The article contributes to two central and interrelated discourses in welfare state theory and housing policy. One concerns the meaning of a ‘right to housing’, and the other concerns the meaning of the dichotomy ‘universal’–‘selective’ in housing policy. The right to housing is best seen as a political ‘marker of concern’ pointing out housing as an area for welfare state policy. The more precise meaning of the idea is always defined socially, in a specific national context of relations between state, citizen, and markets in housing provision. Two alternative interpretations of a right to housing are suggested, each related to a certain logic of housing provision. In a selective housing policy, the state provides a ‘protected’ complement to the general housing market, and the right to housing implies some legalistic minimum rights for households of lesser means. In a universal housing policy, the state provides correctives to the general housing market in order to make housing available to all types of households, and the right to housing is best seen as a social right in Marshall’s meaning of an obligation of the state towards society as a whole. The concepts of ‘universal’ and ‘selective’ may be applied to either the political discourse or the social outcome of policies. Furthermore, they may refer to different political levels (e.g. welfare state level, sector level, and policy instrument level). If the dichotomy is not specified in those two respects, the distinction between a universal and a selective policy will always be seriously blurred.
2001. Vol. 24, no 4, 255-275 p.