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Housing and Welfare in Western Europe: Transformations and Challenges for the Social Rented Sector



In the post-war period, the mass provision of social rental housing units represented the primary means for resolving housing welfare issues across much of Western Europe. In contrast to North America, large swathes of state subsidized rental housing where built and let-out at submarket rents, both to needy as well as regular working households. By the 1980s social housing accounted for as many as four in ten homes in some contexts. Since then however, these important welfare sectors have been under attack. On the one hand, privatization policies have continued to undermine the basis of social renting with home ownership and private rental sectors advanced by policy as preferable alternatives. On the other hand, social housing providers have been restructured in order to play a more residual role in the housing market and serve more targeted groups of socially vulnerable people. This paper assesses key differences in the development of West European social housing sectors as well as recent transformations in their status that represent a challenge their sustainability. It also looks to what insights this provides for the South Korean housing context where public housing has proliferated and been increasingly diversified in recent years.
Housing and Welfare in Western Europe: Transformations and Challenges
for the Social Rented Sector
Richard Ronald1
(Received December 24, 2012 / Revised January 24, 2013 / Accepted January 24, 2013)
In the post-war period, the mass provision of social rental housing units represented the primary means for resolving housing welfare issues
across much of Western Europe. In contrast to North America, large swathes of state subsidized rental housing where built and let-out at
submarket rents, both to needy as well as regular working households. By the 1980s social housing accounted for as many as four in ten
homes in some contexts. Since then however, these important welfare sectors have been under attack. On the one hand, privatization policies
have continued to undermine the basis of social renting with home ownership and private rental sectors advanced by policy as preferable
alternatives. On the other hand, social housing providers have been restructured in order to play a more residual role in the housing market
and serve more targeted groups of socially vulnerable people. This paper assesses key differences in the development of West European social
housing sectors as well as recent transformations in their status that represent a challenge their sustainability. It also looks to what insights
this provides for the South Korean housing context where public housing has proliferated and been increasingly diversified in recent years.
,FZXPSETEurope, Social Housing, Public Housing, Privatization, Residualisation
1) Associate Professor, Centre for Urban Studies, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Corresponding author:
LHI Journal (2013) 4(1):1-13
In the West European context, housing as a welfare issue came
to the fore in the late-nineteenth century largely as a result of slum
formation generated by intensive industrialization and urbanization.
Early interventions were led, in the absence of welfare states, by
charitable organizations and often took the form of social housing
experiments. In the early-twentieth-century, in context of early
welfare politics and the rise of the labor movement, governments
became increasingly involved in improving housing conditions
and providing housing for working households. This was often
achieved in cooperation with private housing associations and
local municipalities, normally by constructing rental units let at
submarket rates to working, low-income families. In the postwar
period state interventions became much deeper and the output of
social rental housing reached a zenith in Europe. By the mid-
1980s social rented housing sectors accounted for around 20% to
39% of housing in Austria, France, Denmark, Sweden, The
Netherlands and the UK (see Priemus and Dieleman, 2002). In
urban contexts social housing became particularly concentrated,
and in cities like Amsterdam still represents almost half the
housing stock.
The postwar model has, however, come under increasing
attack in recent decades and housing as a feature of public welfare
provision has been transformed. The notion of housing policy
itself has increasingly come under the domain of economic and
other policy imperatives rather than social welfare. More critically,
social housing has been reimagined and the sector restructured
involving, in many cases, deregulation and deep privatization
strategies. Meanwhile, the nature of social housing has become
more diversified to include social forms of home ownership and
hybridized in terms of finance, construction and management
(Czischke, 2009; Mullins et al., 2012; Rhodes et al., 2009).
This paper attempts to deal briefly with a broad topic. The
intention is to draw attention to the hazards of developing a
substantial social housing sector and the challenges of sustaining
it in light of the considerable expansion in South Korean public
housing in recent decades. Firstly, it focuses on housing welfare
in terms of different types of public and social housing. It does
this initially by considering the cases of Britain and the Netherlands
Richard Ronald
Vol.4 No.1 / January 2013
as public and social housing sectors1) in these two countries have
been historically strong, featuring in the development of welfare
states as well as, more recently, neoliberal policy realignments. It
goes on to consider diversity within the European model and different
ways of approaching not-for-profit housing as a welfare service.
Secondly, it addresses recent developments in social housing
sectors and the challenges they have endured. Again with an
emphasis on the British and Dutch examples, the paper will
illustrate three different threats. The first is the polarization of
tenure, which in the UK began with the residualisation of council
housing2) through the ‘right to buy’ policy in the 1980s. Selling to
sitting tenants effectively polarized and stigmatized the sector,
justifying deeper transformations in the regulation of social
landlords and reducing funding for the sector despite the 1.7
million households now on social housing waiting lists. Social
housing in the UK is argued to now be on the way to becoming a
‘social ambulance service’ rather than a ‘safety net’ (Fitzpatrick
and Pawson 2011). The second threat is the privatization of welfare.
In this case the paper addresses shifting logics among West
European welfare regimes, which have increasingly turned to
low-income home ownership as an alternative means to support
both housing and other welfare needs (Ronald and Elsinga,
2012). Lastly, attention turns to a multifaceted threat represented
by a recent EU decision on the status of housing associations (in
the Netherlands). The decision has initiated reregulation on the
role of Dutch housing associations as providers that influence
private market conditions, which has broad implications for
associations across Europe. It is effectively recasting expectations
of housing associations as third sector institutions as well as the
rights of low-to-middle income households to a social rental home
(see Priemus and Gruis, 2011). This shift in conditions has arrived
on top of existing pressures derived from the Global Financial
Crisis that have already undermined the financial base of many
social housing institutions.
1) In this paper social housing is a more inclusive term that
implies housing where rents are not set by market criteria and
allocations are made by administrative criteria (Fitzpatrick and
Stephens 2008, p28). Public housing is typically, but not
always social, and the term implies ownership by national or
local government. Social housing providers and agencies can be
either public or private, with the latter functioning typically as
a non- or limited-profit company serving social objectives.
2) Council housing is the vernacular phrase used in the UK to
describe public rental housing owned by local municipalities. It
is often used to describe all types of social rental housing, even
though most is owned or run by non-profit agencies these days.
It has become somewhat stigmatized as a label in recent years.
At the turn of the 20th century the urban poor in West European
cities where typically housed in cramped and unhygienic
conditions, leading to calls for public interventions. In the absence
of a welfare state, early housing interventions were led by
philanthropic organizations rather than government agencies (see
Pooley, 1993). In some contexts, such as the Netherlands, private
housing associations played a particularly important role. In 1899
there were 112 such organisations nationwide with a total of 7746
dwellings (van der Schaar, 1987). The growing call for the
authorities to take responsibility for living conditions, led by
liberal progressives, rather than the left, helped drive a transition
from a ‘night-watchman state’ toward a ‘welfare state’ in which
housing featured as a pillar (Ekkers and Helderman, 2010). The
1901 Housing Act (WoningWet) was a landmark Dutch legislation
as it not only defined building standards and gave responsibilities
for housing to local authorities, it also provided private non-profit
housing initiatives with a new formal status. As long as these
approved associations worked exclusively in the interests of
improvement of social housing they could receive financial
incentives and access loans on favourable terms (Ouwehand and
van Daalen, 2002).
Along with continued industrialisation and population growth
large swathes of urban housing were built in the first half of the
20th century in the Netherlands, driven by the activities of housing
associations. In the UK too, following early initiatives (i.e. the
1890 Housing the Working Classes Act),3) wider reaching
legislation was put in place after World-War-One (1919 Housing
Act) that gave local authorities responsibilities for providing
housing. This usually, but not always meant the construction of
subsidised rental units that rapidly overtook, in number of stock,
the scale of charitable housing association provision (Merrett, 1979).
In the Netherlands, the targets of housing associations where
rank and file, working households, whereas the housing needs of
the very poor were considered the task of the municipal housing
companies. Following an initial rush in social housing construction
in the 1920s, quantitative housing shortage began to fall away and
the number of Dutch housing associations levelled off (to around
1000 following a peak of 1350 in 1922) with an average stock of
150 dwellings each by the end of the 1930s. In this period,
3) The 1890 Act loosely encouraged local authorities to improve housing
conditions, although by 1914 there were only around 28,000
municipal units compared to almost 50,000 provided by charitable
Housing and Welfare in Western Europe: Transformations and Challenges for the Social Rented Sector
subsidies for non-profit housing declined along with renewed
confidence in the capacity of the market to provide affordable
housing for workers, with social rental housing supporting a
smaller part of the population. In the UK meanwhile, the social
rental sector was establishing itself as a small but viable housing
sector, occupied by largely better-off working class households
(Malpass, 2005). By the 1930s, in light of a shifting economic
climate, more poor working class households began to flow into
the sector while market provided housing became more attractive
to better-off working class families.
Social and economic conditions after World-War-Two drove
an extraordinary expansion of dwellings constructed for rent at
submarket prices across Western Europe. This proliferation was
driven not only by massive war derived shortages, but also
shifting socio-political pressures to improve public health and
living conditions for workers. Government support was quite
remarkable in this period. In France, for example, between 1953
and 1975, of the 8 million units built 80% profited from
government funding (Effosse, 2003). In the UK meanwhile, local
authorities built 60% of all housing between 1945 and 1965 with
public housing increasing from around 12% to 32% of stock by
1979 (Malpass, 2005). While considerable variety existed between
countries in the finance, form and management of new social
units, there was some consensus among lenders, builders, employers,
governments and municipalities that facilitated the mass expansion
of subsidized rental housing (Lévy-Vroelant and Reinprecht,
2008). An implicit assumption was that market arrangements
could neither meet the speed of provision, nor coordinate
appropriate forms of housing suitable for post-war society. Social
housing was generally considered a ‘merit good’ and access extended.
In the Netherlands, central and local government took a more
prominent role in planning, financing and allocating dwellings,
with the existing housing associations considered a framework to
manage the newly created stock, albeit under the direction of
public agencies. By the 1970s around 170,000 new homes were
being constructed annually with social rental housing constituting
the largest part (with 830,000 units built between 1964 and 1970).
The social housing stock thus tripled between 1950 and 1980 (see
Boelhouwer, 2002). The relationship between tenants and associations
also changed as the union type associations based on a coherent
membership were transformed. Associations themselves were
effectively supported by the state and became concerned with
building housing rather than serving a constituency of tenants
(van der Schaar, 1987). Nonetheless housing policies were considered
successful in terms of construction rates, while quality and
accessibility improved.
In the British case, post-war policy identified the need to build
more rapidly and to allow for more planned developments. It also
explicitly recognised the principle that every family should be
housed in their own separate dwelling with access to all facilities
necessary for a ‘full family life’ (Titmuss, 1958). Although long-
term plans envisioned a more prominent role for the private
sector, public rental housing construction was expedient. While
public housing represented an extension of the welfare state into
the sphere of housing, it is argued that production output and
reviving the construction sector was the major concern and
private housing policy remained unreformed (Cole and Furbey,
1994). Furthermore, public housing was not a universal right of
citizenship, like other welfare state services, and access was only
open to an increasingly powerful group of working-, and not
middle-class households. It was nonetheless, occupied by a
relatively wide income range of worker households.
In the Netherlands, on the other hand, social housing played a
slightly different role and increased in scale throughout most of the
second half of the twentieth century, while homeownership remained
the minority tenure. Initially, public housing expansion helped solve
post-war shortage issues, allowed for comprehensive planning and
the revival of the construction sector. It also served the interests of a
Rent-Income politics, where making real rents cheap served to keep
incomes low and thereby labour costs for industry, supporting
post-war economic recovery. Social housing providers in the
Netherlands have been essentially ‘private’ non-profit institutions
(especially since 1995) and thus sit outside the welfare ‘state’.
Nonetheless, there are some important welfare considerations.
As more than one in three Dutch people still live in sub-market
rented dwellings and more than 60% of the private rental sector is
still rent regulated (a combined total of almost 39% of all
households), and that 11% of these households receive a housing
allowance, the quality of dwelling and the size of after-rent
income relies a lot on the housing system and the legacy of past
and present public housing subsidies4). Access to urban housing,
especially for younger households, has historically depended on
social renting, which typically constituted a step on the housing-
ladder for even some middle-class families. Dutch social housing
has played a particular important role in the economy and society
4) Indeed the Netherlands continues to have one of the lowest poverty
rates among developed nations (4.7% of families) and a healthy
GINI value (30.9 in 2007).
Richard Ronald
Vol.4 No.1 / January 2013
Source: CBS (2012)
and represents a fundamental means by which the state can
intervene. It is thus an important part of the welfare system, rather
than a feature of the welfare state.
It is difficult to locate public and social housing in West
European post-war welfare states as it has served far more
interests than simple welfare and fit unevenly with the logic of
state provision. In the British context, whereas the National
Health Service has an iconic status in the welfare state, public
housing has, in the long run, been the main victim of welfare
retrenchment. For Harloe (1995) social housing has expanded
during particularly unusual periods in the course of 20th century
capitalism. He suggests that a mass model of social housing
organized by the state has only come to the fore in exceptional
periods after the world wars. However, as social and economic
conditions rebalanced, a residual model has reasserted itself, with
housing again becoming more market based. Considering the
reliance of social rental housing in some contexts, however,
Kemeny (1995) has been critical of Harloe’s fatalism regarding
marketization as many countries in North Western Europe have
sustained commitment to housing as a social good. Meanwhile a
process of maturation - as housing providers have repaid debts
and established considerable real-estate assets - has bolstered the
economic base of social housing institutions. Figure One illustrates
how, in the Dutch case, large scale rental housing output has
persisted throughout the last forty years, the vast major of which
has been social. Indeed increased social rental housing output
drove not only the rise in new rental housing during the 1980s, but
housing production overall as the government sought to draw on
the capacity of a large social sector to compensate for cycles in
the private owner-occupied market.
By the late-1980s, the size of public and social rented housing
sectors had already peaked in most West European countries.
Starting in the late-1970s, but becoming more intensive in the
last two decades, transformation in housing sectors has been
radical. Specifically, in line with neoliberalization more generally,
market concepts and market forms of coordination have been
in the ascendancy in housing policy and among housing
organisations. Recent interventions have driven privatisation
and residualisation of the social rented sector, representing a
shift away from the provision of housing as a collective good
delivered by special purpose agencies (Rhodes and Mullins, 2009).
Even in the Netherlands, which has maintained (proportionally)
the largest social housing sector in Europe, regulations have
been imposed on housing associations concerning how much
subsidised rental housing they should provide and the range of
low-income households that have access (see Gruis and Priemus,
2011). At the same time, rhetoric and policies that support the
growth of home ownership have come to the fore (Aalbers, 2004).
By 2010 the social sector was 32% of housing compared to
39% in 1985.
As part of this transformation Dutch housing associations were
‘cut loose’ as independent non-profits agencies in 1995 and
construction subsidies ended (Priemus, 1996). Associations become
financially independent through a ‘grossing and balancing
operation’ (brutering) in which future subsidies for running cost
for existing stock were capitalised and exchanged against the
value of outstanding loans from the central government (van der
Veer and Schuiling, 2005). On giving up direct control of housing
associations, the task set out by the state was embedded in the
Housing and Welfare in Western Europe: Transformations and Challenges for the Social Rented Sector
1981 1985 1990 1995 2000
Local authority
(social rented) 30.4% 26.8% 22.0% 18.6% 14.7%
Housing association
(social rented) 2.2% 2.5% 3.0% 4.4% 6.3%
Owner occupied 56.4% 60.5% 65.8% 67.2% 69.2%
Private renting 11.0% 10.2% 9.1% 9.9% 9.8%
Total Stock (thousands) 21 586 22 378 23 476 24 417 25 303
Source: UK Housing Finance Review (Wilcox, various years)
Social Rented Sector Management Order, which specified the
obligation to provide ‘good, affordable rental housing for those
unable to find a dwelling in the market’.
Essentially, the logic and practice of social housing provision
was revolutionised in the 1990s and 2000s. It involved, on one
hand, a critical disengagement with responsibilities for housing
on the part of the government and, on the other, a kind of
‘privatisation’ of the social housing sector featuring more socially
entrepreneurial agencies providing both low-rent units and housing
for sale. The ‘brutering’ cost around 17 billion Euro and was
realised in just one year. Housing associations were suddenly
very solvent and increasingly professionalised their operations,
which involved various mergers that reduced the number of
associations nationally to around 400 by 2012. A central fund for
social housing was set up (CFV) that guaranteed loans for the
sector (making borrowing from capital markets for social construction
cheaper). At the same time, housing associations began building
for the owner-occupied market, the profits from which supported
a revolving fund for new social rental and urban renewal projects.
In the UK the transformation has also been drastic with the
public and social rental sector shrinking from 32% in 1979 to
around 18% in 2007. This was largely achieved by selling off
a large part of the public stock, owned and managed by local
authorities, to sitting tenants through the ‘right to buy’ legislation
instigated by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. More
than one and a half million homes were sold in this way
during the 1980s and nineties (which is similar to the number
of those now on the waiting list for social housing in the
UK), while little funding was reinvested in the sector. Table
One illustrates the shift in tenure between 1981 and 2000.
Another major transformation was the shift in ownership and
management of the stock. With the increasing residualisation
of ‘council housing’, large swathes of the remaining stock
were transferred to non-government, limited- or non-profit agencies
nominated as Registered Social Landlords (RSLs). Meanwhile
and number of non-government agencies known as Arms-
Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) were established
to manage public housing services on the municipalities’
behalf (Pawson and Mullins, 2010).
The most fundamental difference in housing privatisation
between the UK and the Netherlands lies in the supply function
of social housing. In 2005 there were 17,200 social housing
completions in England compared to 67,000 in the Netherlands
(see Scanlon and Whitehead, 2007), even though the former
country has more than triple the population of the latter. In
recent decades the UK and Germany have stood out in terms
of the declining supply role of public housing producers. In
other West European nations supply levels have dropped off,
but have generally been stable. The Netherlands is perhaps an
exception as housing associations lead urban housing construction.
In Amsterdam, the percentage of housing provided by the
eight remaining housing associations still represents more than
70% of new development.
The Netherlands and the UK in this paper so far have
effectively represented a limited diversity across West European
housing. They nonetheless illustrate two types of approach to
housing and welfare that have become common in the housing
literature for explaining divergences in the fates of social housing
sectors. They contrast starkly to approaches in America where
public rental housing has never really represented more than a
marginal sector for the very poor in urban areas (see Goetz,
2003). In the USA housing vouchers have historically been a
favored means of housing relief for low-income families and
sustain their position as bottom-end consumers in a largely
private market of housing.
A more significant contrast to the UK and the Netherlands is
Germany, where social rental housing provision has remained
low (only 5% in 2009), whereas subsidies and controls in the
rental market overall have ensured a supply of affordable rental
housing for low-income groups. In particular, in return for time
limited subsidies private firms build large numbers of units every
year that are let at submarket rates to low-income households.
When time limits expire, sub-market housing normally moves into
the private rental market. As there is such a volume of movement
(as many as 100,000 units a year) social prices and secure tenures
tend to ensure that affordability across the market is maintained.
Richard Ronald
Vol.4 No.1 / January 2013
Social Rental
as % of Total
% Social
Rental of
Total Rental
Number of
Social Units
per 1000
Social Rental
Housing as
% of New
Austria 23 56 100 27.5
Belgium 7 24 32 6
Denmark 19 51 95 22
France 17 44 86.5 12
Germany 4.6 7.8 22.6 15
Hungary 3.7 53 15.9 na
Ireland 8.7 41 na 7
Italy 5.3 28 29 na
Latvia 0.4 2.5 na 1
Lithuania 3 43 11.7 na
Luxembourg 2 7 7.8 na
Netherlands 32 75 138 19
Poland 10 64 34.9 9.5
Portugal 3.3 16 na na
Romania 2.3 na 8.9 4
Slovakia 2.6 87 8.5 12
Spain 2 15 10.9 16
Sweden 18 48 84 13
UK 18 54 80 na
Source: CECODHAS, 2012
The formal non-profit sector was reformed in 1989, with the real
estate assets owned by municipalities transferred to private
companies. Municipal housing companies and (non/
limited-profit) cooperatives constitute a large part of this private
sector along with private landlords and commercial investors and
As can be seen in Table Two, social housing sectors across
Western Europe are diverse in sector size, as well as in terms of
legal and organisational forms of social housing actors (from
public bodies to non-profit agencies and cooperatives). There are
also important differences in the overarching housing policy
frameworks under which providers operate (Czitschke, 2009).
Building on Kemeny’s model (1995), it is nonetheless possible to
distinguish between two key types. Universalistic approaches
stem from a particular conception of social welfare which aims to
provide housing of decent quality at affordable prices for the
population as a whole. Within this approach housing is
considered a collective responsibility and delivered by local
governments or non-profit organisations. The other type is a
targeted approach, which assumes that housing needs will be met
predominantly by the market. Policy prescribes that social
housing is thus only extended to those for whom the market is
unable to deliver. Whereas universalistic approaches are associated
with Unitary systems where social housing has a market regulating
role (influencing private sector rents), targeted approaches
sustain Dualist housing systems where social sectors cater for
vulnerable groups aside from the mainstream market.
In the countries we have discussed in detail so far, the
Netherlands demonstrates a system most akin to a universalistic
approach and unitary system. Germany, despite the prevalence of
the private rental market (49% of all housing), is similar in
respect the role of the subsidized part of the rental sector. The
flow of public subsidies for fixed-period social units has an
overall effect on the rental market in terms of supporting access
and affordability for low-income households. The British system,
although having a highly inclusive public housing sector until the
1980s, has historically developed a more differentiated tenure
system along private/public lines. In recent decades, with the
shrinking of the public sector (which, though the restructuring of
management and ownership has become more a social sector) it
has increasingly represented a targeted approach and a dualist system.
Transformations in the provision of social housing in each
country have retained considerable path dependency, reflecting
pre-existing scales of provision and frameworks of delivery,
allocation and management. The trend away from government
control and public forms towards market types and principles has,
however, been more-or-less ubiquitous in Western Europe.
Fundamentally, there has been an ascendency in more targeted
approaches to social housing. Ghekiére (2007) has therefore
distinguished two further sub-types within neo-liberalised versions
of social housing sectors, although some countries feature
elements of both. In one, housing is allocated in terms of those
falling under an income ceiling (Generalist) and in the other
social housing provision is for the most vulnerable (Residual).
While the former follows a more traditional conception of
‘social’ housing, albeit to a more restricted population, the other
caters for a more limited category of beneficiary. These reflect
different alignments towards social housing as a feature of
welfare with the former considered to have either a wider affordability
or safety net function, and the latter an ambulance service.
In understanding social housing as an ‘ambulance service’,
Fitzpatrick and Stephens (2008) point to non-European, developed
nations such as the USA, Australia and Canada. There, social
housing has never seriously contributed to housing supply and the
sector has remained small and concentrated in terms of poverty,
Housing and Welfare in Western Europe: Transformations and Challenges for the Social Rented Sector
unemployment and depravation. In Canada, for example,
between 58% and 70% of public and community housing
allocations go to special needs cases. The ambulance service
housing provides in this case is also temporary and once the
‘emergency’ is over, eligibility for social housing services may
be withdrawn. In Europe, such limitations are rare and usually
after a household has found a social dwelling, even if income
increases and qualification expires, eligibility is not withdrawn.
While much better than the USA, the UK has higher levels of
poverty and inequality compared to its West European neighbours
and a social security system that does less to reduce inequalities
arising from the labour market. Although benefits like unemploy-
ment benefit are generally low, they are comprehensive and when
combined with housing allowances together act to prevent
post-rent income falling below a basic minimum. It currently
represents therefore more of a ‘safety net’ for those falling into
poverty and is effectively universal. That said, recent political
changes in England have provided a challenge to the security of
social renters and future allocations may be explicitly granted on
a temporary basis. In context of a diminished, inadequately funded
social rental stock, being on a low-income may no longer
guarantee any permanent right to a social dwelling, which, it is
being argued in political circles, should be a service reserved for
the most needy. Fitzpatrick and Pawson (2011) suggest that this
may represent a shift from English welfare housing as a safety net
to an ambulance service
In UK social housing, allocations since the 1970s have
prioritised applicants with low incomes. Through the decades the
social tenant population has become increasingly concentrated
with tenants from the lowest income deciles. This development
was intensified by ‘right to buy’, which sucked both better-off
tenants and much of the better housing stock away from the tenure.
In the Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Netherlands
there remains far greater diversity among tenants in social housing,
while social inequalities are also not so extreme as in England.
Social security systems tend to compensate better for labour
market inequalities and benefits are more generous. For example,
in the Netherlands, unemployment benefits are set at around 70%
of the previous working wage for the first year. Thus, when
combined with welfare benefits, the social rented sector goes
beyond providing a ‘safety-net’ to foster a ‘wider affordability
function’ (Fitzpatrick and Stephens, 2008). While the criteria are
currently in flux, Dutch social housing eligibility is far broader
than Britain’s and the sector accommodates a far wider range of
income-groups. Even following recent tighter recommendations
on income criteria from the EU (Gruis and Priemus, 2009),
around 40% of households qualify for social housing in the
Netherlands. Within the larger social rental sectors in Western
Europe, there are sometimes subsectors to be found, often
described as ‘very social housing’ (for example in Sweden and
France) with lower rents, lower income limits and less security of
tenure (see Lévy-Vroelant and Reinprecht, 2008).
Notions of housing welfare and perceptions of social housing
sectors have undergone series of revisions and re-imaginings in
the last century (Harloe, 1995). Transformations have caused the
dynamics of public and private forms of housing to transmogrify.
Various authors have focused on contributory elements to this
process, which has proceeded at different paces in each context
(see Priemus and Dieleman 2002; Rhodes and Mullins 2009;
Cowans and Maclennan, 2008). The recent tendency has been
toward an erosion of social and, in particular, public housing
sectors in size, the socioeconomic diversity of occupants, funding
and supply. Social housing sectors are unlikely to disappear, but
are undeniably on the defensive. As was established in the
introduction and is explored in this section, challenges can be
conceptualized (although this is not an exhaustive framework)
along three main latitudes: 1) the status, or polarization, of tenure,
2) conceptions of housing as a welfare good or service and, 3) the
position of housing associations.
One of the greatest challenges to social housing is to sustain its
status vis-à-vis other housing tenures and types. With the
residualisation of social housing supply there has been an
increasing concentration of extremely poor, unemployed and
special needs groups in social dwellings. Social housing is thus
being - although there is considerable inter-country variation -
gradually stigmatised and marginalised. For example, post-war
council estates in England have become enmeshed with end of
history discourses regarding planning mistakes, unpopular housing
design and problems of social segregation. ‘Council housing’ has
become a byword in the media and neoliberal discourses for
concentrations of crime and depravation that reflect the ‘failures’
of (big) government and the application of market rules. In
France too, urban social housing estates are no longer seen as a
triumph of post-war modernist architecture, but often the location
Richard Ronald
Vol.4 No.1 / January 2013
of dangerous groups of impoverished people and the site of racial
unrest, especially among disenfranchised French-Arab youth.
Critiques of social housing have largely focused on design,
scale, management and maintenance arrangements on mass
housing estates - seen as somehow the cause of segregation and
neighbourhood decline - even though estates are not typical of the
sector. Furthermore, while design mistakes were made and
socio-demographic changes have had an impact (with growing
segregation of migrant communities), problems among many
social housing estates have been the outcome of declining
investment and the shift in subsidies to other sectors (see Forrest
and Murie, 1988; Musterd et al., 2010). The vast majority of
post-war social housing developments were popular when they
were first inhabited and represented a remarkable improvement
in housing conditions. Indeed, British social housing helped
radically improve the number of lower-income households with
inside toilets, central heating and other basic amenities in their
homes. In recent decades however, on top of sector disinvestment,
the transformation of swathes of English public housing through
stock transfers or sales to sitting tenants has helped commodify
perceptions of housing stock (now seen as a market rather than
merit good) and individual housing preferences. Meanwhile, the
loss of the more desirable dwellings to privatization and the
exodus of more socially mobile tenants through ‘right-to-buy’
contributed to the concentration of poor and socially excluded
households in the social sector, reinforcing its stigmatization
(Hills, 2007). One telling statistic is that in 1962 only 11% of
households in council housing in England had no earned income
while in 2003 the figure was 65% (Holmans 2005).
Malpass and Victory point out that social housing used to be
‘predominantly the tenure of the relatively well-off within the
working class’ (2010, p5). However, the re-structuring of the
sector has helped confirm a status change in social rental housing
from a public good for all citizens to a more contingent service for
the very poor, excluded or vulnerable. Lévy-Vroelant and
Reinprecht (2008) argue that in European policy language the
notion of ‘vulnerability’ has become embedded in regard to social
sectors. In the case of subsidised housing it has specified that only
those with ‘special needs’ qualify as ‘worthy’ recipients. Within
the EU this designation covers immigrants, the disabled, frail
elderly people, single-parent households, the unemployed and
victims of wars and catastrophes. The decline in regular working
households and the concentration of the poor and marginal has
helped reinforce the contraction of social housing provision
further. It has, moreover, legitimated transfers of ownership to
non-governmental corporations, further sell-offs and the deeper
application of market principles to social agencies and public
Although the focus so far has been the UK, looking across
Europe, it is evident that the residualisation and neo-liberalisation
of social housing, while less pronounced, is undermining not only
the economic and material base, but also the perceptual/reputational
base of social housing more universally. Even in the Netherlands,
some post-war and even 1970s social housing developments are
being pulled down, and neighbourhoods associated with social
renting, redeveloped. In many contexts, social tenures that were
once popular among a broad class of occupants have become
heavily stigmatised. In formal and informal discourses, social
renters are often not considered full or competent citizens and
their dwellings treated as inferior to the real ‘homes’ or owner-
occupiers (Gurney, 1999). Among low-income households social
renting no longer necessarily represents a superior form of tenure
to private renting, as it once did. In fact, many countries have also
shifted towards demand-side subsidies like housing benefits and
vouchers that can be used for private rental property5). Meanwhile,
home-buying has become a strong, albeit riskier preference for
low-income households, although most have been squeezed out
of this market in recent years. The challenge for governments and
policy makers is to find a way to reverse this trend and rehabilitate
social rental housing as a normal and viable tenure. While states
have often contributed to the polarisation of tenure conditions and
perceptions through policy and rhetoric, there is a sustained need
for social housing. In recent years societies have become even
more socioeconomically unequal and the real demand for
affordable rental housing has intensified.
The polarization of tenure largely reflects a shifting logic
among West European welfare regimes, which have increasingly
turned to low-income home ownership as an alternative means to
support both housing and other welfare needs (Ronald and Elsinga,
2012). For Malpass and Victory (2010), while council housing
reflected an organizational model of service delivery under the
post-war welfare state and operated outside the market, the model
that has emerged since the 1970s reflects a fundamental neo-
5) Gray and McAnulty (2008) identify, for example, explicit
programmes in the UK and Ireland that seek to enhance the
role of the private rental sector to house the homeless and
vulnerable households, leading to more residual users in the
private sector.
Housing and Welfare in Western Europe: Transformations and Challenges for the Social Rented Sector
liberal logic and the crisis of Keynesianism. Malpass and Victory
explain developments in social housing in terms of processes of
‘modernisation’ in which public services, sustained by a discourse
of decline, have been rolled back or undermined. ‘The New Right
approach prescribed a doctrinaire preference for privatization
and marketization as remedies for perceived problems within
public services’ (p8).
Under more neo-liberalized manifestations of welfare states,
the answer to housing low-income housing has been reconstituted,
but not as an issue of what the state can do, but rather as a question
of affordability and allowing the market to do its work. With
social housing and high cost demand insensitive public services
posed as the problem, home ownership has been increasingly
promoted as the solution. Governments thus rolled out grand
targets for increased home ownership participation in the early
2000s. In the UK, the Blair government aspired to reach 75%
home ownership by 2015 and in the Netherlands the ‘Mensen
Wensen Wonen’ memoranda of 2000 explicitly stated a desired
increase from 51% to 60% home ownership by 2010 (see
Aalbers, 2004).
Consequently, governments have worked on ways of getting
better-off tenants out of their social units and into an owner-
occupied ‘home’ (see Ronald, 2008). Such schemes are diverse
across Europe. The simplest method has been to give social
dwellers the option to buy their current dwelling or another
vacant unit. Such schemes dominate in Britain and Ireland, but
are also being piloted in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Another
approach that came to the fore during the latest house price
bubble (which frustrated government attempts to expand low-
income owner-occupation) was shared ownership schemes. In
the UK the dominant form has been HomeBuy and in the
Netherlands, Woongarant. In the former purchasers buy at least
25% of a newly built home, and pay rent on the rest. Public
agencies remain involved, with the Housing Communities Agency
or the housing association holding the remaining share. When
occupants can afford, they are expected to buy the remaining
shares in the property. The latest initiatives (HomeBuy Direct)
involve private developers together with the government holding
an equity loan on 30% of the property so that the purchaser only
needs to pay a mortgage on 70% of the value. In the Dutch
version (Woongarant, 2012) housing associations are both
developers and the share owner, and retain the first option to buy
back the property. It is essentially a less market open but also less
risky approach.
Despite reduced spending on direct housing provision,
especially welfare housing, governments have not necessarily
reduced spending on supporting housing needs. Indeed, increasing
funds have gone towards housing affordability programs and
indirect measures such as tax subsidies for developers and
mortgage holders. For example, in the Netherlands it is estimated
that Mortgage Interest Tax Relief, which is fully deductible at the
top income-tax rate of 52%, costs the state around 14 billion euros
a year compared to a housing allowance bill of around three
billion (Conijn, 2008). Considering Dutch housing associations
are self-funding, this represents a subsidy for homeowners of
more than fourfold that for low-income renters. It is also a
subsidy that benefits those with the biggest houses and debts
most, and has increased in the government budget as house price
and home ownership rates have increased. Essentially, the shift in
the logic of housing policy represents a shift in support from
low-income households in sub-market rental housing to low and
middle-income households in the private market.
The current logic of housing welfare is far removed from
post-war versions. Public provision for the needy has been shrunk
to a more basic (safety net) service, while the housing sector has
increasingly been looked to as a means to stimulate the economy
more broadly, with deregulation of the market a means to achieve
this. Housing policy has come to be regarded more as economic
policy in the neoliberal era, with low-income households best
served by market housing. There is also a different logic implied
in the provision of welfare as the state has moved away from
traditional Keynesian approaches to wealth transfers. This
represents a shift towards ‘asset-based’ forms of welfare in which
individual housing wealth accrued over the life-course can
compensate for diminishing public resources (Doling and Ronald,
2010). Encouraging lower income people to buy their own homes
presents a means to encourage self-reliance and build up individual
welfare capacity (in the form of property equity) in place of an
expensive and bureaucratic welfare state. Western welfare regimes
are arguably adopting forms of ‘privatized Keynesianism’ in
which households manage between borrowing, saving and drawing
upon their assets in response to changing economic and welfare
pressures (Crouch, 2009). In the post-crisis era, austerity measures
may intensify further the necessity for individuals and families to
draw on housing assets in order to cope with volatile conditions.
Essentially, the shift in the logic of welfare housing to the
focus on home ownership and support of market housing
represents another challenge to social housing sectors. In order to
achieve a more sustainable housing system and greater social
equity, a greater balance needs to be achieved between different
Richard Ronald
Vol.4 No.1 / January 2013
housing tenures. A stronger social rental sector does not necessarily
represent a challenge to the market, and as the Dutch case has
shown in the 1980s, it can assist the state in coping with market
volatility. Where social rental sectors are larger and more
attractive, fewer vulnerable households are drawn into highly
indebted home purchases. Since the Global Financial Crisis, rates
of home possessions have remained relatively low in the Netherlands.
Meanwhile poorer households have been less squeezed as the
vast majority still dwells in the social rental sector with secure
tenures and low-rents (Ronald and Dol, 2011). In the UK by
contrast, home ownership is the majority tenure among low-income
households, who are therefore more economically vulnerable
(Burrows, 2003).
Neoliberal housing market restructuring has resulted in
significant reorientation in the organisations that build and
manage social housing. At the macro-level, there has been a
substantial shift away from public ownership and control, while
at the micro-level, social housing agencies have been transformed.
This has featured the reform of internal management arrangements,
intensified relationships with external private sector organisations
(through partnerships or competition), and the management of
these relationships through competition based regulations (Rhodes
and Mullins, 2009 p112). At the same time, the withdrawal of
direct state provision in various welfare fields has led to
increasing pressures on social landlords to become more ‘socially
entrepreneurial’. Essentially, governments have asked more of
the sector. Many have become more hybridised, providing not
only housing, but also social services such as community
development, employment generation, youth projects, etc.
(Czischke et al., 2010). Many European housing associations
have been transformed from civil service like bureaucracies to
multi-facing and multifaceted agencies that combine features
third sector, state and commercial organisations with competing
social and market logics.
With this transformation and greater engagement with the
market, the status of housing associations as non-profit agencies
has come into question. In the last few years, this challenge has
become a legal contestation, the resolution to which is changing
the face of social housing in the Netherlands and is likely to affect
other member states in the future.
Following the 1995 brutering, Dutch housing associations
became increasingly involved in neighbourhood renewal and
investment projects, with budgets sustained by revolving funds
derived from building properties for sale in the private market. As
a social agency, associations also benefited from exclusion from
tax requirements. They also could acquire land in special deals
with local authorities as well as borrow from the private capital
market on special terms thanks to the CFV (see Elsinga et al,
2008). In light of these privileges, in the mid-2000s market sector
interests complained formally to National and European governments.
While the EU has no competency on housing policy, Article
87(1) of the EC treaty states that any aid granted by a member
state that distorts competition is incompatible with the common
market. Subsequently, in 2005, the EU Commissioner for Competition
sent a letter to the Dutch Ministry of Housing (VROM)
complaining of unfair competition in the Dutch housing market.
The claim was that the sector was too large compared to the
number of low-income households and that there was no clear
separation between public and private activities. There was
subsequently much discussion of the competitive status of housing
associations and their status as social or commercial entities. The
policy proposals that emerged have attempted to make social
housing policy ‘Europe proof’. Precise definitions on social
allocations were set out, while cross subsidization from social
activities for commercial, non-social ones were to be prohibited.
The rent or sale of dwellings with unregulated rents, and activities
in renovation and construction in this area were to be regarded as
being in direct competition with the open market. The advantages
of CFV support were to be limited to social activities only, and
commercial activities were to become the subject of corporate
tax. In return the EU would continue to recognise Dutch housing
associations as social agencies.
From January 2011 two new important measures were added.
First, 90% of lettings of social rental units that become empty
have to go to households with less than 34.085 Euro annual
income. Any association not reaching this target will lose state
support (i.e. CFV supported loans). The remaining 10% of units
can be re-let on the basis of social priorities other than
income (Gruis and Priemus, 2011). This, however, represents
a problem for the 650,000 households whose income is too high
to qualify for a social unit and too low for a mortgage on a similar
market property. Secondly, activities eligible for state support
have been limited to those of a ‘general economic purpose’:
construction of rental dwellings for low-income households;
constructing and renting real estate for social purposes; providing
living and care facilities.
A new centre-right coalition came to power in 2010 that
explicitly stated a concern with the stimulation of private rented
Housing and Welfare in Western Europe: Transformations and Challenges for the Social Rented Sector
and owner-occupied housing, and set about imposing even tighter
conditions for the social sector. There was also the intention to
shift some of the responsibilities for housing allowance from the
state to housing associations. The cabinet proposed that housing
associations collectively contribute 760 million Euro p.a. (around
250 euro per dwelling) starting from 2014. They government also
argued for the rents of sitting tenants with annual incomes above
43,000 Euro in social housing to rise 5% above inflation rates per
year in order to counteract skewedness in the distribution of
social housing. This has been scheduled to begin in 2012,
although the lack of data among housing association concerning
the income of longer-term tenants is limited or nonexistent. There
have also been measures imposed on areas with housing scarcity
in order to allow higher rent setting. Finally, the Ministry of
Housing (VROM) has been broken up with responsibilities
assigned to other Ministries.
The new coalition government elected in 2012 looks unlikely
to reverse the trend established under the previous cabinet.
Meanwhile, the EU decision on the status of Dutch housing
associations is having monumental outcomes for the social
housing sector. Housing associations, which have been the
backbone of the housing system, are now reassessing their
position and it appears that conditions for social tenants are likely
to change significantly in the coming years. What happens in the
Netherlands is likely to have consequences for how social
housing providers are seen across the EU. Many will have to
readdress their position in the market and are likely to focus more
on the housing needs of low-income households rather than
community housing and social needs.
In contrast to the European context, in the last few decades,
public housing output in South Korea has been remarkable with
the sector growing rapidly. Moreover, this is a highly complex
sector providing different types of subsidized housing for different
target groups. Permanent public rental housing, for example, has
been developed since 1989 for very low-income and special
needs households, while more recently, diverse categories of
public housing, often with fixed-tenure periods, have been
produced for low- to moderate-income households (see Ha, 2004;
Park, 2007, Lee and Ronald, 2012). It seems that social housing
has become a priority in South Korean policy frameworks and
has aligned with the expansion of welfare state services more
generally (see Kwon, 2003).
Clearly, it is difficult to consider welfare housing in Western
Europe as a basis for understanding what is going on in South
Korea. Indeed, it seems that more centralised coordination has
been important the advance of the public housing sector here.
Meanwhile government agencies do not seem to be being dictated
to by a neoliberal agenda and the relentless logic of the market. In
addition, while there are some comparisons, it is apparent that
South Korea is following a quite distinct housing and welfare
system pathway in respect to other developed East Asian Nations.
Nonetheless, there are perhaps some insights that can be drawn
from the European case. In particular, various lessons can be
learned about sustaining a tenure balance and ensuring that social
rental housing does not become stigmatised and social renters
marginalised. The UK in recent decades arguably demonstrates
many of the dangers of ill-considered privatisation strategies and
policy mistakes in the social sector that have undermined housing
conditions overall. ‘Right to buy’ policy has often been presented
as a success story and in many respects had positive outcomes for
many low-income households. However, it initiated and sustained
a process of residualisation and polarisation in the housing
market. The social rental sector is now possibly becoming, especially
under the current administration, an ambulance service. A strong
social housing sector, as seen in the case of the Netherlands, can
contribute to the stability and equity of the housing market
overall. Germany also provides some insights in this regard. A
major concern now is the forced reorientation of the sector across
Europe following the impact of the application of EU competition
policy in the Netherlands.
Notwithstanding challenges to sustaining European social
housing sectors, what remains evident is that having a large and
good quality social sector increases the quality of housing overall
and can be directly correlated with national differences in welfare
and wellbeing standards. Investing in housing as a welfare sector
has undeniably improved conditions in the short- and long-term
for low-income working households and provided an institutional
framework with which to deal with market imbalances and
inequalities. In the present global crisis, considerable financial
pressure has come to bear on housing associations and other
welfare housing providers. Nonetheless, considering the continued
demand for housing and the squeeze on lower-income households,
we can expect that housing associations will survive, albeit in
more hybridised forms that depart radically in their role and
orientation from their post-war forebears.
Richard Ronald
Vol.4 No.1 / January 2013
Richard Ronald’s work is supported by the European Research
Council [ERC Starting Grant HOUWEL, Grant Agreement No.
283881]. He would also like to thank the Land and Housing
Institute, who initially invited him to write this piece as a keynote
address at the 2012 LH International Conference.
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... The predominant narrative has until very recently been one of an increasing erosion of social housing (in terms of tenure, funding, provision, etc.) and one in favor of owner occupation. Researchers have described the withdrawal of the state, financialization, and more market-oriented solutions since the 1970s and pointed to residualization and the emergence of new, more diverse forms of social housing, including forms of social homeownership and more hybrid patterns of financing, construction, and management (Czischke 2009;Harloe 1995;Mullins, Czischke, and van Bortel 2012;Ronald 2013;Tunstall 2021;Wainwright and Manville 2017). In this vein, Haffner et al. (2009) have argued that the boundaries between social and private housing have become increasingly blurred, as commercially oriented investors are increasingly involved in social housing and policy purposes aimed at wider objectives. ...
Full-text available
The comparative study of housing decommodification lags behind classical welfare state research, while housing research itself is rich in homeownership studies but lacks comparative accounts of private and social rentals due to missing comparative data. Building on existing works and various primary sources, this study presents a new collection of up to forty-eight countries' social housing shares in stock and new construction since the first housing laws around 1900. The interpolated benchmark time series generally describe the rise and fall of social housing across a residual, a socialist, and a Northern-European housing group. The decline was steeper than for the classical welfare state, but the degree of erosion was surprisingly small in some countries where public housing associations remained resilient. Within the broader housing welfare state, social housing correlates positively with rent regulation and allowances, but negatively with homeownership subsidies and liberal mortgage regulation. A multivariate analysis shows that social housing is rather explained by housing shortages and complementarities with rental and welfare policies than by typical welfare state theories (GDP, political parties). Generally, the paper shows that conventional housing typologies are difficult to defend over time and argues more generally for including housing decommodification in welfare state research.
... Despite similar concerns about the affordability of housing and access to the housing market in many growing cities around the world, national policies have-in recent decades-focused on the promotion of owner-occupied housing and the partial privatization and residualization of social housing in many countries (Malpass, 2014;Ronald, 2013). While similar trajectories can be distinguished, countries and cities have different histories of social housing policies and provision (Harloe, 1995;Malpass, 2014). ...
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Housing policy changes in the Netherlands have been in line with OECD and IMF policy advice to increase market dynamism by downsizing the large social rental sector. The impact of such policies on households, however, is rarely acknowledged. Therefore, in this article, distributive effects on social housing tenants in Amsterdam between 2004 and 2014 are evaluated against two standards for distributive justice: sufficiency and priority. These standards befit the policy aim to provide adequate (sufficient) housing for households with a certain need (priority). The analysis shows housing policies have amplified the impacts of the global financial crisis on households. The occurrence of sufficiency increased significantly until 2008, but decreased thereafter. In regards of the priority standard more households with a significant need benefitted from social housing after 2008. However, many of these households still do not meet the sufficiency threshold. While spatial patterns remained rather stable, the impact has been greater in the areas with already relatively low residual incomes.
... Home ownership, in many contexts, has not only represented neoliberal ideology, but has also been the consequence of eroding public housing systems as a material and symbolic basis of the welfare state (Forrest and Murie, 1988;Doling and Ronald, 2010). A similar suggestion has been made by other authors, recognising that various welfare regimes have become reoriented towards forms of 'privatized Keynesianism' in which wealth transfers are negotiated with families in managing intergenerational agreements, exempting the welfare state (Crouch, 2009;Ronald, 2013). ...
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This article takes up the context of literature production on the characteristics that are most commonly associated with housing systems in Southern European countries, namely, the low weight of public housing supply, the large share of home ownership and a considerable number of second homes and vacant dwellings. This theme, highly debated in the first decade of the 20th century, questioned the significance of the Southern European countries, with lower income households, those which had (and still have) the highest percentages of home ownership. The sociological reflection developed on the relationship between the specificity of the Portuguese development model (and housing policies) and the high rate of property ownership aims to go beyond comparative research on Southern European countries, generally based on typologies that emphasize the causal relationship between property rates and the type of welfare regime. One of the objectives is to understand the structural factors of this situation. Throughout the text we point out four phenomena that have shaped the Portuguese housing system, with an impact on the property regime. Through them one can recognize that access to home ownership is not only a public intention and an economic pressure from the market, but is also anchored in the expectations of families, for whom housing assumes a complex political, economic and symbolic role. We argue that the articulation between these phenomena represents a “happy joint venture” between Families, State and Market. For families, this form of access to housing seems to function not only as an attachment to property, part of a specific cultural model, as is usually a hallmark of Southern European countries, but also translates an economic rationale and a source of security, in a context of an unstable labour market, low income and weak social protection.
... Mainstream social housing in Vienna already addresses many basic social needs of residents to a high degree, such as affordability of homes due to fairly generous income ceilings; ensuring high quality of new housing development as well as considerable investments in refurbishing existing stock (Förster, 2002). This local welfare state environment leaves little room for collaborative housing projects in Vienna to qualify as radical social innovations which -according to the theory -would solve more fundamental social problems of residents, as is the case in very market-driven European contexts where social housing has been substantially dismantled, such as the UK (Lang & Mullins, 2015;Ronald, 2014). ...
Collaborative housing models suggest alternative and radical approaches to both financing affordable housing in the city and increasing the diversity of urban living. This chapter critically investigates the potential of driving social innovations within the affordable housing sector through new collaborative models: Baugruppen, the “Syndicate model” and participatory projects. We focus on the local context of Vienna, Austria, where such models aim at active involvement, self-organisation and collaboration of residents. Our context-sensitive analysis shows that collaborative projects, especially Baugruppen, contribute to diversification in social housing, opening it up to ideas regarded as alien so far. To fulfil this potential, the local authority as an external enabler is crucial through its developer competitions which foster social sustainability.
... There is a steady reduction of public sector funding for social housing, with significantly decreasing levels of social housing capital grants in countries where these are used as support mechanisms. In addition, privatization policies have weakened the foundation of social renting with home ownership and private rental sectors policies being promoted as better options (Ronald 2013). At the same time, social housing has become more diversified to include social forms of home ownership and hybridized in terms of finance, construction and management (Czischke 2009;Mullins et al. 2012). ...
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The term ‘affordable housing’ has been rapidly gaining currency over the last decade across Europe, both in policy and research circles. While it is often used as a synonym or close relative of the term ‘social housing’, more recently it is finding its own definition and policy instruments in specific cities and countries. However, boundaries between both concepts remain unclear. To shed light on recent developments of each of these terms, this paper presents findings from a study commissioned by the European Investment Bank, which investigated current trends in definitions, programmes and policies both in social housing and affordable housing. This paper focuses on findings for England, Italy, Poland and The Netherlands. Methods used included desk research and interviews with key informants in each of the four countries. In addition, in-depth information about Italy and The Netherlands was gathered through stakeholder workshops carried out between September and November 2016. Findings show that affordable housing in all four countries is becoming a more distinct field, in parallel to developments in social housing. In addition, the paper describes some innovative policies undertaken to develop affordable housing solutions. The paper concludes with a reflection on scenarios for future policy developments and an agenda for further research.
... Consequently, subsidised housing, including that provided by collaborative housing initiatives, is accessible for a broad mix of income strata. It has considerable appeal for mediumincome families and -by contrast to social housing in the United Kingdom -has not been transformed into an 'ambulance service' for the economically most vulnerable households (Ronald, 2014). ...
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The aim of this paper is to investigate how the institutional context influences the configuration of collaborative housing models in Austria. Although Austria has a well-established cooperative sector, few empirical studies and no comprehensive overviews have been published on collaborative housing. This paper aims to fill this research gap by extending existing work on organisational models within Austrian non-profit housing. The contribution reports original research based on qualitative expert interviews and case studies completed in 2015. We focus our empirical analysis on two local housing contexts with current collaborative housing activity, Vienna and Salzburg. Our findings highlight the importance of partnerships with large cooperatives and the key role of local authorities for the development of collaborative housing initiatives. The main contributions of the paper can be seen in feeding into on-going international comparative research on collaborative housing sectors and on the changing institutional landscapes of housing systems.
... The transfer of asset ownership from the state to sitting tenants has been identified as a factor that has effectively increased the residualization of a social housing sector that increasingly consists of the lowest quality dwellings in the most deprived neighborhoods (cf. Kleinhans & van Ham, 2013;Ronald 2013), leading to the promotion of home-ownership. ...
Conference Paper
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The social housing sector has become increasingly residualized and segregated in Portugal and Denmark. Whilst there is a considerable difference between the systems in these two countries, as regards issues of management and governance, dominant rent regimes (cost rent, social rent) or eligibility (universal, targeted), etc., they share similar problems, such as, on some estates, an increasing concentration of disadvantaged families. This research will attempt to show how actions at the national and local level have shaped the problem at the local level.
... By implication, the share of households with a weaker position in the housing market (unemployed, people with lower income, ex-prisoners, divorced people and single mothers) saw their share increase in exactly this sector. This implied relative marginalisation of the sector, and because of the spatial concentration of many of the public housing estates, of certain neighbourhoods in the city (Ronald, 2013). We should keep in mind, however, that the housing situation from the perspective of the households who gained access to these public housing estates was often not bad. ...
Public housing in the Netherlands is rapidly changing. While it used to be an example of how government intervention could successfully contribute to create descent housing for all, and while public housing was seen as the instrument to get rid of inhumane housing conditions, currently the sector is moving into another position. The sector is still large and of high quality, but its function is significantly changing. In this paper, a brief history of Dutch and Amsterdam public housing is presented, as well as an interpretation of the main forces behind its development. These descriptions are seen as essential ingredients for understanding the rise and current decline of the sector. An empirical analysis shows for whom the sector is functioning and what the directions of change are. The sector is not only declining but also residualising. Its position in the housing market is getting weaker, while the sector increasingly functions for lower-level socio-economic categories only.
Housing policy is primarily regulated at the municipal level, especially in view of the international trend towards the withdrawal of the national state in this sector. This article examines recent developments in Swiss housing policy in five large cities, and the counter-reactions that are emerging due to an acute housing shortage. Relying on critical literature on housing, we present the main instruments of the Swiss housing policy and empirically analyse the political debates about their implementation. Results show that housing cooperatives are the housing support mechanism that the whole political spectrum can agree on. As the vast majority of cooperatives are non-profit, we observe the puzzling situation where neoliberal processes of state withdrawal in social policies lead to the promotion of a form of housing that is mostly common property-based and decommodified. The reasons behind their success are complex, but basing policies on private initiative rather than public property and targeting the middle class contributes to their popularity.
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Demand for owner-occupied housing has expanded dramatically across modern-industrialized societies in recent years leading to volatile increases in residential property values. This book explores the rise of modern home-ownership as a cultural, socio-political and ideological phenomenon.
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Few single policies have had a more profound impact on the modern British housing system than the wholesale transfer of public housing to 'new social landlords' -primarily Housing Associations. This important new text provides a comprehensive account of the causes, processes and consequences of stock transfer.
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Despite government emphasis on home purchase and four decades of extensive house building, levels of owner-occupation in South Korea remain relatively modest. This paper examines Korean homeownership policy development, identifying key reasons for the limited growth: the underdevelopment of housing finance; unproductive government intervention on property speculation; ineffective tax support for low-income home purchase; and the structure of the rental sector. Korean housing policy is characteristically supply driven, which has expanded housing stock but distorted distribution, increased speculation and polarised housing wealth. This paper considers the underdevelopment of demand-side policies as the underlying failure in the sustainable and equitable expansion of homeownership. It also implicates housing more centrally in East Asian policy regime divergence.
In context of ongoing transformations in housing markets and socioeconomic conditions, this book focuses on past, current and future roles of home ownership in social policies and welfare practices. It considers owner-occupied housing in terms of diverse meanings and manifestations, but in particular the part played by housing tenure in the political, socioeconomic and demographic changes that have characterized the pre- and post-crisis era. The intensified promotion of home ownership in recent decades helped stimulate an increasing orientation towards the private consumption of housing, not only as a home, but also an asset – or possibly speculative vehicle – that enhances household economic capacity and can be transferred to children or other family, or even exchanged for other goods. The latest global financial crisis, however, made it clear that owner-occupied housing markets and mortgage sectors have become deeply embedded in networks of socioeconomic interdependency and risk. This collection engages with numerous debates on housing and society in a range of developed societies from North America to Asia-Pacific to North, South, East and West Europe. Interdisciplinary contributors draw upon diverse empirical data to explore how housing and home ownership has become so embedded in polity, economy and household welfare conditions in various social and cultural contexts. Another concern is what lies beyond home ownership considering the integration of housing systems with economic growth and social stability appears to be unravelling. This volume speaks to public debates concerning the future of housing markets, policy and tenure, providing deep and provocative insights for academics, students and professionals alike.
Differentiation. This is the key concept for addressing issues related to post-WWII large housing estatesp1, and therefore the ‘red thread’ in the chapters of this book. The reason for stating this from the start is that although there have been numerous research experiences about the problems of mass housing estates in Europe, few have sufficiently clarified the difference within and between them. The estates have different characteristics, different inhabitants, different positions in the housing markets, different functions, different judgements by their inhabitants and by ‘outsiders’; they are differently located, have different histories and different contexts. All this has contributed to a wide variety of performances by post-WWII housing estates.
All countries aim to improve housing conditions for their citizens but many have been forced by the financial crisis to reduce government expenditure. Social housing is at the crux of this tension. Policy-makers, practitioners and academics want to know how other systems work and are looking for something written in clear English, where there is a depth of understanding of the literature in other languages and direct contributions from country experts across the continent. Social Housing in Europe combines a comparative overview of European social housing written by scholars with in-depth chapters written by international housing experts. The countries covered include Austria, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, The Netherlands and Sweden, with a further chapter devoted to CEE countries other than Hungary. The book provides an up-to-date international comparison of social housing policy and practice. It offers an analysis of how the social housing system currently works in each country, supported by relevant statistics. It identifies European trends in the sector, and opportunities for innovation and improvement. These country-specific chapters are accompanied by topical thematic chapters dealing with subjects such as the role of social housing in urban regeneration, the privatisation of social housing, financing models, and the impact of European Union state aid regulations on the definitions and financing of social housing.