NESRI Presents Vermont’s Post-Irene Housing Rights Demands to United Nations Representative

On October 21, 2011, NESRI presented the struggle of Vermont’s displaced mobile home residents to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. NESRI raised the issue of human rights in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene at a side event of the 66th UN General Assembly. The UN Special Rapporteur convened the event on “The Right to Adequate Housing in Disaster Relief and Recovery” to discuss her report to the General Assembly.

Emphasizing the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, which led to a displacement of poor people and a dismantling of public institutions and services, NESRI drew attention to the struggle of Vermont’s most affected communities, whose post-disaster needs remain unmet. Many displaced mobile home residents currently live in hotels and overpriced apartments, without support from the state. To get their voices heard, residents have organized themselves and formed the group Mobile Home Park Residents for Equality and Fairness, which has collected petitions demanding equity in access to safe and affordable housing. Their effort is supported by the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Put People First Campaign, which is pushing for rebuilding communities and the economy with human rights.


Anja Rudiger, NESRI, (right) presents Vermonters' demands to the UN Special Rapporteur

After the UN meeting, NESRI met with the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Raquel Rolnik, and submitted to her the human rights demands of mobile home residents in Vermont.  The displaced residents are at risk of homelessness and require temporary subsidized housing, as well as a guarantee of safe and affordable permanent housing. Through organizing, the mobile home communities are claiming a voice in the recovery and rebuilding plans and are seeking to hold authorities accountable.

The UN Special Rapporteur recently submitted a report to the General Assembly on the right to adequate housing in post-disaster settings. The report’s recommendations reflect many of the concerns and demands of Vermont’s mobile home communities.

Selected recommendations from the UN Special Rapporteur’s report:

Right to adequate housing
“In all phases of disaster response the right to adequate housing should be respected and protected. It should be understood as the right to live in safety and security, in conditions deemed adequate on grounds of security of tenure; availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; affordability; habitability; accessibility; location; and cultural adequacy.”

“[…] All affected persons and groups should have the opportunity to participate in the identification and determination of tenure rights; the choice over, planning and implementation of transitional shelter and permanent housing programmes, and of durable solutions (return, local integration, resettlement); and in decisions over land use planning and restrictions.”

“In post-disaster needs assessments (for both emergency and recovery), pre-disaster inequalities and vulnerabilities should be identified, whether based on race, socio-economic status, tenure, gender or any other relevant grounds.”
“In recovery plans, programmes should be devised to specifically address inequalities identified.”
“In post-disaster needs assessments, major pre-disaster impediments to the realization of the right to adequate housing should be identified, as should the impact of pre-disaster situations on durable solutions and the recovery process.”
“The broader housing situation, including unplanned and unserviced settlements, should be addressed through targeted programmes in conjunction with programmes for disaster response and with a focus on the most vulnerable populations.

Rebuilding communities
“Communities and settlements, not just houses, should be rebuilt or resettled: Reconstruction should not only apply to physical structures but should also include or prioritize, as appropriate and according to the needs and requests of affected persons, the rebuilding or setting up of basic infrastructure and services and the upgrading of settlements. Community structures and networks, to the extent that they respect international human rights standards including on gender equality, should be deliberately preserved and supported.”