I think it's important to be careful when we talk about rights, because if we take the concept lightly, or try to apply it in instances where it doesn't really apply, it undermines and potentially jeopardizes all of our other rights. Here's how I see it...
If something is a right, that means you are unconditionally entitled to it. Not only if government approves the time, place, and manner; not only if you provide certain identification or fill out certain paperwork; not only if you have the "correct" amount of income or wealth; not only if you are a citizen or resident of some particular political jurisdiction, live in a certain part of the world, or have parents with certain characteristics; not only if you are a particular gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc. – Unconditionally!
If you are able to function independently in society (i.e. you are not someone else's ward or dependent), no one can morally take a right away from you except to the extent necessary to protect the rights of others (e.g. taking away the right to freedom of movement of someone who has been properly convicted of violating someone else's life, liberty, or property, by incarcerating them).
Human rights* basically fall into three categories:
(1) Natural rights – To the extent we are able to do something through our own effort and it does not violate the rights of others to do it, we have a right to do it, as long as such action does not violate the rights of others. Examples include freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, freedom of association, the right to self defense, the right to choose what to put into our own bodies, the right to privacy, and the right to commit suicide. (Note that natural rights only apply to the extent that one has the means to exercise them – e.g. while you have the right to self-defense, you do not have a right to a firearm; you have the right to walk, but this right may be moot in practice if you are paralyzed. We even the right to fly, lift thousands of pounds, project our voices over great distances, and do other superhuman things, if we can manage them! Also, as a corollary of the parental obligation to care for their children (see #3 below), parents/guardians basically act as regents, exercising on the behalf of those children the rights they deem needful for their rearing and protection, until the children are able to assume legal independence and responsibility as full members of society.
(3) Rights created through incurred obligations – When someone commits aggression against us, for instance by injuring or robbing us, the perpetrator(s) incur the obligation of compensating us for any injuries or losses, and we gain the corresponding right to be "made whole" in this manner. But if for whatever reason a perpetrator is incapable of providing full or any compensation, a victim does not have the right to be compensated by others who were not responsible for his or her injuries or losses, because that would be violating their rights. A special (though common) type of right created through incurred obligation is a child's right to be provided for by those who have brought it into the world (either personally, or by safely handing over the child to others who will care for it), since the child's helpless condition is the direct result of those who made that choice, s/he bears no responsibility for causing his or her situation, and s/he does not yet possess the ability to function as an independent member of society.
There are also civil rights. Civil rights are kind of like the third category of human rights above, rights created through incurred obligation, except that they come into being specifically as a consequence of the existence of the human institution of government, and the obligations created by the existence of this institution for it to treat people fairly and equally. Examples include the right to vote; the right to legally marry; the right to remain silent, the right to legal defense, the right to a trial by jury, and other elements of due process when arrested or charged by the State with a crime; and the various other legal rights that exist in order to guarantee our basic human rights (e.g. the right to keep and bear arms to protect our human right to self defense, the right to be free from unwarranted search and seizure to protect our basic human right to privacy, etc.). All of these civil rights are specific examples of the broad general civil right to fair and equal treatment under the law, and the related obligations they impose are chiefly on government itself.
Note that some things commonly called civil rights are not really civil rights, because they go beyond this scope and violate the rights of others. For instance, the so-called "right" not to be discriminated against on various grounds when it comes to obtaining things like employment, education, service in a store or restaurant, and housing, is actually a violation of the right of others to freedom of association. Virtually everybody recognizes the right of freedom of association when it comes to choosing one's friends and lovers; this right does not somehow magically disappear (remember natural rights are unconditional! ) as soon as a transaction becomes financial (e.g. choosing a tenant, a landlord, an employer, an employee, a customer, a merchant, etc.) The same is true for sex – our right to determine for ourselves when and whether to engage in or not to engage in sexual relations does not somehow disappear when money is introduced to the equation (i.e. prostitution).
Commodities like food, health care, transportation, and housing – I know it took me a while to bring this all back around to the question of housing as a right, but I did get here eventually! – are not things we naturally possess. Nor are they civil rights that have meaning only because of the existence of government and which are necessary to guaranteeing equal treatment under the law. Thus, if we expect to be treated as legally independent and responsible members of society with full rights (not the dependents or wards of others like children, persons with severe disabilities, or senile elderly persons), to the extent we have a right to housing and similar commodities, that right must be realized through our own efforts, voluntary interactions with others, or obligations incurred by others as a result of their aggression against us.
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))
*Some of the rights called "human rights" for the sake of emphasizing that they are inherent and distinguishing them from civil rights, actually extend in my view beyond human beings to members of other species, in varying degrees depending upon their natural capabilities, but I won't get into that here!