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Housing is a Human Right

Op/Ed By George Payne
Founder and Director Gandhi Earth Keepers International

Founder and Director
Gandhi Earth Keepers International

What is a home? Is a home a congenial environment where one feels most relaxed, and at peace? Is a home that familiar space, which does not belong to anyone else?

Or, like salmon returning to spawn, is the concept of “home” best understood as our true place of origin?

Perhaps, more than bricks, shingles and concrete, a home is made out of the people, and experiences, we are willing to sacrifice, and even die for.

Joe Woods has lived in his home at 394 Webster Avenue for 25 years. He has raised his kids in this home. This is where he barbecues, prays, and sleeps.

And, according to Take Back the Land Rochester, when the country’s financial crisis left his wife, Glenda, unemployed in 2009, reducing the family’s income, the Woods came together to support each other, and to make good on all of their debts.

But although they, like many families, have fought their way back from the financial brink, MidFirst Bank has refused to accept their payments on the house. And, rather then negotiate, they foreclosed.

So, today Joe Woods is a “home defender.” He is willing, along with several of his fellow activists, to go to jail in order to stay in his home.

Yet, why should Joe Woods have to go to jail? The bank couldn’t care less about who lives in this house. They just want to write it off as a tax deduction, peddle it off to another bank, or sit on it until some better deal comes along. In fact, MidFirst has been only one, in a long line of banks (including Columbia Banking, Countrywide, Aurora and MERS), to purchase the Woods ‘mortgage.

Furthermore, the city of Rochester couldn’t care less about who lives in this house. They just want the bank off their chest. It also seems that most Rochesterians couldn’t care less about who lives in this house.

Many view these eviction watches as someone else’s money problem, something that has nothing to do with them. There is even a population in our wider community that may view these home defense campaigns as morally, and politically, misguided.

However, although few others genuinely care about the fate of this house; Joe Woods cares. And, quite frankly, it is his legal right to stay where he is.

Joe Woods knows every single American has been guaranteed the right to have adequate housing.

This right has not only been implied in principle by the U.S. Constitution, but was signed into law by the United Sates, in 1948, when our leaders approved Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a founding UN document that unambiguously states: “Every one has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, involving food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

The worst thing people can do when faced with the specter of foreclosure is relinquish their prerogative to remain in their home.

Joe Woods knows this.

In other words, he is not moving, because he knows MidFirst Bank does not own his property. He knows the city of Rochester does not own it. Nor does the United States Government, or even the United Nations!

Joe Woods owns his home.

I believe Joe Woods is a hero. It takes tremendous courage to stand up for human rights. By remaining in his rightful home, Woods is not only defending his own personal achievements; the memories and aspirations of his extended family; the dignity and sovereignty of his neighborhood; and the social mission of his fellow activists with Take Back the Land; he is also standing up for the right to decent housing for people all over the planet.

Now that is courage in action!