Housing As Shelter
Housing provides shelter and protection from the elements for people and their resources, such as food, clothing, and possessions. Local weather and geography contribute to the form and permanence of family housing. Requirements for protection from the elements vary according to local conditions such as minimum and maximum temperatures, susceptibility to flooding or snowfall, and other adverse conditions such as animals and wind. However, housing forms may be influenced by cultural differences in interpretations of human vulnerability and physical comfort (Rybczynski 1986), the quantity and quality of household resources requiring protection, and the advancement and diffusion of housing technology (Doucet and Weaver 1991; Ennals and Holdsworth 1999).
The view that shelter from the elements is critical for human well-being has implications for housing policy and research. The provision of housing requires resources such as land and building supplies. Therefore, housing can be incorporated into an economic market and considered a commodity. In this view, resources to procure housing are more often the responsibility of individual households. The inability to purchase housing may result in homelessness, a condition that is often socially denounced with the blame for the inability to purchase housing focused primarily on individuals or families (Hopper 1993). In contrast, a rights-based view of housing provision argues that access to adequate housing is an international human right. Centrally planned economies can provide publicly subsidized housing to ensure shelter is accessible to all households. The two contradictory views of housing—commodity and right—are frequently central issues in developing research and policy agendas. For example, housing was explicitly described as a human right at the 1996 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul, Turkey. In the same document that declared shelter as a human right, housing was recognized as a productive economic sector. This declaration recognizes the need to find remedies for reconciling access to shelter among populations with very few financial resources without diminishing the benefits of generating incomes through the housing economy in impoverished regions.
In addition to providing shelter from the elements, housing can be employed by household members as a shelter from people outside of the built unit. For example, household members can control access to information about themselves (Wilson 1988). In this sense of shelter, the house is employed as a symbol of social group organization.