Sunday, February 12, 2017

LD Mar/Apr 2017 - The Right to Housing - Introduction

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


This topic will deal with a decades-old idea there exists a human right to housing which governments ought to protect. The "right" has been written into several international standards documents and covenants and is widely supported by human rights groups. 

Alexander (2015):
The human right to housing, embodied in several international treaties, declarations, and constitutions, establishes that every person has a right to adequate housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The right is not a binding international legal obligation in America and the right is not explicit in the U.S. Constitution. Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the Declaration) first identified the right to housing as part of the broader right to an adequate standard of living. The United Nations (UN) formalized and codified the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration through Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Covenant). The Covenant explicitly defines the right to housing as “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate . . . housing . . . .” It also makes the protection of social and economic rights a legally binding obligation in the form of a treaty. Participating countries must “take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of [the right to housing].” While countries are not obligated to provide housing for their entire populations, they must “progressively realize” the right to housing by adopting legislative, administrative, judicial, budgetary, and other measures to advance the right to housing for all.
[251-252][ellipses in original source]

Debaters may soon discover, this topic is much more complex than the view that governments must simply provide shelters for the homeless. The expression of the right of housing has evolved, mainly due to the work and influence of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Alexander (2015):
The Covenant also affirms that access to adequate housing is a universal and natural right, rather than a privilege based upon an individual’s economic, racial, gendered, or social status. The right to housing also vitiates against arguments that housing is merely a commodity, and that an unfettered market always optimally and equitably allocates housing entitlements. Thus, the right to housing operates as an important set of values for housing rights groups pressing for a more equitable distribution of housing entitlements in America. The right to housing also holds promise for U.S. activists because it encompasses more dimensions than simply the provision of shelter. The UN Committee on Social and Economic and Cultural rights (the Committee) interprets the right to housing to embody, at the least, seven broad principles, namely: (1) security of tenure; (2) availability of services, materials, facilities, and infrastructure; (3) affordability; (4) habitability; (5) accessibility; (6) location; and (7) cultural adequacy. [253]

The view in support of the resolution is contrasted by the argument that, in the U.S. at least, such a codified right may be an undesirable intrusion into American ideals and in fact, in a free market economy such as that present it the U.S. may be unnecessary, but more on this later.


Thinking even briefly about this topic there are, perhaps, many ways in which it can be interpreted and I shall dive into these more fully later in this analysis. Before discussing this resolution we need to establish the definitions of the terms.

The United States
This broadly refers to the union of the fifty states and the territories under federal control. But in the context of guaranteeing rights, we can define "the United States" more narrowly to mean, the United States federal government.

The oft repeated "dictionary dot com" definition tells us 'ought' means, "used to express duty or moral obligation". The word 'ought' in Lincoln-Douglas resolutions are modal verbs which are functional in many kinds of normative statements. Normative statements are prescriptive, that is, they describe an ideal or an aim to be achieved. They point to a world which not necessarily is, but should be. As for 'moral duty', it seems possible this debate could easily be centered around a kind of consequential or deonotological 'moral' duty framework though many other value frameworks are possible.

to guarantee
The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives us a rather complex definition of this verb stating "an assurance for the fulfillment of a condition: such as (a): an agreement by which one person undertakes to secure another in the possession or enjoyment of something". In short, to guarantee means to give an assurance that some condition will be met.

right to
A right is basically an allowance or entitlement; usually a kind of freedom permitted within a system of laws. Rights may be natural, such as the well-known rights of life, liberty and property, seen by political philosophers such as John Locke as inalienable, that is, rights which cannot be infringed by governments except under certain defined conditions. There are also, legal rights which are entitlements granted by statute (law) such as the right to vote or right to drive. Most governments (and certainly the United States federal government) have a duty to guarantee rights, both natural and legal, so long as individuals adhere to the personal obligations which are preconditions for ensuring the right. Simply put in terms familiar to most Lincoln-Douglas debaters and judges, individuals agree to yield some their freedoms (natural rights) to the government in exchange for the government protecting their remaining rights. The protection of rights (or guarantee of rights) by the government is exactly what this resolution is talking about when it says, the U.S. ought to (in an ideal world) guarantee the right to housing.

Merriam-Webster defines housing as "a) shelter, lodgings b) dwellings provided for people". Generally, everyone should know what this word means however, in the context of the resolution we will need to provide specific definitions. More on this soon.

right to housing
The combination of right to with housing is loosely interpreted, based on the previous definitions, as an entitlement to shelter, lodgings or dwellings. However, in international law, the right to housing is considered a legal right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) and other international agreements and covenants. 

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and 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. [emphasis mine]


Let's begin this resolution with an assumption. This resolution is needed because currently the United States does not guarantee a "right to housing", however we define it, and due to this situation some significant values which we all cherish are being harmed. Therefore, the Aff is advocating a change by proposing this resolution. We do know, that in the United States there is access to housing and the USFG has enacted certain laws that guarantee equal access to individuals.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status (i.e., presence of children under the age of 18 in the household or pregnancy). The Fair Housing Act does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases. However, discrimination against a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person may be covered by the Fair Housing Act if it is based on non-conformity with gender stereotypes.  For example, if a housing provider refuses to rent to an LGBT person because he believes the person acts in a manner that does not conform to his notion of how a person of a particular sex should act, the person may pursue the matter as a violation of the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of sex.
Housing discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and people perceived to have HIV/AIDS is also illegal under the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of disability discrimination.

It is certain, that most Affirmative debaters will be all to happy to point out there are distinct differences between access to housing and the "right to" housing as stated in the resolution. In the U.S., housing has been viewed as a privilege enabled by obtaining the financial resources necessary to purchase, rent or lease housing in a fair market, capitalist economy. Moreover, in situations where individuals are incapable of obtaining financial resources, due to extenuating circumstances, charitable housing is provided in accordance with the generosity of concerned individuals and groups functioning independently of the government. However despite the help of certain charitable groups, the number of homeless (men, women and children) in the U.S. has been a concern for citizens, governments, law-enforcement, charitable organizations and human rights groups. These concerns are present in a nation with fair and equitable access to housing with sufficient resources to erect more dwellings upon demand.

The fact is, the U.S. government has long recognized the need to provide a basic level of housing for Americans.

Hartman (2006):
In the Preamble to the 1949 Housing Act, Congress asserted the National Housing Goal, which called for "the implementation as soon as feasible of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family." (Affordability was not mentioned, as slum housing conditions were the nation's primary, most visible housing problem in the post-war period.) That goal was reiterated in the 1968 Housing Act, and in slightly different versions in the 1974 and 1990 Housing Acts.

However, to date, the goal has never been met since there has been no serious effort by the federal government to provide the needed resources. I think we can begin to frame some basic arguments by continuing with the Hartman essay in which he cites three possible reasons why the U.S. government has not acted.

Hartman (2006):
I would suggest several reasons for non-attention. One is that, to a large extent, the fact that one-third of the nation still is ill-housed is a hidden problem. Lack of affordability - our number-one problem - and its broader implications on poor people's lives is not something the fortunate among us experience or even know about. Spatially, too, the rise of gated communities, sprawl and the extreme residential segregation by class and race keep those on top from knowing much about those on the bottom - a form of "American Apartheid," as Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton's 1993 study so aptly put it.
Race is its own barrier. The creation of a true Right to Housing bumps squarely against issues of location and access. Who is to live near whom, go to school with whom? Americans simply don't want to acknowledge the workings and vast impact of structural racism, let alone individual racist attitudes and behavior. How to deal with that confounds us. But unless and until we face that problem, it will inhibit serious movement toward providing all Americans - black, brown, yellow, white and all the skin color mixtures in between - with this basic need and right.
Cost is possibly another barrier. To provide every American household with decent, affordable housing, given the large and widening gap between incomes and housing costs, will require vastly more government subsidies than we now devote to housing - the exact amount of course depends on what kinds of programs, what systems of financing, ownership, development and management we choose (the more market-oriented, the larger the cost; the more we create a social housing sector, the smaller the cost), but think along the lines of $80-100 billion annually. Maybe it would be an easier sell if we make clear the costs of having one-third of a nation ill-housed - and explain how eliminating those costs greatly reduces the bill. And it may be an easier sell if we drive home the point that upper-income taxpayers already get subsidies of that order via the tax system. Not that the society can't afford this: look how easily we come up with similar amounts to bail out savings and loans, make war, give massive tax breaks to the wealthy. It's all a matter of political will.

Now, perhaps, it begins to appear, not only does the U.S. lack a guarantee of the so-called right to housing, it may even be failing to provide equal access to housing. When I present the Affirmative position, I will explore this issues in more detail and look deeper into the impacts associated with not guaranteeing a right to housing in the U.S.

The Negative side of this debate will likely find some positions which are appealing to U.S. Lincoln-Douglas judges. First and foremost, the U.S. never ratified the covenant which codified the right to housing (Alexander:253). Moreover, the United States Supreme Court in Lindsey v Normet (1972) denied any constitutional right to housing.

Alexander (2015):
With respect to a right to housing protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, the Court opined:
We do not denigrate the importance of decent, safe, and sanitary housing. But the Constitution does not provide judicial remedies for every social and economic ill. We are unable to perceive in that document any constitutional guarantee of access to dwellings of a particular quality, or any recognition of the right of a tenant to occupy the real property of his landlord beyond the term of his lease without the payment of rent or otherwise contrary to the terms of the relevant agreement. Absent constitutional mandate, the assurance of adequate housing and the definition of landlord-tenant relationships are legislative, not judicial, functions. Nor should we forget that the Constitution expressly protects against confiscation of private property or the income therefrom.
Thus, the Court refused to recognize poor tenants as a protected class and rejected the notion of a broad constitutional right to housing that trumped the landlord’s property rights. The Court also relegated protection of such rights to the legislature. While some legal advocates argue that this decision only forecloses a right to housing of a “particular quality,” others interpret it as a death knell to judicial recognition of a constitutional right to housing.

American culture tends to support negative rights which restrict government intervention and resist positive rights which require the government or individuals to take certain actions which may be interpreted as limiting to the general liberty of citizens. So even if the Affirmative puts forth an argument the right to housing is a kind of moral imperative, there is a deeply ingrained ideal within American culture that individuals make their own way through ingenuity, work and taking advantage of opportunities available in the United States.

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


Alexander, LT (2015), Occupying the Constitutional Right to Housing, 94 Nebraska Law Review. 245 (2015). Accessed 2/5/2017 at:

Hartman, C. (2006), The Case for a Right to Housing, National Housing Institute, Shelterforce Online, Issue #148, Winter 2006. Accessed 2/5/2017 at:

HUD (undated), Ending housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender individuals and their families, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. accessed 2/5/2016 at:


  1. Can you define the United States has the continental 48 states, because Alaska and Hawaii have much more expensive guidelines. Such as, more heat, air conditioning, property price in tropical locations. What do think?

    1. You can define it any way you like, but don't be surprised if you are challenged by your opponents. My interpretation does not focus on states, rather I claim the United States means the USFG.

  2. Is there an estimate to when the aff/neg sides will be posted?


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