UN experts call for protection of housing rights of Hurricane Katrina victims

Date Published: 
February 28, 2008
United Nations experts on housing and minority rights today called on the United States Government to halt the demolition of public housing and protect the human rights of African-Americans affected byHurricane Katrina, which battered New Orleans in 2005.

"We are deeply concerned about information we continue to receive about the housing situation of people in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region," Miloon Kothari, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and Gay McDougall, the Independent Expert on minority issues, said in a joint statement.

The demolition of the St. Bernard public housing development started the week of 18 February (2008) and the destruction of three other complexes were planned for the near future without meaningful consultation with the communities involved, they said.

Citing reports that there are more than 12,000 homeless people in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area, they said that the demolition of public housing, in combination with the spiralling costs of private housing and rental units, are helping to drive people, primarily African-Americans, into destitution.

"We understand that the new housing will not be available for a significant period of time nor will there be one for one replacement for housing units destroyed," they said. "These demolitions, therefore, could effectively deny thousands of African-American residents their right to return to housing from which they were displaced by the hurricane."

Whether or not the demolitions were intentionally discriminatory, "the lack of consultation with those affected and the disproportionate impact on poorer and predominantly African-American residents and former residents would result in the denial of internationally recognized human rights," they maintained.

The two experts said they sent a letter stating their concerns to the US Government in December 2007.

Special rapporteurs and experts are unpaid, independent specialists who monitor their area of expertise in association with the UN Human Rights Council.