In 1975 and 1983, the state Supreme Court in New Jersey decided on important issues in regard to zoning laws and affordable housing. The two declarations, called Mount Laurel I and II, said that municipal land regulations that prevented affordable housing opportunities for the poor are unconstitutional, and also ordered all New Jersey municipalities to provide realistic opportunities for affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people.
This can be widely considered as one of the most important civil rights acts for low- or moderate-income people in regards to housing.
However, it also begs the question, is housing a civil right?
The answer, right now, is no. You may be asking yourself how I can say that housing isn’t a civil right when one of my previous statements was that Mount Laurel was an important civil rights case.
The answer is simple: Mount Laurel said that discrimination in housing violates civil rights, not that lack of housing, itself, violates civil rights. Before the decision came down, municipalities in the state of New Jersey were discriminating against low-income people through their use of exclusionary zoning laws. The Supreme Court said that was discriminatory. Entities that use exclusionary zoning laws or refuse housing to specific groups of people based on nationality, creed, gender, and the like are violating the civil liberties of those people, and it’s against the law because it is the right of those people not to be discriminated against, according to the Bill of Rights.
However, there is no amendment, statement in the Constitution or law on the books that says every American has the right to housing. Therefore, housing for all people is not a civil right. If it was, every single homeless person in this country would have their civil rights infringed upon. This can be compared to rights in the workplace; while having a job is not a right, not being discriminated against for any reason is a right.
By Lindsey Allen