After reading the Letter of the Day (see below) in today’s Jamaica Gleaner, entitled: “Housing is a Human Right!”, I wrote a comment at the end, which the moderator did not allow. I then sent the Editor an emailed response to the said letter, with a letter of my own which can be read below. I await to see if the Gleaner will publish it (I modified it and sent it to the Editor of the Jamaica Observer as well). I argue that housing is not a human right, like many other things we call rights.
LETTER OF THE DAY – Housing is a human right!
Published: Tuesday | March 26, 2013 5 Comments
THE EDITOR, Sir:
It cannot be contested that we have a chronic shortage of housing for our people. Yet, our Government says that taking $45.6b from the National Housing Trust (NHT) will not affect its ability to deliver. Something seems very wrong!
The provision of affordable housing is not for the free market to determine. It is an issue of basic human rights. According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Jamaica is a signatory: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.” The conditions under which many Jamaicans live are cruel and inhuman.
The Government and the NHT board must be held accountable for the fact that in the context of a colossal chronic housing shortage, the NHT is so cash rich that it can give away $45.6b. Why have NHT funds not been used to build low-cost housing to replace the hundreds of informal settlements all across Jamaica? Politicians seem more interested in the density of votes in squatter communities than in improving conditions there.
Should the NHT funds be used to eliminate the dehumanising squatter communities, this, undoubtedly, would reduce the alarming levels of violence and incivility in our society and the attendant high social and economic costs. The whole society would benefit.
No time for arrogance
This is not a time for arrogance or bullyism, despite the dire economic circumstances. We need a publicised plan for the use of this $45.6b: allocations, expected results, safeguards to ensure integrity and best practices, periodic reviews and credible reports, etc.
We have no proof that previous withdrawals from the NHT were used constructively or squandered.
We need an urgent review of the NHT’s mandate and its performance by an impartial body and the findings deliberated publicly.
Too much is at stake!
We ask all Jamaicans, particularly our Christian family, to support this call!
JUSTICE AND PEACE COMMITTEE
St Richard’s Roman Catholic Church
A Reply From KAVON FIENNES:
I feel compelled to respond to the author of the Letter of the Day…”Housing is a Right!”…..published on March 26, 2013 in your paper. The authors, “Justice and Peace Committee”, are confused as are most Jamaicans, as to the difference between what “rights” are; and what “wishes” are.
How can housing be a right? Who is obligated to provide it, if one does not have housing? Where is it come from, Santa Claus? We wished everyone had housing and a decent standard of living. Just because some big international body declares something like housing a ‘right’, does not mean it is correct!
A ‘right’ is something that we all equally possess; and very importantly, it imposes no obligations on another person to give you that “right”. The only requirements of “rights” are that they DO NOT deny others their own rights, deny them of their property or freedom, and it should not impose demands of service; AND it also requires an obligation of non-interference from others. Therefore housing, health care, marriage, education, etc.. are not rights, because they impose requirements/obligations upon others to comply with our demands for service. They are WISHES!
Think about it, if marriage were really a ‘right’, who is supposed to provide us with a decent spouse if we wanted one? But to get to the authors’ point about NHT funds’ usage…How can they be advocating the use of the NHT’s money to provide housing for people who did not contribute to its funds?
By the NHT’s own report, 40 odd percent of involuntary contributors are denied access to the NHT mortgages, because they do not meet the financial requirement to qualify for mortgages. The NHT also stated recently that 75% of persons who have been forced by law to contribute to its coffers have NEVER been recipients of any NHT benefits since the Trust’s inception. What of them? That Roman Catholic committee needs to rethink its position on rights.