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Housing is key to COVID-19 response and recovery - UN expert

NEW YORK (21 October 2020) – During the  COVID-19 pandemic, having no home,  lacking access to water and sanitation, or living in overcrowded housing, has regrettably become like a ‘death sentence,’ handed out predominantly against poor and marginalised communities, a UN human rights experts said today.

In his first report to the General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Balakrishnan Rajagopal commended several States that have adopted temporary eviction bans, provided income support to help individuals to cover housing costs or taken steps to house the homeless.

However, the UN expert identified three issues of serious concern:

  1. The impact of COVID-19 on the right to housing reflects pre-existing social, legal, and political cleavages along racial, gender and other lines, with marginalised groups disproportionately experiencing largely preventable suffering and mortality; 
  2. A spike in evictions, hunger, homelessness and mortality is expected with the expiry of eviction bans and other temporary measures to protect tenants;  
  3. In several countries forced evictions have continued, if not accelerated, during the pandemic, exposing vulnerable groups and the communities at large to higher risks of contracting the virus.

Rajagopal called upon States to halt all evictions proceedings, including against non-national residents, and to end the sweeping of encampments or tents of homeless people.

“National and local governments should house people experiencing homelessness in hotels or make vacant housing and buildings accessible to them,” he said. “Homeless people should not be put back on the street. States are obliged under international human rights law to provide access to permanent housing to them.”

“The right to housing should be a key element of response and recovery measures to the pandemic. This requires as well that sufficient resources are allocated towards realising the right to adequate housing for all, but also that States commit to end forced evictions and protect tenants.

“States should consider rent caps and subsidies for tenants and small landlords, and ensure that a global health crisis does not become a global housing crisis. As a general goal no one should have to pay more than 30 percent of her or his income towards housing.”

Rajagopal also urged States to constrain the role of private equity firms as landlords and improve rights and protections of tenants.

“Finally, low income countries should receive adequate development financing to ensure that they can recover from the global economic contraction caused by the pandemic, in a way that does not sacrifice the need to address grossly inadequate housing conditions for many people around the world,” he said.


Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. Rajagopal took up his mandate in May 2020. He is a Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A lawyer by training, Rajagopal is an expert on many areas of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, the UN system, and the human rights challenges posed by development activities. His first report to the UN General Assembly focuses on the impacts of COVID-19 on the right to adequate housing and the way forward.

Follow the Special Rapporteur’s work on Twitter: @adequatehousing

For more information and media requests please contact Gunnar Theissen at gtheissen@ohchr.org  or write to srhousing@ohchr.org.

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: In New York, Jonathan Fowler (+ 1 917 208 6656 / jonathan.fowler@un.org). In Geneva, Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org)
Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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