Occupying the Constitutional Right to Housing

60 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2014 Last revised: 3 Sep 2016

See all articles by Lisa T. Alexander

Lisa T. Alexander

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: February 17, 2015


The United States does not recognize a formal legal right to housing. Yet, the right to housing is alive in America. Using qualitative interviews and case studies, this Article is the first to argue that recent American housing rights movements, such as the Occupy Movements, Take Back the Land movements, and Home Defenders’ League, give legal meaning to an American constitutional right to housing. These social movements represent the right to housing in American law when they occupy and retain vacant and real estate–owned homes, defend home owners and renters from illegal evictions and foreclosures, encourage municipalities to use eminent domain for principal reduction and property acquisition, and create micro-homes for the homeless. These movements’ legal successes reformulate local property and land use laws, create legal arrangements that embody the human right to housing in American law, and associate the human right to housing with well-accepted American constitutional norms. In so doing, these movements occupy the legal meaning of an American constitutional right to housing, even in the absence of a formal legal right. This Article contributes to popular constitutionalism scholarship by highlighting how private ordering and local law reforms can create constitutional meanings before those rights are associated with the actual text of the Constitution. Further, it enhances property scholarship by demonstrating how occupations can lead to more equitable property arrangements. This Article also advances the law-and-social-movement literature by outlining how the Internet and social media help social movements avoid some of the pitfalls of legal mobilization. Lastly, this Article demonstrates new ways social movements can advance American social and economic rights in the technological age.

Keywords: Property law, Housing law, Popular Constitutionalism, State and Local Government Law, Zoning Law, Law and Social Movements, Law and Society, Internet and Society, Human Rights

JEL Classification: K42, I31, K11, K1

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Lisa T., Occupying the Constitutional Right to Housing (February 17, 2015). 94 Neb. L. Rev. 245 (2015); Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1288; Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-26. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2497695 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2497695

Lisa T. Alexander (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

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