Housing Rights and Homelessness: Towards a Right to Adequate Housing

A major report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth, tabled on 26 November 2009, recommends the enactment of new homelessness legislation which enshrines ‘the right of all Australians to adequate housing’.  The report, Housing the Homeless, contains 15 recommendations aimed at preventing and addressing homelessness in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are over 105,000 people who experience homelessness on any given night.  The Committee’s report states that this is ‘despite over a decade of relative national prosperity’ and cites the conclusions of then UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, following his 2006 country mission to Australia that:

Australia has failed to implement its international legal obligation to progressively realize the human right to adequate housing to the maximum of its available resources, particularly in view of its possibilities as a rich and prosperous country.

In response, the Committee recommends that Australia enact comprehensive homelessness legislation which contains commitments to reducing homelessness ‘by allowing access to adequate and sustainable housing’ and to achieving ‘social inclusion for people experiencing homelessness or at increased risk of homelessness’.

The Committee notes that ‘the majority of submissions to this inquiry strongly support new homelessness legislation which incorporates an enforceable right to adequate housing’ and also highlights the ‘options put forward by the National Human Rights Consultation Committee to promote and better protect social, economic and cultural rights, including the right to adequate housing’.

In a unanimous report, and consistent with the HRLRC submission to the inquiry, the Committee recommends that any ‘new homelessness legislation specify the right of all Australians to adequate housing’.  Citing article 11 of the ICESCR, the Committee considers that ‘such a provision should:

  • include appropriate reference to Australia’s international human rights obligations;
  • include a clear definition of adequate housing; and
  • explicitly recognise the right to adequate housing will be progressively realised.’

Also consistently with the HRLRC submission, the Committee states that ‘effective and independent monitoring and reporting on progress toward the realisation of the right to adequate housing is essential’ and that such ‘monitoring and reporting should include disaggregated information for those populations identified as vulnerable or marginal’.

The HRLRC submission (together with many other submissions) recognised that homelessness is a human rights issue and is both a cause and a consequence of poverty and other human rights violations.  In response, the Committee states that it ‘fully appreciates the associations between homelessness and the increased risks of experiencing discrimination and violations of rights’.  Further, it recommends that ‘the Australian Government, in cooperation with state and territory governments, conduct an audit of laws and polices that impact disproportionately on people experiencing homelessness’ and that ‘laws and policies that do not conform to anti-discrimination and human rights obligations should be amended accordingly’.  Recognising that such an audit would be an intensive task, the Committee recommends that priority be given to review and amendment of ‘anti-discrimination laws, residential tenancy laws, and public space laws’.

The Government has not yet announced the date for its response to the report.

The Committee report is at http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/fchy/homelessness/report.htm.

The HRLRC submission to the inquiry can be found here.