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Do We Need a Right to Housing?

51 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2009 Last revised: 27 Sep 2009

Kristen Adams

Stetson University College of Law

Date Written: July 7, 2009


One need only listen to the political debates these days to realize that affordable housing is one of the top five issues facing this country. The magnitude of the problem is exacerbated by the legal complexities that accompany the issue. This article, entitled, “Do We Need a Right to Housing?” addresses these concerns and offers a new paradigm, one built on Rousseauean social-contract theory, in that it connects the notion of “Promise Enforcement,” a theory I developed in prior scholarship, to the significant body of literature on housing rights.

Rather than starting, as other articles have done, with the assumption that a right to housing is both necessary and appropriate, this article begins with no such assumption. Instead, the article attempts to answer the question posed in the title by closely examining both the nature of rights and the nature of housing. First, the article explores whether a right to housing is the best approach, as opposed to a goal or other non-entitlement policy geared toward increasing the availability of affordable housing. This portion of the article examines the power and meaning of rights in general, as well as the practical effect and feasibility of a right to housing in the United States at this time. Second, the article considers whether a right to housing, as opposed to another area of focus such as a right to a living wage or universal health care, is the best point of emphasis in the United States at this time. This portion of the article examines the special attributes associated with housing and the distinct concept of “home,” as well as the some of the characteristics of both successful and unsuccessful housing.

Like my other work, this article is interdisciplinary, attempting to bring together the work of philosophers and political theorists such as G.W.F. Hegel, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Jules Coleman, Bruce Ackerman, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick, and Michael Walzer with some of the leading housing theorists, including Witold Rybczynski, Lewis Mumford, Chester Hartman, Florence Wagman Roisman, and Gaston Bachelard. It is my hope that the article will be of interest to policymakers and urban planners, as well as practitioners, academicians, and judges.

Keywords: housing, entitlement, nature of rights, policy, right to housing

JEL Classification: K10, K11, K12

Suggested Citation

Adams, Kristen, Do We Need a Right to Housing? (July 7, 2009). Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2009; Stetson University College of Law Research Paper No. 2009-22. Available at SSRN:

Kristen Adams (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

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