Reflections with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing

Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik Reflects on More Than a Roof’s Launch, Crackdowns on Dissent & the Struggle to Be Heard in Vermont

On October 21st, 2011, NESRI attended the side event of the 66th United Nations General Assembly on the Right to Adequate Housing. The event was hosted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Ms. Raquel Rolnik, who presented a report on The Right to Adequate Housing in Disaster Relief and Recovery.

It was the perfect occasion for us to update the UN Special Rapporteur about the continued struggles for basic and decent housing in the United States since her official mission in 2009.   

The Director of NESRI’s Human Right to Health Program, on behalf of the Vermont Workers Center, shared with Ms. Rolnik stories of the struggle of Vermont’s displaced mobile home residents in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. With homes destroyed by flooding, many of the residents are facing homelessness.  Residents are now organizing and fighting for a voice in the rebuilding process.  While Ms. Rolnik shared her report on the Right to Adequate Housing in Post-Disaster Settings to the General Assembly, NESRI was able to pass along the human rights-based demands of the residents organizing under the name Mobile Home Park Residents for Equality and Fairness.  The recommendations in Ms. Rolnik’s report reflect many of the concerns and demands of the community and Ms. Rolnik asked NESRI to be pass along more details. 

NESRI also spoke with Ms. Rolnik about the “crackdown on dissent” of which we have been receiving increasing reports – that is, a pattern of criminalization targeting highly visible human rights defenders.  We shared with her the case of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) organizer, Mr. Steve Richardson, who has been booked, processed and jailed four times for a single non-violent act of protest over the past 16 months alone.  Mr. Richardson is well-known throughout the community, the LAPD and to elected officials alike for his leadership in promoting civil and human rights in the Skid Row community of quickly gentrifying downtown Los Angeles.  Ms. Rolnik remembered fondly the tour of Skid Row Mr. Richardson led during her 2009 U.S. mission, stating that it was a “privilege” and highlighted Mr. Richardson’s clear commitment to the issues of homeless people in Skid Row and leadership within the community.

Lastly, Ms. Rolnik spoke highly of More Than A Roof, the grassroots documentary that follows her throughout her official fact finding mission to the United States two years ago.  It was one of Ms Rolnik’s first missions as a UN Special Rapporteur and one of her most poignant visits, she said. With regards to the film, she remarked, “It shows that in America, the capital of the world, there are people suffering from the lack of the right to adequate housing, and it also shows how important community organizing is and how important it is for the community to understand and to stand up and fight for their housing rights.”  More Than a Roof is “more than a documentary, it’s an example of how a mission on housing rights can be organized and meaningful when organized with human rights groups,” Ms. Rolnik said.