confused with the Great Depression of 1929.

Housing has always been a contentious and fraught subject and in the last decades low income people in need of housing have been stigmatized. The recent crisis showed how precarious housing can be, especially for the most vulnerable communities.

Landlords usually don’t like people that come with vouchers, Section 8 and other programs to help them pay the rent. In many instances, they are viewed as problematic tenants and even lazy people. The reality is that wages are not keeping up with the cost of living.

Many in need of assistance are people working long hours or several jobs that don’t offer the minimum living wages necessary to end the cycle of poverty. Many people cannot buy a home, one of the main pillars of the “American Dream.” Owning a home for many is the only way to build assets that can take people out of the cycle of poverty and into the much-coveted middle class.

With the advent of the Great Recession, people wanting or needing to sell had to stay put as house prices fell approximately 30 percent on average. Unemployment reached 10 percent in October 2009; young people could not afford to buy homes, and construction of new homes came close to a full stop. This all happened among the well-to-do portions of the middle class.

The effects for low income people, including new Americans and people of color, were much worse. Today in Minnesota, approximately 44,000 people of color, who could afford a house, are instead renting an apartment. The obstacles historically present against those communities have only worsened since the crisis.

Unfortunately, Northfield is not spared its share of the housing crisis. We suffer the lack of affordable housing, a tight rental market, high prices of homes and even discrimination against people of color and low-income families. It all makes housing key in the efforts of many in the community to help families find greater security. When asked to help, to donate to a shelter for families in need or to help associations that aid those most vulnerable members of our community, we should help while exercising empathy. Without proper and decent housing, families lack security needed for their children to thrive and their goals in life to be realized.

Housing is a human right.

Mar Valdecantos is the chair of the Northfield Human Rights Commission.

Reach Editorial Assistant Kelsey at 507-645-1117. Follow her on Twitter @APGKelsey.

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