Sunday, February 26, 2017

LD Mar/Apr 2017 - The Right to Housing - Affirmative Position

Resolved: The United States ought to guarantee the right to housing.

Aff Position

The Aff debater should have little problem finding supporting evidence and points of view. The so-called right to housing is widely adopted in international law, urged by the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. XXIV) and supported by many governments around the world. In fact, as I shall demonstrate in this article, it is not always necessary to fill one's files with a vast array of sources and authors to make a compelling case. My approach to this position is fairly basic. I will specify the scope of the right to housing, present the harms in the status quo which guaranteeing the right to housing will solve and then show how voting Affirmative links to advantages. Finally I briefly discuss the framework debate.

The Right to Housing

When we talk about the right to housing we are referring to the idea humans, by virtue of the fact they are human, are entitled to basic human rights which support the necessities required for human flourishing. Recall the work of Abraham Maslow, in which he conceptualized a five-layered pyramid with physiological needs such as food and water at its base and self-actualization at the pinnacle. The hierarchy describes how attainment of each layer allows one to focus on attainment of the next. While it may be obvious housing can meet some very basic needs, such as protection from the environment, the argument is made it can be a bridge linking all of the layers of Maslow's hierarchy.

Seelig, et al (2008):
Housing is often discussed as though the shelter attributes of housing — which correlate with the lower two stages of Maslow’s framework — are the most important features for housing interests. However, Maslow’s need framework can be interpreted much more broadly in terms of what else housing provides as a base for emotional development, social participation, personal status and ontological security, where notions of place and home, neighbourhood and community, capacity and opportunity, all correlate with the higher aspects of basic need. Aspects of housing can thus be seen in each of the stages and across all of them.

It seems, therefore, there is so much more to the right to housing than basic shelter from the elements. In order to provide the means to achieve self-actualization, the right to housing needs to satisfy a broad spectrum of human requirements.

Kabir (2002):
Housing is indeed a foundation from which other legal entitlements can also be achieved. For example, the adequacy of one's housing and living condition is closely linked to the degree to which the right to environmental hygiene and the right to the highest attainable level of mental and physical health can be enjoyed. In view of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR):
[t]he right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow and restrictive sense, which equates it with for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one's head or views shelter exclusively as a commodity. Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. ... The reference in Article 11(1) must be read as not just housing but also to adequate housing.[104]

One of the keys to transitioning across Maslow's hierarchy is found in the resolution: The United States ought to guarantee the right to housing. When the government becomes a partner in supporting the flourishing of its citizens, the benefits can be realized. Of course we need not advocate the government should focus solely on individuals. The government has a duty to provide for the well-being and safety of its collective citizenry and one way it does this is by adopting policies which promote growth and development, for example, advancing the economic opportunities, providing infrastructure and ensuring national security. The combination of the right of housing in its broadest sense with national development provides a framework for flourishing.

Kabir (2002):
Clearly emerging is a potent link between the right to adequate housing and development as the former ensures the full enjoyment of a host of rights by individuals having placed at the centre of all development activities.
Lack of housing for human resources and potential work force or denial of this right, for example, by way of forced eviction seriously endanger the development activities and undermines human dignity. Such deprivation also turns any endeavor for achieving even fulfillment of human beings into a sheer mockery.[110]

And herein, we establish a principle value premise in human dignity which I will expand more fully, later in this analysis.

Harms in the U.S.

The harmful effects of our current policies regarding the right to housing can be found on the streets and alleys of most urban communities as well as the hills and plains of much of rural America. Poverty, homelessness and hopelessness are visible to those who care to look. While non-governmental organizations do what they can to assist those in need, much of the need goes unattended due to lack of resources and perhaps more importantly, lack of awareness. In the richest nation in the world, we have a a growing problem.

Foscarinis, et al (2004):
In the United States, on both the federal and state levels, governmental commitment to financing and subsidizing affordable housing for low-income people has declined precipitously in recent years. Between 1976 and 2002 budget authority for federal housing assistance dropped by $28.1 billion. In January 1977 the Ford administration submitted to Congress a budget request for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would have funded 506,000 additional low-income housing units. Subsidized housing commitments dropped to 60,590 in 1982, to 33,491 in 1995, and to 8,493 in 1996. HUD has been increasing funding for housing units since 1996 but to nowhere near the level of the late 1970s. Average time on waiting lists for public housing has grown steeply. While the commitment to create new subsidized units has tapered off to nearly zero, the stock of federally subsidized housing is being rapidly depleted as owners of privately owned but publicly  subsidized housing stock prepay government-insured mortgages or opt out of government contracts. Since 1996, an estimated 120,000 affordable units have been lost in this manner, and 1.4 million HUD-subsidized units are in jeopardy.[7]

While this source is dated 2004, it gives up a good idea of how long housing for lower-income or underprivileged families has been declining. Moreover we can understand the housing market crash and global recession of 2008 only served to exacerbate the problem, especially considering that housing availability was already alarmingly low.

Foscarinis, et al (2004):
In the United States in 1999, half of all renter households (51 percent) had either moderate or severe housing problems. Forty-three percent had high housing costs, with 21 percent facing severe cost burdens (over 50 percent of income) and 22 percent having moderate cost burdens (30–50 percent of income). Twelve percent lived in housing with severe or moderate physical problems, and 5 percent were overcrowded. Moreover, 57 percent of overcrowded households also had problems of quality or cost burden. Half (51 percent) of households with quality problems were also overcrowded or had high cost burdens. The impact of housing problems on children is an important measure of housing adequacy. A 1998 joint report by physicians at Boston Medical Center and Housing America found that inadequate housing had numerous health effects on children.[8]

Consider now, the impact of the housing market crash of 2008.

NLCHP (2014):
From 2008 until May 2014, there were over 5 million foreclosures, representing 10% of all homes with a mortgage.37 In just May of 2014, foreclosure notices were filed against one in every 1199 housing units—in Florida, this rate is as high as one in every 469 units.
Many of these foreclosures were preceded by predatory lending practices, which target primarily poor and minority borrowers (who may have no other options) with agreements that incorporated insecure tenure by their terms, due to payment conditions borrowers could not sustain.

The residents of Flint Michigan understand all to well the human impact when a government fails to guarantee the right to housing, or in this case the right to housing defined as adequate living conditions. Government financial cutbacks in water treatment resulted in massive lead contamination of the city's water supply.

OHCHR (2016):
The expert on extreme poverty noted that the decline of federal funding in the US for water and sewer systems in recent decades has disproportionally affected poorer cities: 41.5% of Flint residents live below the poverty line, and 56.6% are African-Americans.
“The fact that Flint residents have not had regular access to safe drinking water and sanitation since April 2014 is a potential violation of their human rights,” warned the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller. “Serious problems reported on water quality, particularly high concentrations of lead, are also concerning human rights issues.”
“Flint residents are confronted with one of the most expensive water and sanitation systems in the US, which has led to many thousands of them receiving water shutoff notices in 2015 because they could not afford their bills,” the expert said.
The UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, cautioned that “the impact on housing and living conditions for an already vulnerable group is clear and devastating.”
“There are deep and obvious connections between the human right to adequate housing, the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation and the right to life,” the expert said.
“Persistently high water and sewerage rates cause housing affordability issues and may expose the most vulnerable residents to homelessness when they can no longer afford their bills,” Ms. Farha stated.
The three UN experts also expressed concern that the water crisis in Flint will have a deep and long-lasting impact on its residents. Lead poisoning could permanently impair the health of thousands of people, particularly children, and the psychological impact of the crisis has been severe. “Trust in the local authorities has been seriously undermined,” they said.

While looking at the most visible impacts of U.S. policy with respect to housing we can look at the U.S. ability to respond to natural disasters which displace thousands of residents from their homes and properties. Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf coast of the U.S. displaced one million people. Many of them have yet to return. If the government adopted policies in line with guaranteeing the right to housing, housing needs would be be more fully incorporated into their disaster recovery plans. 

NYCBar (2016):
The United States’ failure to recognize a right to adequate housing further complicates its response to an increasing number of devastating natural disasters. A response to such disasters based on international human rights law would require an assessment of both the extent of the disaster and the ongoing implementation of the right to adequate housing. Were the federal government to recognize such a right, a number of key items to be assessed could be incorporated into its disaster recovery plans, including (i) the ratio of housing damage to overall damage, (ii) damage to rental units versus owner-occupied units, (iii) degree of habitability, (iv) cost to rebuild, (v) measurement of damage concentration, and (vi) pre-disaster local conditions such as housing costs and other social and economic data. During post-disaster recovery periods, authorities could then measure annually, for example, the number of houses rebuilt, the profile of the returned population, and community participation, all as marked against this predisaster and pre-recovery information. As a result, these measurements could be used to ensure access to affordable, decent housing by all populations impacted during the disaster by streamlining disaster relief efforts, exposing discriminatory practices, appropriately allocating federal, state, and local relief funds, and otherwise.[23-24]

Harms To Human Health

The connection between adequate housing, poverty and human health should be obvious. The homeless in the U.S. tend to fall between the cracks, so to speak. They are often invisible to the wealthy and many of the more privileged citizens in a community. Yet the impacts of homelessness or inadequate housing are most often reflected in the health outcomes of children.

Foscarinis, et al (2004):
Homelessness continues to grow at an alarming rate in the United States, and about 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. Homeless people do not receive adequate emergency assistance. A study of twenty-seven U.S. cities found that 37 percent of requests for emergency shelter in 2001 went unmet due to lack of resources—a 13 percent increase from the previous year. For families, the numbers are even worse: 52 percent of emergency shelter requests from families were denied, a 22 percent increase from the previous year. A review of homelessness in fifty cities found that, in nearly all, official estimates of the number of homeless people greatly exceeded the number of emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces.
The impact of homelessness is most severely felt by children; homeless children are 50 percent more likely than housed poor children to die before their first birthday. Of the children and youth identified as homeless by state departments of education in fiscal year 2000, only 35 percent lived in shelters. Thirty-four percent lived doubled-up with family or friends, and 23 percent lived in motels and other locations. Yet these children and youth may not immediately be recognized as homeless and are sometimes denied access to shelters, schools, and school services.[10]

Violation of Other Legal Rights

To conclude this discussion of harms we must understand the U.S. failure to guarantee the right to housing leads to the violation of other important rights. Moreover, the U.S. is being criticized by the international community and in particular the United Nations for failing to mitigate the harms and violations of rights arising from ignoring universal human rights.

NYCBar (2016):
Despite its piecemeal efforts at expanding housing stock, the failure of the United States to comprehensively codify the right to adequate housing has led to a host of violations of basic civil and political rights, including continued race- and gender-based discrimination in housing and inadequate responses to natural disasters. These failures, many of which are rooted in economics and finance, have resulted in scrutiny of the right to adequate housing in the United States; both the UN’s Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and its Special Rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation have spoken out about housing rights-related concerns in the United States. Specifically, in 2010, Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, highlighted the United States’ lack of housing affordability, inability to fully deter housing-related discrimination, and overall lack of meaningful public participation in decision-making on national housing policies. Applying international human rights standards in her assessment of the United States’ realization of the right to adequate housing, Rolnik indicated that, while the US generally offers a high quality of housing stock across the nation, she had “deep concern about the millions of people living in the United States today who face serious challenges in accessing affordable and adequate housing, issues long faced by the poorest people and today affecting a greater proportion of society.” These shortcomings should serve as an impetus for the United States to use and adopt international legal standards so that it can take a comprehensive, enforceable approach in securing the right to adequate housing. The international human rights approach to ESC rights, including the right to housing, provides a structure and clearly defined standards that cannot be achieved through the United States’ piecemeal approach.[16]

The U.S. is obligated, under international law to adopt policies which lead to a remedy.

Foscarinis, et al (2004):
Under international law, obligations to uphold the right to housing include the obligation to provide effective remedies for violations of the right. Such remedies need not always be judicial in nature. International human rights law offers flexibility with respect to different legal systems and traditions. Nevertheless, a fundamental obligation prevails—to provide effective remedies and to interpret and apply domestic law in a manner consistent with international human rights law.
Rather than offering any meaningful protection of the right to housing, however, the U.S. judicial system is frequently enlisted in support of violations of the right. Homelessness in the United States is increasingly criminalized, with cities banning associated activities such as sitting, sleeping, or loitering in public places. This use of criminal law to punish homeless people for conduct inherent in their status constitutes discrimination based on “property, birth or other status” in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other treaties. Further, it contravenes the U.S. commitment in a provision of the Habitat Agenda that homeless people will not be penalized for their status. [11-12]

Housing Is A Gateway Right.

This brings us back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It is impossible to strive for self-actualization and fulfillment of diverse human ideals without satisfying the fundamental needs as a first condition. The right to housing is seen as a gateway to other rights and privileges. These gateway are the advantages of solvency.

NYCBar (2016):
Without full realization of the right to adequate housing, other rights become difficult to realize. At a base level, the right to housing affects the right to life, liberty, and security of person. For example, domestic violence victims especially need secure housing to ensure their safety. The lack of adequate housing also inhibits the realization of the rights to health and well-being, education, and clean water and sanitation. Furthermore, where the exercise of a right requires proof of residency—as is sometimes seen with the rights to vote, secure employment, or make decisions about the family—the right to housing becomes paramount.[7-8]

Kabir explains it best for us and provides the link to some of the most basic of natural and legal rights as well as the need for safety and security. By guaranteeing the right to housing the United States promotes the rights to life, liberty and property. John Locke would be pleased.

Kabir (2002):
The indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights find unequivocal expression through the right to housing. Housing is globally viewed as a primary base for meaningful enjoyment of a multitude of other rights, for example, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of association (such as tenants and other community-based groups), the right to freedom of residence, the right to particpate in public decision-making. Equally the right to security of persons (in the case of forced or arbitrary evictions or any other forms of harassment) and the right not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference withone's privacy, family, home or correspondence, constitute a very important dimension in defining the right to adequate housing.[104]

Thus I affirm.

The Framework

To conclude the Aff position, I will take a few moments to discuss the framework debate. Philosophically, we can consider the works of John Rawls' Veil of Ignorance or Immanuel Kant and his Categorical Imperative.

Velasquez, et al (2014):
Kant's principle is also often used to justify positive or, as they are often called, welfare rights. Where negative rights are "negative" in the sense that they claim for each person a zone of non-interference from others, positive rights are "positive" in the sense that they claim for each person the positive assistance of others in fulfilling basic constituents of human well-being like health and education. In moral and political philosophy, these basic human needs are often referred to as "welfare" concerns (thus this use of the term "welfare" is similar to but not identical with the common American usage of "welfare" to refer to government payments to the poor). Many people argue that a fundamental right to freedom is worthless if people aren't able to exercise that freedom. A right to freedom, then, implies that every human being also has a fundamental right to what is necessary to secure a minimum level of well being. Positive rights, therefore, are rights that provide something that people need to secure their well being, such as a right to an education, the right to food, the right to medical care, the right to housing, or the right to a job. Positive rights impose a positive duty on us—the duty actively to help a person to have or to do something. A young person's right to an education, for example, imposes on us a duty to provide that young person with an education. Respecting a positive right, then requires more than merely not acting; positive rights impose on us the duty to help sustain the welfare of those who are in need of help.

Kant's deontological ethics provides a framework for upholding basic human values. For example, I previously isolated the value of human dignity. Human dignity quite simply is the recognition that all humans have intrinsic worth regardless of their status or place in life. The right to housing preserves human dignity by maximizing the ability to realize self-actualization or by minimizing suffering. You may also want to consider other important values already discussed, such a life, liberty and property. Of course there is always justice as a worthy value. Consider the principle of giving each his due based on maximizing societal well-being or promoting general welfare. There are many possibilities.

For more on this topic or other articles about LD Debate, click the Lincoln Douglas tab at the top of this page.


Foscarinis M,  Paul B, Porter B, Scherer A,(2004), The Human Right to Housing: Making the Case in U.S. Advocacy. 38 Clearinghouse Rev. 97, 2004. Accessed 2/15/2017 at:

Kabir, AHM (2002), development and human rights: Litigating the right to adequate housing, Asia-Pacific HOurnal on Human Rights and the Law 1: 97-119, 2002. Accessed 2/15/2017 at:

NLCHP (2014), Human Right to Housing Report Card, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2014. Accessed 2/20/2017 at:

NYCBar (2016), Advancing the right to housing in the United States: Using International Law as a foundation, Report by the International Human Rights Committee of the New York City Bar Association, Feb 2016. Accessed 2/15/2017 at:

OHCHR (2016), Flint: “Not just about water, but human rights” – UN experts remind ahead of President Obama’s visit, Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, 3 May 2016. Accessed 2/15/2017 at:

Seelig, T, Milligan, V, Phibbs, P, Thompson, A (2008), Reconceptualising housing need in the context of 21st century Australian housing policy, Australian Housing
and Urban Research Institute, October 2008. Accessed 2/15/2017 at:

Velasquez M, Andre C, Shanks T, Meyer S.J. and Meyer M. J. (2014), Rights, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Aug 8, 2014. Accessed 2/17/2017 at:

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