LETTER: No, Representative Fiorello, Decent Housing is not a “Want.”  It’s a Human Right.

Submitted by Sean Goldrick, Riverside

If there’s one thing that characterizes Republican state representative Kimberley Fiorello’s policy positions, it’s cruelty.  But we’ll return to that.

During a recent hearing on HB 5429, proposed legislation that would help create more affordable housing to alleviate Connecticut’s shortage of housing, high housing costs, hardships for renters, while stimulating job growth in the state, Fiorello (149th district) stated that, “Housing is not a right, because housing is built by other people.  It’s a want and there’s a variety of different housing that people may want. But housing is not a right. You don’t have a right to other people’s labor.”

In his State of the Union speech in January, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “second bill of rights” for the American people.  He proclaimed that, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’  People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.  In addition to “adequate income for food, shelter, and recreation.” Roosevelt included in his second bill of rights, the right to “decent housing.”  

In 1948, The United Nations enshrined housing as a human right in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the United States is a signatory.   The right to housing was later codified in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, to which the United States is also a signatory.  Though the United States has yet to ratify that covenant, it is obligated, as a signatory, to uphold the “object and purpose”of the treaty. 

Further, the United States has ratified the 1994 Convention Against Torture, which protects individuals from torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, including the “criminalization of homelessness.”  

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing states that, “housing is a right, not a commodity…Housing is the basis of stability and security for an individual or family. The center of our social, emotional and sometimes economic lives, a home should be a sanctuary—a place to live in peace, security and dignity.”  

Last year, Connecticut State Senator Saud Anwar introduced SB 194, “An Act Establishing A Right To Housing.”  That bill was approved by the Connecticut Senate by a vote of 25-10, including two Republican votes.  It did not come up for a vote in the House of Representatives. 

In support of Connecticut’s “Housing As A Right” bill, Kellyann Day of New Reach, an organization working to eliminate homelessness in Connecticut, wrote, “When our state’s residents have stable housing, their economic and health outcomes improve. Children’s health, both physical and mental, improve, as do their educational outcomes.”  

The Connecticut Fair Housing Center wrote that it, “supports a right to housing, because housing affects every part of a family’s life. It determines access to schooling for children, safe outdoor space, health care, healthy and affordable food options, and jobs for adults. The COVID- 19 pandemic has also made clear that without access to safe, affordable housing, people can become sick and die…”

President Biden declared a key provision of his agenda that, “Housing should be a right, not a privilege.” In support of that goal, President Biden pledged to, “invest $640 billion over 10 years so every American has access to housing that is affordable, stable, safe and healthy, accessible, energy efficient and resilient, and located near good schools and with a reasonable commute to their jobs.”
Around the world, every person of conscience understands that housing is a human right .  Denying that right leads to the cruelty of homelessness, victimization of the homeless, poverty, ill health, and desperation.  

Next time a Nor’easter is blowing freezing winds and biting snow through our neighborhoods, recall Fiorello’s claim that housing is nothing but a “want.”  Remember her cruelty.