The University of Pittsburgh hosted a Pittsburgh Housing Summit: Human Rights and Housing in the 21st Century on November 10-12. The conference featured an array of lectures, discussion panels, workshops, films, spoken word performances, and a bus tour to meet with resident-run grassroots organizations leading change in Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
Speakers and panelists from around the world presented on human rights and housing and explored local initiatives focused on empowering communities and residents. Desiree Fields, an urban geographer from the University of Sheffield, presented on the global implications of the 2008 housing crisis. Ernesto Lopez-Morales, associate professor of urban planning at the University of Chile, presented on the purposeful and political nature of gentrification and the importance of avoiding a colonial perspective when analyzing housing on a global scale. Max Rameu, a community organizer and author of Take Back the Land, and Rob Robinson, an organizer with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, talked about new “radical” approaches in organizing and empowering local residents.
The neighborhood bus tour gave participants a look at the current and historical contexts of human rights and housing in Pittsburgh as the city expands its urban revitalization initiatives. Participants interacted with local organizations to hear about the issues facing residents. The Northside Coalition for Fair Housing raised resources to buy properties in response to mass evictions, putting control in the hands of community members. The Latino Beechview community members are working towards “building bridges between black and brown youth.” The Hill District continues to battle against mass evictions and the demolition of affordable housing in the name of “urban renewal.” All are working on alternative approaches to neighborhood revitalization.
Among the many conference workshops was one on the “Resident Rights and Remedies,” which highlighted local agencies providing assistance to residents facing housing discrimination, as well as some of the legal avenues such residents can pursue. Speakers included directors of regional and statewide human rights and legal organizations. Other workshops featured personal stories of resident displacement, policies that lead to displacement, possible policy alternatives, strategies for community organizing, and films on the intersection of human rights and housing.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Housing explicitly identifies housing as a human right, calling for everyone to have access to affordable and adequate homes. The summit was dedicated to those who have been displaced in Pittsburgh and throughout the world: “To all those who have been exiled from this place in the name of progress, we will not let your stories be forgotten…. To future generations, we dedicate ourselves to leaving you a better world.”