Topic Analysis for NSD Flagship

Almost every member of the staff member at NSD flagship and NSD Texas contributed to this topic analysis either directly or indirectly. Special shoutouts to Alex Yoakum, Carolyn Lau, Sean McCormick, Sophia Caldera, and Mark Gorthey for direct contributions and helping to organize everyone’s ideas.

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


In 1949 Congress established national housing goals with the intention of shifting from the meager efforts to provide shelter for those most in need to a large-scale system which would ensure a standard of housing for all Americans. Unfortunately, from the perspective of many, Congress provided neither sufficient details nor a timeline for when their goals should be accomplished (Orlebeke 2000).

Up until 1973 the government intervened a lot in housing and even started driving production of housing starting in 1968. However, political backlash and perceptions of futility resulted in the Nixon administration shutting down this program (though for most of Nixon’s presidency he achieved higher-than-target production). Since then, assistance to people in need of housing has been largely a collection of disjointed policies from various branches of federal, state and local governments without a unified goal or plan (Orlebeke 2000).

The affirmative, in debates at NSD this year, will be trying to correct for this lack of vision while the negative will be pushing back against potential plans. At least that’s one interpretation of how this debate will play out.

The problem, as we see it, of this resolution is that a right to housing is both a vague concept and many things can and have been considered to fall under it. The good thing is that this means the topic literature is extraordinarily rich and varied. Academic debate on housing policy is an untapped pool for LD debate and it has the potential to lead to some of the best research outcomes yet.

Yet a danger also exists in this topic. This danger existed in November-December of 2012 when we debated universal healthcare. It appeared that debaters, for the most part, simply defended plans which were modeled after other countries and had no idea what those countries actually did. They had evidence that said good things came about from England and evidence that said bad things came about in England but nobody actually knew what made England different than Canada, for example.

In the short time before camp starts and during those hours at night between homework assignments there may not be enough time to really gain a full understanding of what a given AC actually does.

Of course, this all sounds rather pessimistic but pessimism is not the right reaction. For one thing, this is an opportunity to rise above the challenge of grappling with a huge topic. A topic which requires a lot of work is enormously beneficial when you want to learn how to be prepped to the greatest possible degree during the season.

For another thing, even if it is difficult to get down to the foundations of the topic literature and grapple over the intricacies of particular plans there is a lot of potential to apply generic debate arguments and learn about how they work. This topic analysis will attempt to show both how this can be done, and to give a foundation for in-depth topical education.

Background Issues

The Status Quo

The status quo has been described as being a “three-pronged approach” including vouchers, block grants, and tax credits (Orlebeke 2000).

Vouchers primarily come in the form of the Housing Choice Voucher program of Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937. This is what people mean when they refer to “Section 8 Housing.” Houses and apartments are not designated specifically for Section 8 but it is empirically the case that certain areas within metropolitan areas have large concentrations of tenants who use vouchers (Semuels 2015).

Section 8 has been criticized for various things (Semuels 2015). First, it has resulted in certain areas being entrenched in cyclical poverty that is hard to escape. The point of the program is to enable some people to leave economically depressed neighborhoods but it has failed at accomplishing that. The two main reasons for that are that people who rent in low-income neighborhoods like tenants with vouchers because their rent is more reliable and people in higher-income neighborhoods do not want tenants with vouchers for fear of chasing away other potential clients. Second, the Department of Housing and Urban Development creates estimates of market-value rents that are probably lower than is realistic meaning getting a voucher is not always helpful. Third, Section 8 has long waiting lists and it is difficult to get off of them. Fourth, only about a quarter of people eligible for Section 8 vouchers apply for them. This may be because of the waiting lists, the belief that the vouchers are futile, or because people simply are not informed about their options.

The HOME Investment Partnership Program provides most block grants in the status quo. It directs funds from the federal government to state and local governments for projects constructing, rehabilitating and buying homes in order to assist low-income people. The main political benefit of this program is that it decentralizes housing assistance from the federal government which has been a dominant approach in Congress for the 25 years or so (Orlebeke 2000).

With respect to tax credits the main source of assistance to people in need is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). The point of this tax credit is to incentivize the use of private equity in developing affordable housing. The developer can take a tax credit equal to a percentage of what they put into a project (Orlebeke 2000).

Besides these three prongs a number of government programs exist which facilitate and assist people in finding and affording homeownership (Hartman 1998). Local housing codes ensure certain standards of living conditions for people, Rent control ordinances help to prevent unreasonable increases in rent. Various laws exist to prevent discrimination by race, gender, sexual orientation and ability in renting or selling property. There are restrictions on eviction and foreclosure that prevent people from being displaced without reasonable cause. The Department of Veterans Affairs assists veterans in affording housing through low-interest loans. FEMA provides emergency housing after natural disasters. Finally, homeowners can deduct home mortgage interest and other things from their income taxes.

Some authors have looked to these sets of policies and come to the conclusion that the right to housing already exists implicitly in the law (Green 2012) while others have looked at them and said that this is not enough to constitute a full right to housing (Hartman 1998). Their objection comes from many of the shortfalls produced by these systems.

Problems in the status quo

The main problem in the status quo is obviously homelessness. Homelessness causes a number of health problems, makes it difficult for people to receive state assistance, undermines education opportunities, makes it harder to find new employment and causes a whole host of other problems (Hartman 1998). Moreover, it causes problems for the rest of society. It is widely acknowledged that paying to help the homeless is more expensive than paying to simply provide them with housing (Hartman 1998). Moreover, homelessness can lead to diminishing property values, higher crime, and less investment in the community (of course, this is due to unfortunate prejudices and not really rooted in any special activity by homeless people).

Segregation and ethnic fragmentation renders other problems. Discriminatory housing policies mean that marginalized communities are often regulated to lower-income communities and the designation of certain communities as low-income itself serves to create cyclical poverty in the region (Semuels 2015). Moreover, ethnic fragmentation undermines investment in public goods because people feel less invested in their community if they think their tax money is going to people of a different race (Easterly et al. 1999).

The combination of these general problems serves to frame most of the specific problems associated with housing policy. Of course, specific groups and specific regions have their own particular problems but they map onto these general issues.

The Recession and Housing Policy

With respect to the recession there are two rival narratives about whether government housing policies were at fault for the financial crisis. This is a heated debate due to its political nature and both sides accuse the other side of outright lying.

The right-wing narrative (Michel 2015) is that the savings and loans crisis in the 1980s lead to a significant increase in government meddling in the housing market. The government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) Fannie Mae filled the void and then, through the power it acquired, was able to successfully lobby Congress to create a set of affordable housing goals. In 1994 Clinton’s launched the National Homeownership Strategy with the goal of increasing the amount of homeownership which aimed to increase homeownership from 64% to 70% by 2000 (Michel 2015, HUD 1996).

The conservative objection to this policy was that 64% was a market equilibrium. By attempting to push past this the government and Fannie Mae created conditions which incentivized giving loans to people who could not afford the mortgages. This, in conjunction with Basel capital requirements created incentives for banks to securitize (rather than hold) their mortgages just as more and more risky mortgages were being given out. As a consequence, subprime mortgages permeated through the whole financial system and when people stopped being able to afford to pay their mortgages as interest rates increased (the mortgages were structured to suddenly increase rates a few years into the loan) the entire financial system collapsed.

Liberals, of course, will say this narrative is complete nonsense — or they may use harsher language (Zuesse 2013). Some will say that the government may have marginally contributed to the amount of subprime mortgages but market pressures were the more important cause and that US investment banks, rather than American government-sponsored enterprises were the major players involved (Meadors 2012).

In addition, liberals will argue that the problem wasn’t an increase in subprime lending but rather that nobody was calling out securities backed by bad mortgages. This, they would say, is due to the shift of credit-rating agencies to for-profit models (the movie The Big Short, for example, makes a big deal out of this) and lack of financial regulation (Labaton 2008). The bundling of good mortgages and bad mortgages in creating mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) effectively hid the subprime nature of many mortgages because people had interest rates they could afford at first.

Conservatives might reply that the real reason nobody was calling out these mortgages was because the government and Democrats in general pushed a narrative that the problem so many people faced was discrimination rather than a simple lack of resources. As a consequence everybody thought it was reasonable to assume that people were being denied mortgages because of unjust discrimination rather than due to the fact that they were legitimately not able to handle a mortgage. In addition, various policy organizations and activist groups, including groups who were calling for a right to housing, were pushing the idea that homeownership is part of the American dream and that escaping poverty means no longer renting. Therefore, according to this narrative, people were incentivized to get houses they couldn’t afford and lenders were convinced their previous assessments of these people were unreasonable.

The left’s most obvious response is that this presumes they are much more effective at getting their narratives across than they really are. Moreover, housing discrimination and manipulating people in poverty into getting mortgages they can’t afford are real practices. They would argue this was an example of predatory lending rather than people suddenly making bad economic decisions with good intentions.

To be clear, to this day nobody really has a good explanation of what caused the recession and what made it so much worse than other recessions. People attempt to sell one narrative or another to score political points but the best economists are still rather shaky on the details.

How is this relevant to a right to housing? Well the conservative objection would be that right to housing narratives have a harmful effect on the economy and that government intervention has been shown to be terrible at addressing these problems. Of course, this is a generic response to government intervention and does not have much weight against particular ACs unless they attempt to use GSEs themselves.

But it is also relevant insofar as the recession had a huge effect on the current landscape of housing and housing policy. Starting in 2006 housing prices began to drop dramatically (Furman Center 2012). People began to panic and started trying to sell in order to minimize their losses. Because nobody was buying and interest rates were starting to increase on millions of mortgages people began defaulting and abandoning homes. Landlords who owned huge amounts of property fled creditors and their tenants were kicked out of houses by banks. As a result our nation simultaneously had a huge amount of vacant property and a huge amount of homelessness (Furman Center 2012).

This distressing combination was especially bad for Black and Latino Americans. Pre-existing inequalities meant that they in particular suffered the largest losses of equity on their homes and were displaced at disproportionate rates. Part of this is why economic inequality between races has only gotten worse over the past 10 years even though it was getting better in the past (Furman Center 2012, Singh 2015).

Moreover, there were wide regional discrepancies in severity. Las Vegas, between 2006 and 2011, saw housing prices fall by 59% whereas Denver saw them fall by 10% (Furman Center 2012). We can say, roughly, that those regions which saw housing prices increase the most in the early 2000s saw them decline the sharpest at the end of decade. Foreclosures, moreover are associated with declines in health, education, social capital, and credit (Furman Center 2012). All of these consequences reverberate throughout society and damage the economy.

This all indicates that housing is immensely important. Something seems profoundly unjust about an economic system which results in vacant housing and dramatic decreases in housing prices at the same time homelessness spikes and credit contracts so people can’t get a new home. Both sides of this situation, the amount of unexploited housing opportunities and the loss of housing, have severe consequences. Both sides affect minorities disproportionately and contribute to systemic poverty. And both sides might be addressed if we change our approach to housing from one regulated by market forces to one which actively ensures people have what they need. But then again perhaps government intervention creates the inefficiencies which lead to these problems.

Issues of Interpretation

What is a right to housing? The UDHR states that

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.” (UDHR 1948)

But that does not provide us with a lot of information.  How exactly is the government supposed to “guarantee” this right? What does that look like?

The first major question of this resolution is if there is a generic whole res affirmative. It is possible to envision a phil-heavy AC which proves the existence of a right to housing by reference to moral or political philosophy. While this is potentially possible the negative will probably object that a right is meaningless without thorough definition of how it applies to specific circumstances and will say that it is not enough to prove the right exists without showing why the government should act on it.

A closely related issue is how we are to understand a resolution with, apparently, two normative words in it. Both “right” and “ought” seem to invoke ethical concepts. If a right exists, is it self-evident that that agents ought to enforce it? If that is the case then it seems there is an easy “a priori” argument that the resolution is analytically true. Even if a right to housing doesn’t exist the resolution refers to it and says an agent ought to act upon it. The resolution is therefore true if a right is by definition something we ought to guarantee. For example, if I say “Unicorns have horns” then that statement seems true if we define unicorns as a horse-like animal with a horn.

Then again perhaps that is not how language works. It may be the case that that statement is false if unicorns don’t exist even if by definition they have horns. In any event, even if the affirmative has to prove a right to housing exists, if a right is by definition something which ought to be guaranteed then that may be all the affirmative has to do.

The alternative interpretation of the resolution is that “the right to housing” is a term of art referring to a specific type of legal fiction which summarizes a government’s duties. Under this interpretation, the resolution does not have a “double normative” but simply asks if the government should create a legal fiction called “the right to housing.”

This is not to say the negative will always be the one insisting on a legal fiction definition. Neg ground includes generic “rights don’t exist” arguments if we think the resolution is primarily a question of whether the right to housing exists. Moreover, if the affirmative starts the round by implicitly assuming a legal fiction definition and then reads utilitarian justifications for affirming a negative can simply stand up and say that the aff did not warrant the legal fiction interpretation, that the double-normative interpretation makes more sense, and that util means rights don’t exist and therefore the AC framework auto-negates.

This demonstrates two potential arguments ACs might make that the aff should get to determine which interpretation of the resolution should be used in the round. First, if the neg changes the definition they have cheap arguments they can make in the NC that aren’t very educational or substantive and aff substance goes away. Second, it is not reciprocal for the aff to prove both that a right exists and that there is a sufficient reason for the government to act like a right exists. It creates a 2-1 skew because the neg can either say “a right to housing doesn’t exist” or “there is no reason for the government to act on a right to housing.” Therefore, the aff should be able to either simply say “there is a reason to act like a right to housing exists whether or not it actually does” or to simply say “a right to housing exists and therefore by definition the government ought to guarantee it.”

A related question addresses the difference between a right and an entitlement (Yates 1994). We might say a right is an entitlement with a moral spin to it (in which case it seems reasonable to argue that the resolution is asking the aff to defend a free-standing moral concept rather than a legal fiction).

Yet another distinction to be made is between legal and programmatic rights to housing. A legal right is one where individuals can sue in courts over the failure of the state to guarantee their rights and the state must address individual concerns. A programmatic right is one where the state must implement a social policy and does not need to tend to individuals case-by-case except through said program (Fitzpatrick and Watts 2010)

The question of what the right looks like also intersects with questions about negative vs. positive rights. While it seems fairly consistent throughout the topic literature that a right to housing is a positive right the government must actively enforce, it has been suggested that it could be interpreted negatively. This would be like a property right. The government cannot unduly interfere with your ability to acquire property nor can it seize your property without just cause. In the same way the idea would be that the government cannot interfere with attempts to acquire housing and perhaps has the duty to make sure that no private actors interfere either. In practice this would probably look like laws which prevent local governments or private parties from using race or other characteristics to prevent people from housing in certain areas.

But if it is a positive right the question becomes what proactive actions are required of the government in guaranteeing it. Suppose we can all agree that everyone has a right to antidote from poison. If you only have enough antidote to cure two people and there are three poisoned people before you how ought you respond? It seems you must prioritize among the people somehow but can a right allow for that?

Similarly, if there are not enough houses to go around what must the government do? The simple answer appears that it should work to increase production and in the meantime help those most in need. Moreover, if somebody owns several personal houses and there exists a positive right to housing can the government seize this property and redistribute it? It would seem that is the case only if a negative right not to have your property taken is outweighed by the positive right to housing.

Nations which publicly endorse a right to housing such as France, South Africa and England have not resorted to seizing private property. Does this mean that they do not really have a right to housing or does it simply mean that the right is not strong enough to take property from others? These questions remain unclear.

And of course, there will also be a generic debate over what “The United States” means. Does this allow for the affirmative to advocate that the 50 states act in conjunction? What about particular local governments? It seems unintuitive that these things are topical, but on Jan-Feb last season affs were making progress in justifying the topicality of these plans.


Affirmatives may construct plans in a few different ways. They may consider specific foreign models, specific groups in need of assistance, specific regions of the United States or they may find specific mechanisms whereby the government can address problems in housing in the US.

Foreign Models

Various nations ensure a right to housing in their constitutions, treaties, and laws. However, three specific nations feature heavily in the topic literature because of their implementation of a right to housing: France, South Africa and the United Kingdom. It is again worth emphasizing that defending one of these specific models will be much more effective of a strategy the more educated you are about what they do. It will enable you to make strong no-link arguments and to articulate your solvency persuasively.

France has a system of social housing comprised of both social rental stock and agreement-regulated private stock. Semi-public corporations, agreement-regulated private housing providers and the Union Social pour l’Habitat (USH) are the three types of social housing providers. Resource caps, controlled rents and geographical location are the three criteria for allocating social housing and people apply for social housing. Certain groups of applicants have priority (the disabled, the homeless, people in unsafe housing). Social landlords determine the allocation of housing via committees (Quilgars and Loison-Leruste 2009).

Starting in about the 1990s the French switched from focusing on urban development to deal with housing problems to focusing on social assistance as the primary method. They used cooperation with non-profit groups and government to achieve this goal. However, it has been argued that this in fact created more problems than it solved for the French because it simply pushed temporary solutions on people instead of providing for new long-term housing. More and more housing construction is being designated for higher income people than low income people which is creating shortages under the current system. Limited mobility for low-income individuals and lack of centralization have generally made it more and more difficult for these problems to be overcome and some of the more alarmist parts of the literature characterize the French system as collapsing (Quilgars and Loison-Leruste 2009).

South Africa implemented a right to housing in its Bill of Rights in 1996. Courts must decide cases in accordance with the values implicit in the Bill of Rights and the government is obliged to duly act in order to fulfill the rights. Housing rights jurisprudence is more developed than jurisprudence on any other social or economic right in the Bill of Rights (Williams 2014).

In practice the right creates, “at the very least” a negative right against government or private groups from denying anybody access to housing and especially exists in response to forced evictions on the basis of race during the apartheid era. The government’s positive duties are evaluated on a “reasonable review” basis. The Constitutional Court of South Africa found that if a failure of the state to provide adequate housing is identified the government must develop a comprehensive housing program and that program must make specific provision for those in extreme distress (Williams 2014).

The government must also ensure that “No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.” This ruling, is the among the most important parts of South Africa’s right to housing (Williams 2014, citing Section 26 of the South African Constitution).

This ruling, according to the preamble of the Rental Housing Act, requires a reconciliation between the rights of tenants and landlords in order to make sure neither group faces exploitation. In addition, the Protection from Illegal Eviction (PIE) Act decriminalizes squatting and ensures homeless people are treated with dignity until new housing can be found for them. Moreover, women, children, the elderly, and the disabled have certain protections. In attempting to evict people landlords must act through a court, and that court must consider “all relevant circumstances” including if other land is available (Williams 2014).

In addition, South African legal scholar Danie Brand has noted that the right is intended not only to protect certain people but to be the foundation of grassroots activism to enlarge democracy. In 2004, the Constitutional Court determined that the most effective manner of resolving conflicts is to have the different parties sit down and speak with each other to work the situation out. The Court recognized that there will probably be an imbalance in power between parties and that this does not excuse the government from engaging but rather requires them to make reasonable proactive efforts to bring parties about to become homeless to the conversation (Brand 2011).

The United Kingdom employs a decentralized system where local authorities meet with housing associations to provide social sector housing to applicants pooled from distressed households. These local authorities and housing associations, in conjunction with non-profit groups and private construction firms, work out arrangements with the goal of spreading low-income people throughout the community and balancing the good of the neighborhood and low-income groups (Quilgars and Loison-Leruste 2009).

The UK system has a lot of strengths (Quilgars and Loison-Leruste 2009). Where decentralization has been a weakness in France it has been a strength in the UK because groups are able to make decisions on their own. The UK has generally been successful at reducing homelessness and diversifying neighborhoods.

This is not to say it is perfect. There remain segments of neighborhoods that are clearly for low-income groups and there is still homelessness. The biggest problem facing the British, however, is a severe shortage of housing. This has undermined many of the goals of the British system and created difficulties in simultaneously looking after the interests of neighborhoods and low-income people. It is unclear if this is a consequence of their housing model, perhaps because there is not enough of an incentive for the private sector to make new housing, or due to other factors in the economy (Quilgars and Loison-Leruste 2009).

Specific Groups

A large number of affirmatives will undoubtedly focus on specific groups in need of a right to housing to compensate for some discriminatory practice or oversight of their specific issues. We will touch on each only briefly.

Many homeless people, around 55% (Wounded Warriors 2016) are veterans suffering from PTSD or other conditions relating to their combat experience. The government has certain mechanisms in place in order to help these people secure housing but the effectiveness of these policies is often lacking. One might construct an AC which speaks to the reciprocal duties our government has towards people who sacrificed on the behalf of the country or alternatively point out that the law should be binding in these cases but people are not receiving what they are already due.

Black Americans and other people of color are discriminated against as a result of their race (Singh 2016). This contributes to other inequalities because of the importance of housing in one’s well-being and the centrality of homeownership in our economic system. Ta-Nehisi Coates made housing discrimination a central part of his famous argument for reparations (2014), and an AC built around these issues may serve as a potential reparative mechanism or at least stymie growing inequalities in the status quo.

Native Americans lost their land in the colonization of this country and many of them currently face problems in finding housing (HUD PD&R 2015). As a result some affirmatives may argue that they ought to be given the land back through a right to housing. This affirmative may or may not be literal in terms of giving all the land back, but the principle of reparation invoked here could conceivably justify a housing right. The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 was passed in order to simplify and make government housing assistance to Native Americans more efficient (HUD 2016). The act is fairly popular as it is a reversal of the “one size fits all” approach of the government prior to 1996, but there may be room for expansion (HUD PD&R 2015).

In some sense children already have a right to housing as municipal ordinances and state legislation is much more interventionist when it comes to child homelessness. Moreover, the foster care program and child protective services seem to point to a right to a safe household conducive to healthy development (Hartman 1998). However, child homelessness still persists and some form of correction could conceivably be made into an AC.

[Trigger warning IPV] Survivors of intimate partner violence frequently face problems in finding safe shelter. Between 22 and 57% of homeless women name domestic violence as the cause of their homelessness and about 38% of IPV survivors become homeless at some point (NNEDV 2011). While shelters exist they are not a great solution because they can only provide limited security and they only have limited space or funding. A right to housing may address this specific issue.

Refugees from Syria and elsewhere have become central to politics in the last two years. Much of the momentum driving the Trump campaign and the Brexit movement was opposition to allowing refugees entry into the US and UK. Ensuring a right to housing for refugees would be a powerful symbolic move in solidarity with refugees and it would solve a pressing humanitarian crisis but the politics DA would have a strong link for this AC.

Undocumented immigrants cannot seek enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation and housing codes for fear of discovery and deportation (though anti-discrimination laws apply to them [Sumber 2009]). If a right to housing were secured for them through a new mechanism then it might help to undermine some injustices they face and facilitate entry into the community.

LGBTQ individuals can face housing discrimination as there is no federal law against it (Human Rights Campaign 2016).  The Fair Housing Act somewhat pointedly omits LGBTQ individuals from its list of protected classes. There are various state and local laws which prohibit inquiries based on sexual orientation when considering renting property. The HUD published a rule in 2011 which required participants in its programs to comply with those state and local laws. However, this is the only federal-level protection that exists for LGBTQ individuals.

Even in states and municipalities which prohibit this discrimination there are more subtle mechanisms that technically comply with the law.  Part of the discrimination comes in the form of subtle heteronormative representations of neighborhoods as being “family friendly” or the idea that a certain neighborhood is a good place to live “the American dream” of having a wife and kids.

Disabled individuals also face discrimination in finding housing though it is illegal to discriminate on this basis (HUD 2016). Moreover, private residences do not have to comply with the entirety of the ADA meaning accessibility to housing can be a problem. New regulations may be the basis of a right to housing for them.

One problem with all of these affs is topicality. A right seems like something which universally applies to all people within the country (or all people in general). That would seem to imply that actions which specify a particular group do not actually constitute rights. Now protections for these groups might be a subset of a more general right but the act of guaranteeing a right seems to apply to all people.

Specific Regions

In Austin the city government attempted to make it illegal to discriminate against Section 8 voucher-holders in renting out property but landlords promptly organized and had a state law passed which prohibited any city from passing this form of anti-discrimination ordinance (Semuels 2015). This received a fair amount of media attention and may therefore lead to a potential AC.

In New Orleans, after Katrina and to this day, discriminatory policies meant that poor Black Americans in the city regained shelter much more slowly than rich white Americans. As a consequence, a right to housing has been advocated in New Orleans specifically (Gardener 2009).

These cities are just two examples out of potentially hundreds where a right to housing might be useful in a specific area. However, several theoretical problems exist with these types of cases. First, because there are so many potential ACs it seems that this overspecifies the resolution and negatives have a legitimate objection to that much specificity. Second, again right seems to be a universal concept and so something which only applies to people in one part of the United States does not seem like a right. Third, local governments do not seem like the actors of the resolution given that we wouldn’t call the state of Texas or the city of New Orleans “the United States” but just parts of it.

Specific Solutions to Specific Problems

Another way aff debaters may try and construct plans is to find specific problems in the status quo and solve for them. They may find certain types of housing discrimination, or certain inefficiencies in bureaucratic programs and advocate solving for these. These are, again, questionably topical insofar as they do not really change the status quo that much and they are not a comprehensive right but perhaps specific manifestations of what a right would be.

Negative LARP Arguments

Econ DAs

Because guaranteeing the right to housing can create large-scale disruptions to the economy econ DAs will be quite common. It may be argued that the aff action costs an enormous sum of money and that this triggers a fiscal cliff scenario or a debt default scenario. It may also be argued that the government intervening in the housing market will create huge inefficiencies and/or bubbles that will result in recessions.

The reasonability of these DAs depends upon what the aff specifically defends. If the aff incentivizes but does not pay for new construction, for example, it probably doesn’t spend as much money. If the aff matches vacant housing with homeless individuals that probably costs even less. There may also be an interesting 1AR K which attacks the narrative of these DAs. This K would claim that this narrative hides the abuses of wealthy owners of capital in the markets and blames victims of unjust housing policies for their own victimization (consider the language by Zuesse in 2013).

Violence DAs

Another possible DA is a violence DA. This may focus on backlash against groups of poor and minority groups being moved into new neighborhoods. Many people will resent this action and some form of violent clash may come about. This is especially the case because of the lengths to which rich white Americans have gone to exclude others from their communities and because of the fact that housing prices may fall in neighborhoods where new people are introduced.

Environment DAs

New construction may expand houses into nature and hurt the ecosystem (Green Building Solutions 2012). However, these DAs are probably going to be very bad. Housing construction seems probably no matter what the aff does, if anything the aff just reorganizes resources and makes it so that new houses are affordable rather than for elites. This means the DA is non-unique. Moreover, not all affs will even defend expanded construction and even if they did new houses are getting better and better at being energy efficient and sustainable.

However, this DA will probably exist. And as such it will behoove you to prepare against it even if we don’t recommend writing it yourself.


There are a few potential PICs available on this resolution. Word PICs may be seen in several forms. The seemingly immortal “The” PIC will criticize the use of the word “the” before “United States” as using a linguistic frame to solidify territorial definitions. More topic-specific PICs, however, may focus on advocacy texts which focus on specific groups.Groups like undocumented migrants, Romani, Native Americans, survivors of IPV and individuals with disabilities are often subjects of debates over the most appropriate terminology for them and this resolution will not be an exception.

Another potential word PIC which has more to do with the substance of the aff advocacy is that the United States ought to “recognize” rather than “guarantee” a right to housing as “recognize” implies the government has less control over the right. Moreover, rights Ks may be phrased in terms of word PICs that another word in place of “right.”

PICs that exclude specific groups from the right to housing seem unlikely. For one thing, the affirmative can simply respond that they aren’t forcing anyone to take advantage of the right to housing. For another thing, it seems odd to think that any group ought not be able to gain housing if they want it. However, some evidence probably exists out there about how the right shouldn’t be universally applied.

Entitlement CPs

Along the lines of word PICs, though perhaps substantively different, will be PICs which argue the United States ought to create an entitlement to housing not a right. This goes back to the questions of interpretation which we discussed above.

Alt-Agent CPs

Given the attention to 50 States Counterplans on the handgun topic it is reasonable to assume that debaters may recycle these arguments in order to claim that the states rather than the federal government ought to guarantee a right to housing. There is a question, of course, as to whether the aff can defend states in the first place and whether it is legitimate for the neg to run a counter-plan which falls under aff ground and these will be worked out in theory debates.

More of the Same CPs

Certain CPs will be read which simply take an existing program and expand it and make it more powerful under the law. For example, someone may advocate expanding Section 8 vouchers and making it so that landlords cannot reject Section 8 tenants. The two problems with this approach, however, are that most aff evidence will be contrasted with a status quo similar to this CP and that these advocacies are potentially aff advocacies. The first consideration means these CPs won’t co-opt a lot of the aff advantages and will be easily permed and the second consideration means these CPs may be subject to a lot of theory.

Critical Arguments

Metaphorically Topical Affirmatives

Many affirmatives will exploit the metaphorically powerful notion of “home” in constructing ACs which performatively engage with the resolution rather than simply offering a specific defense of a literal policy. These affirmatives include arguments along the lines of “certain bodies” are without a home in our society in a metaphorical sense. They cannot find a position from which to relate to society or within which they can feel safe.

The implications of this might be to utilize various alternatives to literal households as a method to deal with oppression. This could refer to a survival mechanism including, for example, ballrooms and queer collectives or it could refer to the use of the debate space to be a home for these groups.

Affirmatives which endorse poetry may also exploit this metaphorical notion of home. Throughout Western literature “homecoming” is a dominant theme all the way back to Homer. Poetry can exploit the emotional and rhetorical potential here and use it to make profound points. These points can potentially be put to task in debate.

Discourse Kritiks

Affirmatives might engage in a variety of discursive practices which negative Kritiks may attack. First and foremost, as with other resolutions which invoke rights, Rights Kritiks will be common on this topic. There are a variety of arguments against phrasing things in terms of rights, and each argument interacts in different ways with AC frameworks.

First, people argue that rights are phrased as claims against the common good for particular individuals. This creates a structure which places individual good and common good in opposition and this may be problematic if social and political structures ought to be defined to see individual and common goods as mutually reinforcing. This criticism of rights will be in line with communitarian approaches to social justice and therefore interacts interestingly with communitarian ACs.

Second, rights are described as inherently conservative structures. They do not justify a progressive structure but rather provide people with resources to use against progressive goals. This is because rights are created with reference to something negative and not as necessary for achieving something positive. This is the argument made by Badiou in his short book Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (2001). This would have interesting implications against critical ACs.

Third, rights have a history intertwined with colonialism and cultural chauvinism. Rights came about in Western political thought as something “self-evident,” universal, and apparent to everyone. As a result, cultures which had not framed their ethical codes into something akin to rights looked irrational and incoherent and the West considered itself justified in taking over those regions for the sake of “civilizing” them (Douzinas 2009). This exact process is specifically intertwined with notions of property rights which may be intertwined with rights to housing. This Kritik works well with criticisms of ethical theories rooted in notions of liberty or reason from a Western perspective.

Moreover, some people may recycle Kritiks from the living wage topic which addressed poverty discourse. If affirmatives speak extensively on poverty then these Kritiks may have sound links, but the problem is that these Ks often have a hard time expressing themselves as prior issues to affirmatives which actually address economic inequality. If the aff accomplishes something positive along these lines then the impacts of the K don’t seem that important. It would seem the K just shows the aff isn’t the best possible aff.

The Gift K

The Gift K hasn’t really resurfaced in a while so it may be time for it to make a comeback. This may especially be true with the rise of “High Theory” in addressing critical arguments precipitating more interest in Derrida. People will search for Derrida cards and stumble upon Gift Ks and remake them into their own.

The Gift K criticizes distributing goods (Arrigo and Williams 2000). There are a few ways of phrasing the argument which overlap with one another.

First, simply providing for people does not address underlying injustices which lead to the need for this support. Acting like it is an obligation from charity creates an ethical perspective which says individuals should give when they have lots of resources but does not say that an unequal distribution of resources is an unjust situation in the first place. It focuses on the wrong ethical question.

Second, when elites distribute goods to those people who have little they take out momentum for social change. It simply makes the marginalized align with the powerful.

Third, power relations are inevitable in situations of giving. The giver of a gift, even when the gift appears to be freely given, gains power over the recipient because it creates an unequal social relationship. The giver puts themselves above the recipient.

Cap Ks

Affirmatives may criticize capitalism in attempting to justify a right to housing. Houses are currently used as an expensive commodity which is traded between people in order to enable them to contribute to the labor pool. Houses and mortgages are also deeply intertwined in the financial system and the elites who control our economic system own more housing than they consume in order to rent it out to the working class.

Negatives, on the other hand, may object to affirmatives that don’t go far enough in undermining capitalism. Like the Gift K, a Cap K on this topic may say that a right to housing just sweeps the inequalities which lead to homelessness under the rug. It puts a bandaid on the problems of poverty and takes away the potential for revolution. Moreover, if the state simply stabilizes an economic system by supporting private construction of houses and helping people to consume housing that only reorganizes capitalism to be more efficient for the owners of property. This simply perpetuates the capitalist system and redistributes the working class’s wealth to the elite through taxation and government support for rent.

Genealogy Kritiks

A genealogy K which argues that there is some historical issue that needs to be examined prior to the evaluation of whether there ought to be a right to housing in the present. For example, these Ks may investigate how the Homestead Acts (Library of Congress) basically did guarantee a right to housing for white settlers in this country but once the settlement era in this country faded away this right mysteriously disappeared. It is not entirely clear, however, that the Homestead Acts were purely colonialist in nature as the Homestead Act of 1866 was designed to undermine the power of rich white plantation owners in order to help former slaves. This is, of course, a contested narrative, but it is fairly reasonable at least with respect to the Act of 1866.

There are other potential routes for genealogical Ks. One might just generically be about how housing is rooted in racial discrimination. Another could be critical of colonialism in general and speak to how property rights and the notion of “founding a house” come from mindsets interrelated with displacing populations native to the United States.

Agamben and Biopower Kritiks

Agamben wrote a short piece discussing the notion of metropolis and the relationship of individuals within communities to the state. It expresses the idea that no group can be specified, in modern times, as needing special treatment for the sake of incorporation in the community also subjugates them under the government (Agamben 2005).

In a similar manner, biopower Ks will argue that the state is expanding its domain to biological control over individuals by making housing part of its business. Because shelter is a key part of individual’s biological needs the state’s expansion in this domain is dramatic. This combination of arguments, potentially in conjunction with race arguments, could create a rather compelling negative position.

Heteronormativity Ks

The link for a heteronormativity K can be articulated in several ways. It can criticize the assumption that the home is the foundation of a nuclear family and express that there are alternative uses for a home. It might also criticize ethical and rhetorical arguments which focus on the productive family as a unit foundational to society and argue that the use of this as a justification for protecting a right to housing privileges heterosexual mindsets. The K might also take a more genealogical analysis of queer homelessness.

The alternatives of a heteronormativity K will vary with the link and impact story. It may argue that we should abolish the idea of the house/home instead of reifying it as a solution to LGBTQ discrimination (presuming the aff being criticizes speaks to this). The alts may also endorse some sort of queer collectives that stand as homes outside the state.

Philosophical Arguments

There are two problems facing debaters who desire to read philosophical positions on this topic: one for the aff and one for the neg. The neg faces a lack of diversity in arguments as few ethical theories would say that it is a bad thing to give housing to people. They all depend on subtle explanations of the offense. The aff problem is articulating the need for housing without explaining it in a way that generic util arguments link in. Saying that housing is a precondition for some part of the ethical life or ethical actions leads one to wonder “is life not the same way?” This means affs have to explain why housing is important under their framework but not elaborate it in such a way that it seems consequentialist.

I-Law AC

Because international law documents clearly affirm there will be inevitably be I-law affs (UDHR 1948) These affs have a number of strategic problems because of the potential for theory violations and K links and so they are often constructed with heavy use of spikes. These spikes serve to push the debate towards more generic theory debates so debaters comfortable with theory may find them useful. The arguments, however, are very recycled so anyone can prep out the case without needing to know too many specifics.

Kant ACs

The Kant AC may or may not make sense. But there is literature and it is the most common phil AC on every topic so it will definitely be run. The argument in the contention will be that homelessness is a state of dependence which undermines the ideal structure of equal independent actors envisioned by Kantian political philosophy. The state, therefore, has the obligation to right this wrong and establish equal freedom for all.

Barbara Herman has an article which argues the right to housing exists under a Kantian system. This article does not have a lot of warrants specifically explaining why this is the case, but the gist of the argument is that property exists in order to bring about a Kantian conception of Right. Property rights, therefore, are legitimately constrained by a right to housing which the government must enforce (Herman 2015).

Be wary running Herman, however. Her reading of Kant’s ethics and politics is quite distinct from Korsgaard’s and Ripstein’s readings and as a consequence the arguments she makes will both sound different than the language of recycled frameworks and may actually be mismatched with those articulations of Kant.

Hegel ACs

Hegel requires the family as one of the rational social institutions necessary to act as a site of particular freedom. This means that the home is a necessary institutional arrangement for the family and thus necessary for free agents. This argument may be twisted around a bit and made in terms of recognition and alienation in order to recycle some of the alienation frameworks that were gaining popularity this year. The claim here would be that a guaranteed space of your own is necessary.

Communitarian ACs

Discrimination, ethnic fragmentation, inattention to public goods, and the general problems associated with homelessness can all be harms from a communitarian perspective. Affs which account for these problems may be fairly rhetorically persuasive but they suffer from a strategic problem of articulating what counts as offense under the standard. This problem, as with other philosophical cases, may make it too easy for util offense to link into the AC.

More nuanced interpretations of communitarianism might include some pseudo-Aristotelian perspectives which consider what types of actions by the state are constitutive of promoting the common good rather than which literally contribute to the common good. One thing to consider from this perspective is not being heedless towards social inequalities or treating them as irrelevant (MacIntyre 2014). We must consider the good of each individual in the community and not contrast the good of the community with the good of the individual but see those goods as consistent with one another. If we fail to realize that certain members are part of the common good then our understanding of the common good is flawed.

While this articulation of communitarianism accounts well for the issues of social inequality specific to this resolution it also does not seem that much better at getting out of the issue of util offense linking.

Theistic ACs

The US Council of Catholic Bishops and a number of protestant organizations have affirmed a right to housing (Hartman 1998). This seems reasonable given the special focus on the homeless in many Christian articulations of our obligations towards the poor. As a result, there will be a lot of cardable arguments out there which show Christianity affirms. Moreover, other religious traditions, while diverse, also affirm our duties to the homeless and and obligation to show them hospitality by ensuring them shelter.

This means that cases can be constructed justifying a religious tradition and then using it to warrant a right to housing. The problem, of course, is specificity. Many religious leaders might say we have duties to the homeless and that these duties include providing them with shelter, but they may not use the term “right to housing.” As a result, these cases will have lots of lit but not that much of it will be cardable.

Locke ACs

Locke may be a better way to go about constructing a theistic case. The basic structure of Locke’s philosophy rests on the claim that because we are made by God we owe to God respect for ourselves and for everyone else made by God. Thus certain rights can be derived from our condition of equal subservience to God (Locke 1689).

Because we have a duty to preserve our bodies, as they properly belong to God, we have a corresponding right to basic subsistence. Shelter, therefore, seems to be the type of thing which this Lockean conception of natural law guarantees us. The role of the state, therefore, is to provide for these things because in the state of nature they are guaranteed to us and the state is meant to facilitate our access to those rights (Green 2012 also explores this argument in a different way).

However, this articulation of Locke, which minimizes the role of the state in ensuring property rights and just punishment (both of which are more frequently addressed by debaters) also makes it seem reasonable that util offense should link. If the state has to provide for basic necessities for life it seems that extinction is irrelevant.

A slightly more nuanced way to address this problem is to appeal to the idea of the tragedy of the commons. In an unregulated state of nature there is nothing to prevent people from taking more than their fair share from common resources. Everyone would always be incentivized to take so much so that nobody else can take too much. If you expect anyone to cheat the system you should cheat the system. Housing may be a similar situation where people are taking too much for themselves and the state needs to step in and correct for this problem.

Aristotle ACs

Peter King has given an account of the Aristotelian perspective on human flourishing that justifies a right to housing. The idea is that housing is a “freedom right” which is “based on the situated nature of basic human functioning.” The functions constitutive of a flourishing human life, according to King, require a “place to be” and therefore housing is crucial (King 2003).

This article does not really construct the best AC but it does provide some interesting insights into the topic literature and the role of moral philosophy in evaluating the resolution. Some interesting T and theory interpretations may be derived from it.

Pettit ACs

Pettit’s articulation of a political theory of republicanism may point to a need to have house within which one can exercise freedom. The argument would be similar to the Hegel ACs. Pettit has argued that if there is the possibility that another may have control over one’s choices then that actively undermines personal choice key to an ethical republic (Pettit 2009). Because having a space to oneself enables one to resist the wills of others and exercise freedom for themselves this means a right to housing is important (Waldron 1992 and Barros 2009).

Still, this framework seems dangerously close to allowing extinction impacts to link. The problem is that if things which enable free life link into the framework then life itself seems to link. If the aff results in a loss of life then that undermines the ability to act freely and therefore extinction links to the AC. There are ways around this, but it is unclear how effective they would be in debate.

Libertarian NCs

Libertarian-type NCs infamously have bad framework warrants. “Minarchy” NCs, in particular, are frequently complained about by judges. However, on this topic this will be one of the few philosophical negative positions available to people because the offense is fairly clear: the aff probably expands government power and interferes with private citizens. The best thing to do, therefore, if you want to read a phil NC is to make these cases more strategic.

One option is to hijack affirmative frameworks. Hijacking is when you take the framework warrants of your opponent’s case and say it justified a different standard and then link offense into that standard. It can be done in conjunction with an entirely different NC strategy, though some debaters will undoubtedly run theory on you for this. Libertarian NCs often can be derived from Rule Util and Deont frameworks but creative debaters can think of ways to hijack them into many things. They are also sometimes coupled with a set of good arguments for why aggregation fails against util ACs.

Additionally, these cases can be coupled with critical arguments against the state. It can be argued that the state will co-opt identity politics movements, or that it inevitably enforces some sort of domination and must be undermined rather than used. These arguments will interact well with critical ACs that defend policy actions.

Another possibility is constructing a property rights NC. The problem here is that many ACs probably will not link because not everyone is going to defend something akin to redistributing housing. Having this offense in reserve for a Libertarian NC is therefore a good idea but it should not be the only way you approach reading Libertarianism.

Rights Don’t Exist NCs

Another option, as addressed above, is to read philosophical reasons why rights don’t exist. The framework of these NCs will probably be a T interpretation that says the aff has to defend a universal right that actually exists and the neg burden is to show it does not exist. Affirmatives will object that this burden structure is a NIB, and they may or may not be right.

There are two ways to demonstrate that rights do not exist. One is independent arguments that the notion of a right is paradoxical or illogical and that some freestanding moral value of persons that manifests in the form of a right is simply metaphysical nonsense. The other way is to show a right doesn’t exist under a particular ethical theory. Neither virtue ethics nor utilitarianism seem compatible with the idea of a right and therefore against affirmatives with those frameworks the neg might simply say they agree to the aff ethical theory but it “auto-negates.” Moreover, a Hobbesian framework specifically explains, in context of political theory, why rights are irrelevant to the government.

This NC might be strategically coupled with critical arguments against rights discourse. If this is the case then the neg can claim that the benefits of undermining the philosophical foundation of a right links into the role of the ballot as well as the Kritik itself.

Levinas NCs

This is another negative position that probably is not that strong yet will be somewhat common. Debaters have expanded the concept of totalization to apply to virtually any situation where somebody makes an assumption about what people need. Because of this situation Levinas NCs apply to virtually any resolution.

The more persuasive way to make this argument is not to say that a right to housing assumes people need housing but to use this as an ethical framework to couple with neg critical arguments. This will make the link story more compelling and be a good strategy in front of judges who prefer ethical frameworks over role of the ballot arguments as K frameworks.

Closing Comments

It is generally the case that the best way to approach a new topic is to find the most reasonable arguments on each side of the topic and then consider strategy from the perspective of making those arguments and ruling out your opponent’s best arguments. The best arguments for the affirmative seems to be that housing is a precondition for virtually any human good, whether social or individual. The systematic exclusion of some groups from affordable housing, therefore, is an enormous harm.

The best negative arguments seem to be specific objections to particular articulations of the right to housing by the affirmative. General neg arguments do not seem that strong on this topic but no particular aff plan seems unbeatable or even that strong. This means that the best prep is going to arise asymmetrically. The best strategy in preparing as the aff will be to develop and defend specific ACs and the best strategy in prepping as the neg is to be aware of what affs are being run and prepare to crush any of them. Of course, there will be generic negs that apply to every AC and aff debaters will have to prepare to respond to these, but this seems like something that can be dealt with relatively quickly.


Citations are in debate format for your convenience.

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