Homesharing Spring Tea

Save the Date: April 22

Do you know someone who is looking for a room to rent, but needs more assistance than Craigslist can offer? Do you work with a population that frequently needs low income rental housing?

If so, you may be interested in attending our Homesharing Program’s annual Spring Tea. Hosted on April 22, from 3pm-5pm, the event is for people who want to know more about homesharing and who may be in a position to make client referrals. For more information on the event, please call 410-366-6180.

For more information on St. Ambrose’s Homesharing Program, click here.

Homeownership Counseling: Empowerment and Education

Not many people would enjoy going to work for six hours on a Saturday afternoon. However, Anthony Parran might be one of them. With over 18 years of experience educating and empowering prospective homebuyers, Mr. Parran conducts free monthly homeownership workshops where he provides packets of information, guest speakers, sandwiches, and a friendly atmosphere where questions can be posed freely.

Despite the workshop’s easy-going environment, however, Parran also makes sure that homebuyers know the effort required in purchasing and owning a home. Referring to himself as the “reality check man,” Parran warns of scammers, stresses the work required to repair damaged credit, and advises participants to “know your [financial] comfort zone.”

In the aftermath of the economic and foreclosure crisis-and after years of increased complexity in the home-buying process-such counseling is needed now as much as ever. For while the benefits of homeownership education-including reduced mortgage default rates and increased purchasing power-have long been realized, the ongoing foreclosure crisis has been a dramatic reminder of the importance of homeownership education and counseling.

The financial crisis has also had a significant impact upon the Homeownership Program’s work. Future efforts are focused on new methods of outreach, increased follow-up with clients, and improved case management. Given current market conditions, the program is also re-evaluating its curriculum in order to take a more comprehensive approach, with increased emphasis on post-purchase and financial literacy counseling.

As Mr. Parran says, “experience is the best teacher.” And there is much to learn from the current wave of foreclosures.

Baltimore Consortium welcomes stimulus funding

On January 14th, fantastic news was announced for the city of Baltimore and the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center.

The Healthy Neighborhoods Consortium was awarded over $26 million dollars by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stabilize neighborhoods in Baltimore impacted by foreclosure and abandonment. With Healthy Neighborhoods as the lead agency, this consortium represents a unique partnership between non-profit housing developers, for-profit developers, and the City to secure federal funding for Baltimore. St. Ambrose will receive more than $8 million dollars over the next three years to acquire, renovate, and resell properties in Belair-Edison, Better Waverly, Coldstream Homestead Montebello, and Ednor Gardens. This funding will support the expansion of St. Ambrose’s Housing Development Program, increasing its output of properties from approximately 30 per year to around 60 per year over the next three years.

The $26 million dollar grant awarded to the Consortium is part of $1.93 billion dollars in grants announced by HUD as part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program2 (NSP2). NSP2, in turn, is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the “stimulus package”), passed by Congress and President Obama in February of 2009.

Only 56 grantees were awarded funds for NSP2, out of almost 500 competitive applications received by HUD. The grantees include “states, local governments, nonprofits and a consortium of public and or private nonprofit entities.”

St. Ambrose was also a beneficiary of NSP1 funding through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), signed under President Bush. St. Ambrose received the NSP1 funds through the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development, who was the direct recipient of the award.

Congratulations to all of the other Healthy Neighborhoods Consortium members!

  • Healthy Neighborhoods, Inc.
  • Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake
  • Druid Heights Community Development Corporation
  • The Telesis Baltimore Corporation
  • Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development

(Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development was the direct recipient of NSP2 funding. DHCD was the direct recipient of NSP1 funding.)

For more information: Baltimore receives millions in Recovery Act grants and energy stimulus funds

Thank You from the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center

On behalf of the Board of Directors, staff, and clients of the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, we would like to extend a huge thanks to everyone who has supported our Adopt-A-Family and Annual Fund drives. This year’s Adopt-A-Family was a great success: 300 turkeys were delivered and 149 families were “adopted.”  So far, our Annual Fund drive is doing even better than last year. To receive such generous donations–during an economic downturn, no less–really means a lot. Thank-you cards from our tenants (see below) are still arriving daily!

From all of us here,

Thanks again and Happy 2010!

Gift Cards

St. Ambrose in the news and on the radio

*Update*: Obama: One year on – voters’ verdicts in Baltimore
(Foreclosure Prevention Director Anne Norton quoted)

St. Ambrose Homesharing fills need on both ends

Making Maryland Homes Affordable
(interview with Foreclosure Prevention Director Anne Norton)

U.S. mortgage aid funds moving slowly
(Deputy Director Lisa Evans quoted)

Home of The Wire fears return of the blight

(Foreclosure Prevention Director Anne Norton quoted)

Common Myths about Housing Rights

Part four of a four part series on the developing housing rights movement

From the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions:

Myth: The courts cannot protect housing rights
This is one of the most common myths propagated about the right to housing and other economic and social rights. The notion that housing rights are non-justiciable is usually based on a comparison with civil and political rights. Proponents of this myth believe, among other things, that unlike civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to housing, are too vague and too cost-intensive (requiring government action rather than inaction) to be litigated, and can only be implemented in a piecemeal fashion on the basis of policy, but not on law and justice.

Reality: Not only is the right to housing one of the most developed economic, social and cultural rights in terms of content, but a number of the constituent elements of the right to housing are adjudicated in courts of law, tribunals and other legal and quasi-legal forums on a daily basis. For example, in many countries landlord-tenant relations are regulated by legislation and enforced in courts or tribunals; discrimination with respect to accommodation is prohibited in national human rights legislation in countries across the world and land claims are commonly brought before adjudicators. Moreover, almost all countries have passed legislation on various aspects of housing, much of which can be brought before the courts. Concurrently, regional and international human rights bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination have directly considered housing rights issues in their case law or jurisprudence. COHRE’s publication Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Achievements, Challenges and Strategies outlines a range of housing rights cases and litigation experiences and can be downloaded here.

General Comment No. 4 adopted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, identifies six specific areas within the right to housing that are capable of judicial scrutiny: legal appeals aimed at preventing planned evictions through the issuance of injunctions; legal procedures seeking compensation following an illegal eviction; complaints against illegal actions carried out or supported by landlords in relation to rent levels, dwelling maintenance, and racial or other forms of discrimination; allegations of any form of discrimination in the allocation and availability of access to housing; complaints against landlords concerning unhealthy or inadequate housing conditions; and class action suits in situations involving significantly increased levels of homelessness.

Myth: The State must build housing free of charge
Opponents of housing rights have often argued that recognising housing rights would require governments to build housing for the entire population – an entirely State-based, State-determined and State-driven approach to housing. Presumably, this myth came about based on literal interpretations of the term “right to housing”, and the notion that if the right to housing is granted to all, individuals would demand housing from the State despite the limited resources of the State to meet such demands.

Reality: The right to housing has never been interpreted under international law to mean that States must provide housing, free of charge, to all who request it. Rather, under international law, once a State accepts the obligations attached to the right to housing, it agrees to endeavour, by all appropriate means possible, to ensure that everyone has access to housing resources adequate for health, well-being and security. Upon assuming legal obligations, States are required to undertake a series of measures which indicate policy and legislative recognition of each of the constituent aspects of the right to housing, thus creating the necessary conditions so that all residents may enjoy the full entitlements of the right to housing within the shortest possible time-frame. This is both reasonable and realistic. Although international law may not require States to provide housing for everyone who requests it, some countries have voluntarily taken on this responsibility. Legislation in Finland, for example, makes it mandatory for local government to provide housing resources for the severely handicapped under certain circumstances. In other contexts, homeless children in South Africa, homeless families in the United Kingdom, victims of natural disasters or others with acute housing needs in many countries do have rights to immediate housing relief. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has also provided some insight into whether States have to construct housing for all upon demand. The Committee has indicated that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) requires States parties (that is, States which have ratified the ICESCR) to provide minimum subsistence rights for everyone regardless of the level of economic development of the country. This means that States parties must ensure, at the very least, minimum essential levels of each of the rights in the ICESCR, including the right to housing. Thus, a State party in which any significant number of individuals is deprived of basic shelter and housing would be failing to discharge its obligations under the ICESCR. In meeting their obligations under the ICESCR, States are required to give due priority to those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged and consequently least able to achieve the right to housing themselves. In other words, State parties should provide housing or access to housing resources to those people who are homeless, inadequately housed or incapable of acquiring the bundle of entitlements that correspond with housing rights.

Myth: The State must fulfill the right to housing immediately
Many States are fearful of the right to housing because they mistakenly believe that the right to housing requires them immediately implement all housing rights obligations to comply with international law, and that a failure to do so will lead them to be classified as human rights violators.

Reality: Of course, it would be ideal if States could fulfil all aspects of the right to housing immediately. International law has recognized the impracticality of this and has responded by interpreting this right to mean that States parties will have some legal obligations that must be undertaken immediately and others that are more long-term or progressive in nature. In other words, protecting and enforcing the right to housing will involve some immediate action and some future action, all of which will eventually lead to the full, society-wide, enjoyment of this right. The immediate action required by State parties to the ICESCR arises out of article 2(2) of the ICESCR which stipulates that States parties “undertake to take steps … by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures”. In its General Comment No 3, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has interpreted this phrase to mean that State parties are obliged to immediately begin to adopt measures towards the full enjoyment by everyone of the right to housing. While the full realization of the right to housing might be achieved progressively, steps toward the goal must be taken within a reasonably short time after the Covenant is ratified by the State. The means by which this must be accomplished include – but are by no means limited to – the adoption of legislation. The Covenant also recognizes that some aspects of the right to housing may not be capable of immediate realization. In turn, according to the Covenant, States are obliged to undertake to achieve progressively the full realization of the rights contained in the ICESCR. The use of the term “progressive realization” is a recognition that full realization of all economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to housing, will generally not be able to be achieved in a short period of time. This does not mean, however, that States can indefinitely defer efforts to ensure the enjoyment of the rights in the Covenant.

For more housing rights myths from COHRE, click here.

* * *

Unfortunately, we cannot cover all the myths about housing rights in one post. However, I just wanted to include one final myth or controversy not mentioned above. That controversy is the incompatibility of positive and negative liberty.  The right to housing and other social, economic, and cultural rights (often referred to as positive liberties), are often pitted against civil and political rights (often referred to as negative liberties).

Read more about this controversy here, and share your thoughts with us!


I. Housing as a Human Right: Introduction

II. Why Take a Rights-Based Approach to Housing Issues?

III. Housing as a Human Right: Possibilities for Legal Advocacy

IV. Common Myths about Housing Rights


Housing as a Human Right: Possibilities for Legal Advocacy

Part three of a four part series on the developing housing rights movement

Given the benefits of framing housing as a human right [discussed here], could such a right possibly be established?

Historically, the United States has been resistant to recognizing social and economic rights, including the right to housing. The timing of the Federal Housing Administration’s establishment in 1934 and the passage of the 1937 Housing Act indicates that other rationales (e.g. humanitarian, functionalist, etc.) were at the heart of previous federal policy. Later, the Housing Act of 1949 established the explicit goal of “a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.” However, by framing the policy as a “goal,” instead of a right, humanitarian concerns were still paramount—even though the right to housing had been affirmed a year earlier in Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Since 1948, the right to housing and other economic and social rights have been reaffirmed in numerous international instruments such as the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (1965), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966), and the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1979). Of these, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) “contains the most legally significant foundation of the right to housing at the international level.”[1] However, on the domestic front, the ICESCR—like many international documents—was only signed by the United States (by President Carter), and not ratified by the Senate. Therefore, it is not legally binding.

However, this does not mean that international law has no relevance to current domestic efforts to establish a right to housing. As a signatory to instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the United States still has legal obligations. Even thought the Covenant was only signed—not ratified—the US is still required by the Vienna Convention to “refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of [the] treaty.”[2] In other words, the US has negative obligations. Such obligations have relevance to many housing issues, such as refraining from implementing laws that criminalize homelessness.

Moreover, as Maria Foscarinis, et al. have written, “Courts use international human rights law as an interpretive guide, to give content to general concepts such as standards of need and due process, and in further support of analyses under domestic law.”[3] For example, federal district courts and state courts of appeal have drawn upon international law in such cases as In Re White, Boehm v. Superior Court, and Lareau v. Manson. Even the US Supreme Court has brought “international norms and practices” to bear on US law “as evidenced by Roper v. Simmons, the case striking down the execution of minors as unconstitutional.”[4]

The interdependence of rights also provides a channel for legal advocacy. Foscarinis, et al., write that:

Jurisprudence emanating from the […] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [which was ratified by the United States] recognizes obligations under the right to life in Article 6, as well as under guarantees of non-discrimination, to take positive measures to address poverty and homelessness.  While the latter treaty is not self-executing, it can be used as an interpretive guide in cases where domestic law is absent or ambiguous; it may also be considered customary law and thus binding with the status of federal common law.[5]

Implicit within this statement is the interdependence of rights. In the quote above, the right to life and guarantees of non-discrimination are directly related to issues of poverty and homelessness. One’s right to life, for example, is not secure if one lacks adequate shelter. And guarantees of non-discrimination are potentially violated if certain groups are disproportionately affected by a lack of housing that, in turn, undermines other rights that they hold. Thus, due to the interdependence of human rights, the US’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights also entails government obligations relating to social and economic rights, including housing rights.

Finally, there is movement to establish housing as a human right at both the state and local level. A number of state constitutions, for example, “contain the seeds of a right to housing,” by including language that addresses caring for the needy, providing for the poor, or protecting citizen welfare.[6] As an example of human rights advocacy at the local level, “city councils in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco have passed resolutions adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.”[7]

Thus, there are many possible ways that international human rights norms, established in instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can be brought to bear on domestic legislation. The US’s negative obligations established under the Vienna Convention, the use of international law as an interpretive guide, the interdependence of rights, and legal advocacy at both the state and local level all provide avenues for realizing housing as a human right.


I. Housing as a Human Right: Introduction

II. Why Take a Rights-Based Approach to Housing Issues?

III. Housing as a Human Right: Possibilities for Legal Advocacy

IV. Common Myths about Housing Rights


[1] Scott Leckie. “Housing as a Human Right,” in Environment and Urbanization, October, 1989.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maria Foscarinis, et all. “The Human Right to Housing: Making the Case in U.S. Advocacy,” in the Journal of Poverty Law and Policy. July-August, 2004.

[4] “Housing Rights for All: Promoting and Defending Housing Rights in the United States” The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 2009

[5] Maria Foscarinis, et all. “The Human Right to Housing: Making the Case in U.S. Advocacy,” in the Journal of Poverty Law and Policy. July-August, 2004.

[6] “Housing Rights for All: Promoting and Defending Housing Rights in the United States” The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 2009

[7] Ibid.

Why Take a Rights-Based Approach to Housing Issues?

Part two of a four part series on the developing housing rights movement

Discourse on economic and social injustice is changing. Now, when advocates and activists discuss pressing human needs or policy goals, their arguments are increasingly couched within a human rights framework. In the last few decades, this shift has become increasingly apparent within the movement to establish housing as a human right.

As Scott Leckie—the former Executive Director of the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions—has explained, there are many possible justifications for addressing housing issues: humanitarian, functionalist, social control-based arguments, and human rights-based arguments.[1] Given these possible justifications, why take a rights-based approach to housing issues? Why frame housing as a right that everyone is entitled to by the fact of their basic human dignity?

A number of legal and non-legal rationales support a rights-based approach. On the legal side, Leckie points out that such an approach establishes explicit and “legally binding obligations” for state actors and “enforceable entitlements” for citizens.[2] As a consequence, a rights-based approach would provide legal accountability. Once rights are established, governing institutions can be held accountable for meeting basic requirements. For example, the core components of  “adequate” housing—as defined by international law—include:  security of tenure, availability of services, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location, and cultural adequacy. These components provide a substantive benchmark for assessing the state of housing and maintaining accountability.

That said, a human rights-based approach does not have to be a purely legal approach. Leckie advocates social action that combines legal and political strategies.  With the support of a strong foundation based on human rights, “Public criticism, international embarrassment, complaints from other states, moves by opposition politicians, [and] criticisms in national and international media […] may yield more positive results than resorting to the courts,” writes Leckie.[3]

Moreover, such a rights-based approach to housing provides a new conceptual framework for understanding housing problems—one that differs from traditional humanitarian rationales. For Leckie, taking a rights-based approach “is not simply saying, ‘The government didn’t perform well so we are going to vote it out so that more people get housing.’ The rights based approach says, ‘The government has consciously done certain things or not done certain things and as a result of that it has violated the rights of its citizens.’”[4] By grounding the discussion in human rights, the problem is framed completely differently: a state that fails to meet a policy goal is very different from a state that violates the basic human dignity of its citizens.

Maria Foscarinis—the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty—has also stressed the value of a human rights framework for addressing housing issues. For Foscarinis, a rights-based approach is particularly important now

when so much public debate on these issues—and resulting policy and law—about homelessness and poor people is premised on misguided, hostile, and divisive assumptions. Human rights are universal: they recognize and are based on the inherent dignity and value of all human beings.  The human rights framework can help foster an inclusive, unifying model for a true social safety net based on justice.” [5]

Thus, establishing housing as a human right would not only hold governments accountable through both legal and political approaches, it would also help to reframe public debate on housing issues.


I. Housing as a Human Right: Introduction

II. Why Take a Rights-Based Approach to Housing Issues?

III. Housing as a Human Right: Possibilities for Legal Advocacy

IV. Common Myths about Housing Rights


[1] Scott Leckie. “Housing as a Human Right,” in Environment and Urbanization, October, 1989.

[2] “Housing Rights for All: Promoting and Defending Housing Rights in the United States” The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 2009

[3] Scott Leckie. “Housing as a Human Right,” in Environment and Urbanization, October, 1989.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Housing Rights for All: Promoting and Defending Housing Rights in the United States” The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 2009

Housing as a Human Right

Part one of a four part series on the developing housing rights movement

“In the US, it’s feasible to provide adequate housing for all. You have a lot of money, a lot of dollars available. You have a lot of expertise. This is a perfect setting to really embrace housing as a human right”

— Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik, recently ended her official fact-finding mission in the US. During her seven city tour—including Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and other cities—Rolnik met with public officials, NGO representatives, and people experiencing homelessness in order to understand the current state of housing in the US. Her preliminary findings, while not necessarily surprising, are certainly damning: “millions of people living in the US today are facing serious challenges in accessing affordable and adequate housing.”

As the introductory quote above indicates, a common theme throughout Rolnik’s mission was that adequate housing is a basic human right. In order to explore this theme more thoroughly, Talk to St. Ambrose will be hosting a series of posts dealing with the emerging housing rights movement.


I. Housing as a Human Right: Introduction

II. Why Take a Rights-Based Approach to Housing Issues?

III. Housing as a Human Right: Possibilities for Legal Advocacy

IV. Common Myths about Housing Rights


For more information on the UN Housing Mission, click here.

St. Ambrose properties in Barclay receive “green” makeover

In late October, work began on five of eleven St. Ambrose rental properties that are currently slated for an energy upgrade. Located in the Barclay community, St. Ambrose purchased and rehabbed all eleven of the houses in the late 1970s. Today, the properties are receiving a “green” makeover that will help keep the properties affordable by lowering utility and maintenance costs for residents.

Funding for the improvements is provided as part of the Federal Stimulus program and is being administered by Baltimore City’s Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). WAP provides home improvements that reduce energy consumption and utility costs for low income households. WAP’s Director in Baltimore City, Ken Strong, and DHCD have worked dilligently with St. Ambrose in an effort to “green” these units and help us maintain affordable housing.

Much of the initial work done on the first five of the rental properties focuses on increasing the energy efficiency of the houses. Currently, attics are having additional insulation installed and basements are being sealed for air infiltration. Additional energy saving improvements include replacing unvented bath fans with vented ones to control moisture, replacing conventional light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, and installing low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads.

The houses are also set to receive “cool roofs” through a consortium of partners assembled by Mr. Strong. The new white roof coating is expected to reduce attic temperatures by up to 70 degrees in the summertime. Civic Works is partnering with a local occupational training program to provide the labor for the project free of charge. The roofing materials are covered by stimulus funding and expanded Community Development Block Grants.

WAP, with another source of stimulus funding, will also provide new heating systems for the units. Five houses are slated to have their gas furnaces replaced with high efficiency furnaces. The other six houses will have their electric baseboard heating systems replaced with compact, high-efficiency boilers that will produce hot water in addition to heating the homes.

The total projected savings for the residents are substantial. Besides rent, utilities are the single largest housing expense for our residents-who are responsible for all utility costs. The energy upgrades are expected to save households close to 40% on their monthly utility bills. These savings will help to keep the houses affordable for our residents at a time when utility costs are on the rise.

For more information on the Weatherization Assistance Program, please visit:

Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development Weatherization Assistance Program

Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Weatherization Assistance Program

_____________

Brian Devlin contributed to this post.