Is Housing A Right?

When considering Housing as a Right we run into problems.  In the United States we hold two systems of valuation in mostly equal regard, but they are not compatible.  Conflict between the two creates problems, confuses people, and causes tension and disharmony among people within our social system.

The first system of valuation concerns “rights”, human rights generally and citizen’s rights in particular.   As defined within the founding documents of our country, all people are of equal value and are entitled to certain rights.  There are legal rights which people are given by law, and there are natural rights which are bestowed upon all people for the very fact that they are human, and the entitlement of these rights cannot be taken away or curtailed by the laws of men.  There is a certain value given to all people for the mere fact that they are human, and that human value entitles them to certain rights, including, but not limited to, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But we have another value system that is informed by our use of capitalism and the free market system.  With capitalism, as the saying goes, a thing is worth whatever a person is willing to pay for it.  And people pay for all the things they want and need with the money they’ve earned through trade.  That trade, in capitalism, is usually in the form of labor for cash, but other forms of trade are also used.  In this system, the value of things is reduced to a dollar amount.  To acquire something, a person must do work in exchange for money, and then exchange that money for the item desired.  The amount of work done for money, and the price set on the item desired are negotiable, but cannot be negated.  This makes the value of things in the capitalist system very subjective.

When it comes to achieving “rights”, usually all that is required is the passage and enforcement of laws.  That’s how civil rights are eventually achieved..  Civil rights are natural rights, but at one time our country lacked the political will to make those rights a reality for all citizens. It wasn’t until after a great deal of “persuasion”by disgruntled citizens that politicians acquiesced to the demand for these rights.

BUT when attempting to make housing rights a reality, we run into problems because houses are material goods with a monetary value attached, and we cannot help but get entangled in the capitalist system when deciding how to make the right to housing a reality.  I personally do believe that housing is a right, but sorting out the requirements of the capitalist system so to make housing available for those who need it creates all sorts of difficulties.

Although the ownership of guns is an american right, a person is still required to pay money for them.  Given that the price of guns is fairly reasonable, pretty much any qualified american can obtain a gun through the free market system.  But because homes are much more expensive, sometimes costing more that people are able to afford, guaranteeing the right to housing isn’t always possible.

Our country has created huge bureaucracies in attempting to meet the demands of both value systems, when trying to fulfill the right to housing.  But I think we can come up with a better solution if we rephrase the question.  Lets try it this way:

  Do people have a right to earn a home?

I think nearly everyone would say yes to this question.  And phrased with way, the onus is placed not on the individual to secure his housing regardless of the demands of the free market, but instead the onus is placed on the free market to self regulate, and to maintain an economy that excludes no one who is willing and able to work, This would require, among other things, that the price of things, especially housing, be make less subjective to the whims of the free market.

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About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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