UN official looks at US housing crisis

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A United Nations official is taking a first-hand look at the impact of the economic crisis on the lives of American homeowners and renters. Reporter Anna Sussman has details.

MARCO WERMAN: The economic crisis has hit American homeowners and renters especially hard. You can read the impact on the faces of the homeless and in the yard signs that say foreclosed. Now a UN official is seeing it for herself on a tour of the United States. Reporter Anna Sussman went along for the ride in L.A..


ANNA SUSSMAN: We are on a bus in South Central Los Angeles and we're here with the first ever United Nations fact-finding visit to the US to investigate foreclosure and evictions and housing issues in America. Advocates on this bus are calling Los Angeles the homeless capital of America. We've just pulled up outside a so-called for-profit shelter. These are places where homeless families are paying for beds because the regular shelter beds are all full here. This mission is being led by Raquel Rolnick. She is the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. She'll be hearing from advocates about housing conditions, evictions, and the demolition of public housing.

RAQUEL ROLNICK: So let me just tell you why I came to the United States. As a rapporteur we received complaints from residents about housing rights violations.

SUSSMAN: Here in America?

ROLNICK: Yeah. And I had received as a rapporteur complaints that dealt with the issue of demolishing of public housing. So combining the issue of financial crisis with foreclosures that gave me the ground to ask for a visit here, for a mission here. When the government changed I got the permission to come.

ADVOCATE: In this area in 2008 and 2009 there were over 3500 foreclosures.

SUSSMAN: We're driving through a neighborhood now where the advocates on the bus say that about 18 percent of the homes had been foreclosed on. You can see for sale signs at about every third home that we're passing.

ROLNICK: I had the opportunity to meet with officials. I had the opportunity to meet with residents. With advocates. And I had the opportunity to do side visits and see things with my own eyes. So I really think that the US is living a affordable housing crisis.

SUSSMAN: Raquel Rolnick we're hearing a lot of stories about poor housing conditions and evictions but the US doesn't recognize housing as a human right, so why are you doing this investigation?

ROLNICK: You don't need to ratify a international treaty or have this in your constitution in order to enforce adequate housing as a human right. So I didn't see that as a problem. It depends on what kind of housing policies you do.

SUSSMAN: What do you hope will come from your fact-finding mission?

ROLNICK: I really hope, and that's how I will try to after the mission present my recommendations to national authorities of what I have seen and what I have heard and then be able to discuss with them some recommendations to reform housing policies. It's very clear that housing has been seen here as a financial asset and as a commodity and not as a social concern.

WERMAN: That was UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnick. Anna Sussman sent us that report from Los Angeles.