THIS IS AN AUTHORS’ POST-PRINT VERSION OF THE
ARTICLE PUBLISHED AS:
Costarelli, I., Kleinhans, R., & Mugnano, S. (2020). ‘Active,
young, and resourceful’: sorting the ‘good’ tenant through
mechanisms of conditionality. Housing Studies
Publisher version at this link:
‘Active, young, and resourceful’: sorting the ‘good’ tenant
through mechanisms of conditionality
Governments’ attempts to link the provision of welfare services to (more)
responsible self-conduct of citizens (i.e. responsibilisation) is seen as a distinctive
feature of the post-welfare state. Responsibilisation often requires welfare
receivers to comply with specific duties or behavioural patterns (i.e.
conditionality). Except for UK-based studies, little is known about
responsibilisation strategies of social housing tenants based on specific allocation
policies or management approaches. To fill this gap, this paper examines recent
cases of tenants’ responsibilisation through conditionality, i.e. allocation of
housing on the condition that receivers regularly engage in supportive activities,
in Utrecht (The Netherlands) and Milan (Italy). Through a qualitative
methodology, this paper unpacks the use of conditionality as a means to increase
tenants’ responsibilisation. The paper contributes by showing both innovative
aspects, such as eligibility criteria, obligations, accountability measures, and
potential pitfalls connected to diverging expectations between tenants and
professionals, and to specific context-related factors.
Keywords: social housing; comparative housing; welfare state; tenants
responsibilisation; social mix; conditionality
In post-welfare states, the provision of social services, including social housing, is
increasingly becoming conditional to the active and responsible behaviour of welfare
claimants and, more generally, citizens. Social housing governance in post-welfare
states does not only require tenants to refrain from prohibited or ‘anti-social’
behaviours, but also requires a positive and proactive engagement in acts of citizenship
and voluntary endeavours (see Deacon, 2004; Flint, 2002; 2003; 2004; Flint and Nixon,
2006; Manzi, 2010; Verhoeven & Tonkens, 2013).
Social housing in the new welfare state is characterized by a widening of
tenants’ responsibility (Flint, 2004) and growing conditionality, a principle holding that
‘eligibility to certain basic, publicly provided, welfare entitlements should be dependent
on an individual first agreeing to meet particular compulsory duties or patterns of
behaviour’ (Dwyer, 2004, p. 269). Responsibilisation strategies through conditionality
assume increasing individual agency and accountability beyond traditional requirements
associated with social housing tenure (e.g. allocation, rent payments and basic
maintenance of properties) to include a greater involvement in community activities and
proactive responses to discourage anti-social behaviours. Beyond the need to act in a
legal manner, housing professionals in the UK and US
but also in Italy and the
Netherlands, as this paper will show, increasingly require from tenants a proactive
communal endeavour, suggesting an important shift in the conceptualisation of
Conditionality represents a key tenet of tenants’ responsibilisation strategies
implemented by social landlords in the context of a specific frame of social mix (see
Costarelli et al., 2019). Such frame differs from the mainstream use of social mix, i.e.
increasing the share of middle-class ‘role models’ (especially middle-income
households and homeowners), as it is not implemented in the context of state-driven
urban regeneration programmes of most deprived social housing neighbourhoods.
However, social mix in this new frame points to similar aims, such as spreading
desirable norms of behaviour and shared values for particular social groups (Koster,
2015), promoting social integration and a more responsible conduct of social tenants.
The existing strand of literature covering the topic of responsibilisation of social
housing tenants in the new welfare state is largely drawing on UK-based studies (Flint,
2002; 2003; 2004; 2006; 2015; Flint & Nixon, 2006; Haworth & Manzi, 1999; King,
2006; Manzi, 2010). To fill this gap this paper takes in consideration current
developments in two other EU countries: Italy and the Netherlands. Building on Borghi
and van Berkel’s (2007) comparative paper on Italian and Dutch welfare activation
policies in labour and social care, which connoted a common shift towards a ‘more
active welfare state’ (see also De Leonardis, 2011; Tonkens, 2011), we expand their
contribution by considering on-going trends within social/public housing sectors.
Several UK-based studies have focused on the efficacy of conditionality measures on
welfare subjects affected by severe forms of deprivation, e.g. homeless people (see
Johnsen et al., 2018) or people subject to unemployment, disability, anti-social
behaviour-related measures - the so-called ‘urban precariat’ (see Flint, 2019). However,
in this paper we advance our understanding on responsibilisation through conditionality
in social housing by focusing on instances wherein conditionality mechanisms involve
specific social groups, mainly young people, with few economic resources but strong
social and human capital which is mobilized as part of these conditionality mechanisms.
As Stephens (2011) argued, dealing with housing research inevitably means
taking into account wider socio-economic structures and institutions, including welfare
systems. Adopting a ‘most different systems’ approach (Przeworksi & Teune, 1970), we
investigated how emerging mechanisms of conditionality, as a crucial part of broader
social/public tenants’ responsibilisation strategies, operate in two different
configurations of housing and welfare regimes. We focused on the Netherlands, a cross-
over between conservative and socio-democratic regime with a high degree of state
involvement in publicly subsidised housing provision (Hoekstra, 2003) and Italy, a
conservative welfare regime incorporated to the Mediterranean cluster where publicly-
provided housing represents a residual part of the stock (Allen et al., 2004; Castles &
This paper aims to better understand how specific conditionality-based forms of
governance are shaping housing professionals’ promotion of greater tenants’
responsibilisation in different configurations of welfare and housing systems. The
research question is: how is the concept of conditionality, as a means to achieve greater
tenants’ responsibilisation, shaping recent approaches towards the allocation and
management of social housing in Italy and in the Netherlands? To address this question,
we describe and compare two social/public housing projects in the cities of Utrecht (The
Netherlands) and Milan (Italy), which are inhabited by a fine-grained mix of
‘vulnerable’ tenants, i.e. welfare dependents, and ‘resourceful’ social groups, mainly
young people (students and workers). As part of the tenancy agreements, ‘resourceful’
tenants are expected to engage in solidarity activities to foster the social inclusion of
their ‘vulnerable’ neighbours. We show that conditionality-based mechanisms are
central elements of such tenancy agreements and operate in two different ways, i.e. ex
ante and ex post. The first regulates the access of ‘resourceful’ tenants to the social
housing project by assessing applicants’ endowment with specific attitudes (high human
and social capital) that envisage them as ‘privileged receivers’. Ex post conditionality
refers to the accountability of responsible and proactive conducts of such ‘resourceful
tenants’ towards their ‘vulnerable’ neighbours. This study revealed that tenants and
professionals have different priorities and expectations. For the tenants, the need of
(affordable) housing is the end, while for the professionals, housing is the means, in
tandem with tenants’ resources, to achieve higher welfare state goals such as social
cohesion and inclusion. This paper shows that such mismatch coupled with the
influence of contextual factors and challenges, such as the state of maintenance of the
built environment and legitimacy of institutional actors, contributes to explain different
outcomes in terms of efficacy of conditionality as a means to achieve greater tenants’
The paper is structured as follows. The next section provides a theoretical
framework of the main traits of post-welfare states including a focus on the concepts of
responsibilisation and conditionality in social housing as well as on social mix and role
modelling. Following this, a comparative framework discusses the link between welfare
and housing systems in Italy and the Netherlands. The research design section discusses
the methodology, including a description of case studies. We highlight and discuss our
empirical findings before providing a discussion and conclusion, including general
implications of our findings, in the last section.
Responsibilisation of social housing tenants and conditionality in post welfare
Across Western Europe, welfare states are increasingly relying on specific rationalities -
labelled as ‘positive welfare’ (Giddens, 1998), ‘enabling welfare’ (Gilbert, 2002), ‘new
welfare’ (Taylor-Gooby, 2008) - that link the access to services and benefits to the
active and responsible behaviour of citizens (Flint, 2003; Giddens, 1994; 1998; Peeters,
2013; Taylor-Gooby, 2002; Hoggett et al., 2013; Rose, 1999).
Responsibilisation as a governmental strategy encourages citizens to do more for
themselves, for their lives and for their communities, ultimately contributing to broader
policy ambitions (Malpass, 2008; Peeters, 2013). The idea of individuals as
‘entrepreneurs of the self’ emblematically describes the conditions of individuals
constantly pushed to rely on personal efforts and to develop personal abilities to create
one’s own means for consumption (Flint, 2006). With different labels, such as
‘governance at a distance’ (Rose, 2001), ‘meta-governance’ (Nederhand et al., 2016),
‘governmentality’ (Foucault, 2007), ‘ethopower’ (Rose, 2001), ‘ethical self-
government’ (Cowan & Marsh, 2004), ‘contractual governance’ (Crawford, 2003), new
governance strategies point to the need of shaping citizens’ conducts according to
uncontested values, universal beliefs, and prescribed codes of living (Rose, 2001). To
do so, new governance strategies operate through the construction or realignment of
subjects’ identities (Flint, 2003), through the establishment of agreements to regulate
social life, or by prescribing appropriate norms, values and behaviours, i.e. ‘citizenship
agendas’, for particular subjects (Koster, 2015). Common to all these approaches is the
turn to (contractual) communities as ‘the touchstone of good governance’. Community
is conceptualised as both the social territory (e.g. the neighbourhood) and the
mechanism through which subjects’ self-conduct is shaped (Cowan & Marsh, 2004;
Also in the social housing field, tenants are increasingly portrayed as
autonomous, empowered and responsible individuals rather than passive welfare
recipients (Flint, 2003). Within this particular context, three foci on the notion of
responsibility will be studied in this paper: responsibility as agency, responsibility to
community, and responsibility as self-regulation (Flint, 2004). These foci all assume
responsibility beyond the maintenance of individual tenancy. The first focus (agency)
envisages tenants as empowered agents, capable of contributing to the goals of the
housing organization. To this scope, intensive regulatory roles and responsibilities for
housing managers may be required to develop structures, framework and boundaries
within which tenants exercise self-regulation serving housing agencies’ goal of
governing through the conduct of their tenants. The second focus, responsibility to
community, assumes a re-definition of tenants’ identities: from consumers with a focus
on their rights, typical of the 1980s and early 1990s, to citizens with a focus on their
duties and moral obligations deriving from being members of local communities. This
shift implies a widening of responsibilities beyond the self-regulation of individual
tenancies to include the self-regulation of their own behaviours in line with norms and
values that are not detrimental to the communities they belong to. Similar to the
previous case, specific roles are attributed to social housing agencies in developing
strategies beyond their core tasks. In the third conceptualization of responsibility, as
self-regulation, responsibilisation means increasing tenants’ role in the wider processes
of housing management, including stimulating the participation of other tenants
(Priemus et al., 1999). While fostering opportunities for tenant engagement is usually
considered as desirable behavioural conduct (somewhat an end in itself), in the new
governance of social housing promoting such opportunities is seen as a means to co-opt
responsible tenants within wider governance structures and processes.
A conceptual distinction exists between attributing causal responsibility to one’s
own action (ex post accountability) and designating responsibility as ex-ante virtue for
the prevention or resolution of undesirable events (King, 2006; Peeters, 2013). Some
forms of social housing governance seem to emphasise the second interpretation of this
concept. In a similar vein, such conceptual distinction stresses another differentiation
between obligations within tenancy agreements (e.g. timely rent payments), and
desirability, meaning a moral exhortation of tenants expressed through policy
discourses or housing management techniques (Flint, 2004). Again, it seems that the
latest politics of behaviour in housing seems to stress the latter over the former. While
obligations and punitive measures undertaken by housing managers to sanction
inappropriate behaviours have always existed within tenancy agreements, and continue
to exist, rewarding mechanisms that incite tenants to assume positive conducts are
increasingly assuming a central role within several forms of new governance in social
Similar to responsibility, the notion of conditionality has affected several
developments in welfare policy and housing over the last two decades, especially in the
UK (Dwyer, 2004; Haworth & Manzi, 1999). Quoting Deacon (1994), Dwyer affirms
that ‘a principle of conditionality holds that eligibility to certain basic, publicly
provided, welfare entitlements should be dependent on an individual first agreeing to
meet particular compulsory duties or patterns of behaviour’ (2004, p. 269). Following
Deacon (2004), the theoretical justifications for conditionality in welfare fall into three
main categories: contractualist, paternalistic, and mutualist. While contractualist
positions claim that ‘it is reasonable to use welfare to enforce obligations where this is
part of a broader contract between government and claimants’ (Deacon 2004, p. 915),
paternalistic positions view the exercise of authority, direction and surveillance on
welfare dependents as essential, assuming that they lack of agency and self-control over
their lives. The mutualist explanation for conditionality assumes that individuals hold
commitments and responsibilities towards each other regardless from the claims they
made upon governments. Mutualism differs from contractualism as it tends to
emphasise duties to each other and responsibilities, which are not necessarily related to
‘a bargain between individuals and governments’ (Sacks, 1997). The main difference
between contractualist and paternalist arguments is the reciprocity element (Deacon,
2004). While reciprocity is absent in the paternalist argument, in the contractualist
argument beneficiaries (are expected to) meet certain requirements because they
acknowledge that the government is also doing something for them.
Claims for greater tenants responsibilisation are embedded in government and
non-state actor strategies to tackle anti-social behaviours, such as nuisance, vandalism,
and crime (Manzi, 2010). During the 1990s and early 2000s, social mix strategies on the
neighbourhood level were implemented in several EU countries, often in the framework
of urban renewal policies with predominantly physical measures, such as demolition
and rebuilding (Costarelli et al., 2019). These strategies attempted to discourage anti-
social behaviours and provide more opportunities for social integration between socially
diverse residents, in particular middle-class and low-income households. The ideal of
mixed communities partly rests on the assumed positive role model function of higher-
income households or homeowners for social housing tenants concerning attitudes
towards their home, living environment, collective action, and employment status. The
presumed underpinning mechanisms are distant or proximal role modelling. In distant
role modelling, behavioural change occurs by observing ‘proper’ behaviour from a
distance. In proximal role modelling, changes derive from direct social interaction with
another individual, and the related transfer of ‘proper’ behaviour (Graves, 2011). The
role model assumption as a justification for the mixed community policy is largely
based on the neighbourhood effects theory first developed in the USA (Wilson, 1987)
which has been subject to substantial critique (see e.g. Kleinhans, 2004).
Parallel to the ending of large scale, state-driven urban regeneration programmes
in several Western EU countries, such as the Netherlands (Uyterlinde et al., 2017),
attempts to stimulate responsible self-conduct of social housing tenants are increasingly
embedded in different frames. In both Italy and the Netherlands, several social housing
organisations are implementing social mix at smaller spatial scales, i.e. single estates or
blocks rather than at neighbourhood level. On this scale, interactions between
socioeconomically diverse residents is regulated through social infrastructures designed
by housing practitioners (Costarelli et al., 2019). An example of such social
infrastructure is the self-management of housing-related services implemented in a
mixed housing project in Amsterdam, wherein Dutch tenants are made (more)
responsible for supporting the process of social integration of status-holders (Costarelli
et al., 2020). In the UK, social landlords have introduced contractual-based mechanisms
and arrangements regulating social housing tenures as to increase tenants’
responsibilisation, to help tenants to meet their obligations and form positive
relationships within the community, including tenant reward schemes, ‘sensitive letting
policy’ (regulating access to housing on the basis of tenants’ potential contribution
toward the community), or ‘letting committees’ where tenants and housing staff jointly
seek to govern the conduct of others in the name of such communities (see Flint, 2003;
2004; Flint & Nixon, 2006, Hunter, 2001).
This paper is guided by the following research question: how is the concept of
conditionality as a means to achieve greater tenants’ responsibilisation shaping recent
approaches to the allocation and management of social housing in Italy and in the
Netherlands? The next section will briefly unpack the relationships between housing
and welfare before diving into a description of the current configuration of such
relationship in the two research contexts, Italy and the Netherlands.
Comparative housing research used to rely on the classification of welfare regimes into
social democratic, corporatist and liberal, operated by Esping Andersen in the 1990s
(Malpass, 2008). In this classification, Italian and Dutch welfare systems have been
defined as atypical situations in successive discussions (Arbaci, 2007; Borghi & van
Berkel, 2007; Hoekstra, 2003). Italy, initially part of the conservative-corporatist model,
has later been clustered into the Southern-European or Mediterranean model of welfare,
while The Netherlands has been considered a cross-over between social-democratic and
conservative models. These countries present different degrees of state involvement in
publicly subsided housing provision (social or public housing) as part of broader
welfare arrangements (Malpass, 2008). In Italy, such involvement is notably residual,
representing only 5% of the total housing stock, while in the Netherlands the
government exercises an indirect but consistent influence in the provision of social
housing, which amounts to 30% of the total housing stock.
In their comparative paper, Borghi & van Berkel (2007) argued that Italy and the
Netherlands experienced remarkable welfare state transformation processes over the last
two decades, heading them towards an ‘active welfare state’ through similar principles
of new governance: decentralization, empowering of municipalities, and increasing
involvement of local non-state actors and civil society. Crucial differences include
fragmentation and regional differentiation, lack of central regulation in Italy and
dilemmas about too much or too little central government involvement in Dutch social
policies (see also De Leonardis, 2011; Tonkens, 2011). In both countries,
conditionality-based mechanisms have already been introduced in welfare policies and
social benefits schemes against poverty and unemployment (D’Emilione, 2018; Leone,
2016; Veldboer et al., 2015).
The presence of both similar principles of new governance and large differences
in terms of contexts makes a comparison between the two countries very interesting.
Therefore, we now provide a deeper description of the relationship between housing and
new welfare state in each national context.
After the 1970s, welfare services provision in Italy was arranged through a ‘welfare
mix’ model. Specific strategies to promote activation of recipients and participation in
local governance were introduced based on the principles of vertical and horizontal
subsidiarity. The first relates to the downscaling towards the local levels of governance
(decentralization), the second refers to the boosting of self-organisation of civil society
(De Leonardis, 2011). As an outcome of vertical subsidiarity, the ‘territorialization’ of
welfare (Andreotti et al., 2012; Bifulco, 2016) produced different regional welfare
models across Italy. Duties, responsibilities and legislative autonomy in the field of
housing and other social policies were transferred from the central State to Regions and
Municipalities, despite a persisting strong centralization of economic resources.
Horizontal subsidiarity brought about an increasing co-operation between public (state),
private institutions (market) and civil society (including third sector actors such as
foundations, voluntary associations, and cooperatives) concerning public services
provision (Ferrera & Maino, 2012; Kazepov, 2008).
Post-crisis, austerity-driven reforms have exacerbated above mentioned trends,
especially in terms of greater involvement of non-public providers (e.g. the third sector)
and reliance on public-private partnerships to provide welfare services including
housing (Costa & Sabatinelli, 2011). Within this context, a specific type of welfare mix
model, known as ‘community welfare’, is emerging. Following Ponzo (2015), some of
its main elements are:
(1) the combination of different actors and logics (i.e. state, market, community,
and households), who establish cooperative relationships with each other;
(2) the shifting role of citizens: from consumers/users to providers/stakeholders
of the organisations to whom they refer for specific public services;
(3) the framing of local community as both producer and receiver of welfare
(4) the high degree of reliance on resources provided by and available in each
In this context, the Region Lombardy stood out as ‘the most extreme neo-liberal version
of the re-organisation of welfare’ (De Leonardis, 2011, p. 131). There, a growing
number of community welfare practices and projects, run through partnerships between
the Municipalities and/or Third Sector organisations (in primis foundations)
, aim to
promote the activation of citizens’ individual resources and turn them into collective
assets for the community they live in, especially in disadvantaged public housing
neighbourhoods. As we will argue in the research design section, several community
welfare practices based on social mixing can be considered as a privileged arena to
observe emerging governance rationalities aimed to increase tenants’ responsibilisation
Essential to the traditional Dutch welfare state is the feeling that ‘the strong’ had to care
for ‘the weak’’ (Brandsen et al., 2011), which is also reflected in the Dutch expression
for welfare state: verzorgingsstaat (caring state) (ibidem). Recently, the government has
combined large budgetary cuts with crucial reforms in welfare and care provision,
claiming that the welfare state is becoming too expensive to maintain, and thus
requiring greater citizens’ involvement in the provision of care using their personal
networks. This is achieved by constructing a shared responsibility and mutual interest
among citizens to contribute to the ‘res publica’ as well as increasing solidarity with the
community. Following Peeters (2013), responsibilisation occurs ‘on government’s
terms’, that is by nudging the people to behave according to the state’s view of the
for instance by connecting policy ambitions to presumed individual interests, by
organising the opportunity structure in such a way that people are seemingly
spontaneously directed towards desirable behaviour […], or by proactively
“reaching out” to citizens who are at risk of showing undesirable behaviour (p.
In the white paper ‘Do-It-Yourself Democracy’, the Dutch government makes a case for
supporting citizens-led initiatives dealing with societal issues (Kleinhans, 2017).
Encouraging people to participate in society (known by the expression of ‘Participation
Society’) has become a real leit motiv, which is cross-cutting different domains.
Considering the long-term care and social assistance areas as examples, the government
has emphasized citizens’ own responsibility towards their families, communities and
their own well-being through the Social Support Acts 2007 and 2015. Citizens should
take up active involvement by being keen to voluntary support people around them ‘to
do things independently’, instead of relying on public support. Whenever possible,
social care and support with daily activities should be provided at home, informally,
without a professional framework. The provision of care takes the form of a social
relationship, and goes ‘beyond the usual care among members of the same household’
(Dijkhoff, 2014, p. 287). In the housing domain, the latest government revision of the
Housing Act (in 2015) introduced several limits to housing associations’ freedom to
develop non-landlord activities (NLAs), e.g. community development and urban
regeneration to improve liveability and social cohesion in neighbourhoods, besides a
stricter targeting of social rented dwellings to the most vulnerable households, including
those who leave care institutions as a consequence of the above mentioned reforms to
social welfare (Hoekstra, 2017). These reforms have to be seen as a step forward with
respect to the development of an active welfare state, which dates back to the 1990s (see
Borghi & van Berkel, 2007), and open questions regarding how housing associations
will continue to develop socially oriented aims/activities in a context of their restricted
tasks and room to move. The case study described in the next section will provide some
interesting observations in this regard.
Comparative research can focus on different levels of housing reality, i.e. outcomes,
mechanisms or contexts, along with distinct territorial scales (i.e. continents, regions,
cities, suburbs, estates etc.) (Lawson et al., 2010). This paper adopts a comparative
approach to achieve a deeper understanding of the variations in the mechanisms of
conditionality within tenants’ responsibilisation in two contexts characterised by
different structural societal features, in our case coinciding with welfare and housing
systems (Pickvance, 2001). Both in Italy and the Netherlands, city councils are assigned
responsibilities in deciding how to implement national policies at the local level
(decentralisation) (Borghi & van Berkel, 2007; Brandsen et al., 2011; Costa &
Sabatinelli, 2011; Dijkhoff, 2014). To account for such multiple levels we adopted a
three-stage procedure for case study selection.
In the first stage, we conceptualised conditionality and tenant responsibilisation
as examples of pivotal ideas within new welfare states (see theoretical framework) and
looked at their (potential) variations within countries adopting a ‘most different
systems’ approach (Przeworksi & Teune, 1970). Italy and the Netherlands were chosen
in light of their differences in relation to welfare and housing systems (see previous
section), which are indicative of different structural societal features (socio-economic
stratification; legal and socio-political institutions; socio-cultural norms). As for Italy,
we specifically focused to the Region Lombardy, where the re-organisation of welfare
was connoted by high levels of individual agency and strong promotion of responsible
citizenship compared to the national context (De Leonardis, 2011). The selection of
cities and practices (second and third stages) was based on a ‘most similar systems’
approach as we sought instances with most features in common linked to relevant
structural societal factors (Pickvance, 2001). Utrecht and Milan were selected as in both
cities the public/social housing sectors are extremely tight. This makes the competition
to access affordable housing opportunities stronger while, at the same time, increasing
the chances that local stakeholders will promote innovative practices to cope with the
provision of housing
. To select relevant practices as case studies, we carried out a
number of explorative face-to-face interviews with key local informants (i.e. policy-
makers, professionals, researchers) coupled with desk research to sort out two or more
housing projects satisfying the following conditions:
(1) Being recently developed and implemented
(2) Being embedded in the social/public housing sectors
(3) Addressing similar target groups, including welfare dependents
(4) Containing agreements in tenancy contracts to meet specific
duties/behaviours (i.e. conditionality, see Dwyer 2004).
This led us to select the projects Majella Wonen in Utrecht and Ospitalità Solidale in
Milan. These initiatives represent specific local-based practices within the social or
public housing sector, which are not part of any national or municipality-wide policy
yet. According to practitioners, these projects are experimental forms of social housing
characterized by ‘trial and error’ approach. In the following subsection, we will discuss
in detail the unique nature of such projects.
Description of case studies
The case studies examined in this paper, i.e. Majella Wonen in Utrecht (Figure 1) and
Ospitalità Solidale in Milan (Figure 2), present some unique features when compared to
traditional forms of social/public housing provision in the two national settings. In both
projects, a unique allocation mechanism extends beyond the regular allocation rules
which primarily considers objective indicators of applicants’ socio-economic status, i.e.
income, to include subjective characteristics of applicants, such as personal attitudes,
lifestyle, and individual preferences. Allocation is based on conditionality-mechanisms
that aim to select a specific and ‘desirable’ profile of social tenants within the existing
local housing demand. Another unique feature of these projects concerns the stronger
emphasis on the community dimension. Compared to regular social/public housing
provision, in both projects tenants are expected to actively engage in solidarity activities
towards the members of the housing estates and neighbourhood community.
The Dutch project Majella Wonen is promoted by housing association Portaal
and the social care organisation De Tussenvoorziening. It consists in 70 units in one
building which are equally allocated to self-selected ‘resourceful’ tenants (mainly young
workers and students) and ‘vulnerable’ tenants (e.g. former homeless, people with
mental disorders) who have left social care institutions as part of latest policy reforms.
The aim is to create a supportive environment for facilitating a ‘soft landing’ of such
vulnerable tenants. In return for housing at affordable rent (about 350 €/month),
resourceful tenants engage to spend 16 hours per month in social activities. In the
broader policy frame of ‘Participation Society’, wherein government exhorts citizens to
volunteer in societal issues, resourceful tenants can be considered ‘active citizens’
sharing the responsibility for supporting vulnerable tenants’ re-integration in society.
Community building indeed represents a strategy deployed by housing associations to
provide a supportive social infrastructure for vulnerable groups, thus fulfilling their
The Italian case study project, Ospitalità Solidale, is promoted by the housing
cooperative DAR=CASA, the association Arci Milano, the social cooperative Comunità
Progetto and the Municipality of Milan. Here, 24 housing units scattered across several
blocks within two deprived public housing neighbourhoods are allocated to
‘resourceful’ young people who benefit from affordable rent (about 350 €/month) in
return for a 10 hours per month commitment to volunteer in social activities with - and
for - sitting public housing tenants, i.e. large households with an immigrant background,
elderly (mainly single) people, and people with mental disorders. The aim of this project
is to boost social cohesion by promoting social ties and solidarity relationships between
tenants. The governance of this project reflects the welfare mix model discussed earlier
in this paper, both in its vertical and horizontal subsidiarity framing as well as in its
‘community welfare’ meaning. The project is promoted and implemented locally
through a partnership of multiple players: institutional actors (Municipality of Milan)
and third-sector organizations (housing cooperative and associations). The project
encompasses features of the ‘community welfare’ model wherein the role played by
(active) citizens, in this case young tenants, is not merely of consumers of housing
services, but rather also providers of welfare services for the local community which
resourceful tenants become part of.
Figure 1. Picture of Majella Wonen’s building, Utrecht. Source: Authors
Figure 2. Picture of Ospitalità Solidale’s building in Molise neighbourhood, Milan.
Methods and analysis
As part of a larger research project, from January 2017 to June 2018, 33 semi-structured
interviews were carried out. We interviewed 24 housing professionals (12 in Italy and
12 in the Netherlands) and 9 tenants from the Dutch case study (see Appendix 2). Due
to limited resources, it was not possible to involve tenants in the Italian case study,
which represents an imbalance in the sampling. However, such imbalance does not
represent an issue since the research aim of this study is to better understand how
specific conditionality-based forms of governance are shaping housing professionals’
promotion of greater tenants’ responsibilisation. The main - but not exclusive - focus is
indeed on housing professionals’ view rather than tenants. All respondents were reached
through a snowball approach. The interviews were aimed at collecting information
about aims, rationalities and outcomes of these projects, mainly from the perspective of
housing professionals. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and integrated with
personal notes from participant observation (held at the ‘Garden Activity’ and ‘Spring
party’ in Majella in May 2017), informal meetings with project coordinators (during site
visits) and content analysis of official reports, media coverage and survey for
application to Ospitalità Solidale (see Appendix 1).
Through Atlas.ti we analysed interview transcriptions using a deductive and
iterative approach. We started from Dwyer's (2004) definition of conditionality to look
for relevant compulsory duties and/or patterns of behaviours that tenants had to meet,
and coded them as ‘commitments’, ‘requirements’ and ‘expectations’. We focused on
one single target group, i.e. the ‘resourceful’ tenants, as their tenancies are explicitly
regulated by an underlying mechanism of conditionality. During this process, we also
added codes, like ‘motivation’, based on the frequency with which our respondents
mentioned it. Drawing on ex ante and ex post forms of responsibility (King, 2006;
Peeters, 2013), we accordingly subdivided the operating mechanisms of conditionality
in two chronological steps: before and after project’s start. We reframed these
mechanisms as ex ante and ex post conditionality, each corresponding to a specific
action, i.e. the selection of tenants and the accountability process, respectively.
Findings: unpacking conditionality
In this section, the mechanisms of conditionality are unfolded in two ways. First, as ex
ante conditionality, referring to the process of, and underlying premises for, tenants’
selection into the housing project. Second, as ex post conditionality, referring to the
strategies adopted by professionals to account for tenants’ efforts. At the core of both
conceptualizations of conditionality is tenants’ commitment to dedicate a fixed amount
of time to social events/activities, e.g. gathering in convivial moments such as meals in
little groups, participating in different activities in working groups such as gardening,
recycle workshops etc. Activities usually result from tenants’ suggestions and ideas
based on their own skills, interests and resources, but can also derive from an in-depth
exploration of needs in the wider neighbourhood, e.g. language classes for foreigners,
childcare, free food distribution for low-income populations etc., as the Milan case
Ex ante conditionality: the selection of resourceful tenants
The process of resourceful tenants’ selection allows housing professionals to explore
candidates’ motivation, verify if they hold the necessary requirements to join the
project, and make a preliminary assessment of resourceful tenants’ potential future
conduct (see Flint, 2003) and capacity to take up expected responsibilities. What makes
candidates eligible for both projects is a combination of objective and subjective
requirements, respectively candidates’ socio-economic characteristics like age and
income, and their social attitudes. In relation to the new welfare state rationalities,
which encourage citizens to use personal efforts and abilities to become ‘entrepreneurs
of the self’ (Flint, 2006), the subjective requirements are particularly important for our
discussion. Candidates’ personal attitudes are examined through questions like ‘why
[do] we need you in this project?’, ‘what are you going to do to have a positive
influence for the neighbourhood?, ‘what is the motivation that makes you interested in
this project?’ (Conversation with practitioner and Majella tenant, Interviews no. 13 and
23, Utrecht, April and June 2017) or ‘what are the skills that you think you can share
and make available to others? (Practitioner, Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018) ‘For
which types of social categories (e.g. elderly, children, youths) would your actions be
most useful?’ (Questions contained in the survey for application to Ospitalità Solidale,
authors’ translation). Respondents also reported that ‘one should be ready to put
him/herself into play. So [we] mostly look at the relational skills of the candidates [and]
the interest in the project’ (Practitioner, Interview no. 33, Milan, June 2018).
According to practitioners, desirable subjective requirements are those that
highlight applicants’ willingness to live side-by-side with more vulnerable people in a
diverse housing environment. In our respondents’ words: ‘we created a website and put
everything there so people can see: “I have to live there with homeless people” (…). If
you don’t want to live with them, you won’t [sign] yourself up for a house’
(Practitioner, Interview no. 22, Utrecht, June 2017). From a professionals’ viewpoint,
the desirable tenant profile holds ‘some skills to connect with others, and others who are
different from you because here you live with elderly, children…’ (Practitioner,
Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018).
From the tenants’ point of view, a closer look at candidates’ motivations allows
shedding light on the reasons that pushed them to apply for the project. Besides the need
of housing, which has unsurprisingly most commonly appeared in our content analysis,
we found the search of a personal fulfilment and aspiration to do volunteering ‘in [a]
easier and more approachable way’ (Tenant, Interview no. 27, Utrecht, June 2017) as
the most relevant incentive.
First [motivation] is certainly the house, then it is the interest to do something and
be helpful in a different way. Many guys told that they could have done
volunteering with an association but they prefer instead to ‘live it constantly’ (…)
something that you experience six months in a year or whatever your contract
lasts and not an activity that you do in any volunteering association but anytime
you like. It is something spontaneous and this is a motivation for today’s young
people. (Practitioner, Interview no. 33, Milan, June 2018)
For me it was actually an opportunity to do something good in your own
neighbourhood, which you, in your normal life, maybe don’t really have the time
implemented for. You really get to the point that you really do like voluntary
work or whatever [but] in this way it is very natural, it’s in your own
neighbourhood, you only have to knock the door on the other side of the staircase
sometimes…So that’s why I decided. (Tenant, Interview no. 24, Utrecht, June
The presence of a condition (meeting the commitment), envisages a specific type of
‘contractual communities’ (Cowan & Marsh, 2004) where expectations and
requirements come along with needs (Flint, 2015). In both projects, non-state actors,
like housing associations and other third sector professionals, look for people with
strong human and relational resources, who are supportive, cooperative, and open-
minded. In this sense, they are resourceful, as these features are functional to the
framing of a specific ‘citizenship agenda’ (Koster, 2015), which prescribes a clear role
model to be played by resourceful tenants to the benefit of vulnerable inhabitants of the
project or the neighbourhood. Role model mechanisms are typical of social mix
strategies but the way role models are defined in the examined initiatives is different
from its framing in most social mix literature (see Bolt et al., 2010; Bond et al., 2011;
Kleinhans, 2004). Instead of middle class homeowners with relatively higher economic
capital, role models in these projects are low-income youths with unstable housing and
job conditions but with high socio-cultural and human capital who are willing to share it
with their vulnerable neighbours (ex-homeless or sitting public housing tenants).
Put in this way, a distinctive form of social mix is promoted where residents’
diversity is not framed as a dichotomous socio-economic and tenure differentiation
(homeowners vs tenants; middle-class vs working-class; native vs immigrants). Our
respondents have explicitly mentioned skills and motivation denoting specific attitudes
and lifestyles. In this light, we can link such differentiation to Tasan-Kok and
colleagues’ definition of hyper-diversity as an ‘intense diversification of the population,
not only in socio-economic, social and ethnic terms, but also with respect to lifestyles,
attitudes and activities’ (2013, p. 12). Building on this definition, our case studies show
that, for several individuals, hyper-diversity assets (preferences, attitudes, skills etc.)
might be used to create one’s own means for (housing) consumption (see Flint, 2006).
Resourceful tenants may have greater chances to access such affordable housing
opportunities by mobilizing some hyper-diversity assets as part of their becoming
‘entrepreneurs of the self’ (Flint, 2006). In our view, a starting point to understand
better how personal features might turn into hyper-diversity assets is the candidates’
housing career, more specifically the stage prior to entering the projects. As our case
studies reported, most tenants had precarious living arrangements (temporary unsecure
rental contracts, anti-kraak in Dutch), or were young adults still living in parental
homes wishing to move in search of new job or study opportunity without possibility to
Ex-post conditionality: tenants’ accountability
Accountability here refers to the evaluation process of tenants’ commitment and how
this relates to expectations underlying the project objectives. While in both cases
accountability aims to increase tenants’ self-awareness of their own efforts, housing
professionals have implemented different accountability tools in the two case studies
because Dutch tenants have shown a stronger community-oriented attitude than Italian
peers. While Majella Wonen resembles a case of ‘governing through community’,
Ospitalità Solidale envisages a case of ‘realignment of governing roles and identities’
(Flint, 2004). We will explain this is more detail.
In Majella Wonen, parallel to ‘formal’ meetings between professionals and
tenants, ‘informal’ meetings are set out to allow all tenants talking in groups about
participation to scheduled activities. Interviewed tenants emblematically defined them
as ‘evaluation talks’ or ‘a wake-up call’ which function is to increase tenants’ awareness
about self-conduct and to nudge tenants to meet their obligations.
It’s not like telling people that they are doing something wrong, but more keeping
a mirror in front [of them], do you sincerely think that you are participating the
way that you made a promise? And do you realize how fortunate you are to be
able to be part of this group? Ultimately, it’s like [a] self-reflection [of] what
people are thinking: maybe I can do a little bit more. (Tenant, Interview no. 27
Utrecht, June 2017)
We talked indeed about motivation that has come from yourself and you have to
motivate others. And you have to ask your neighbours: what’s going on? How are
you feeling? (ibidem)
Informal meetings as an additional act of governance is functional to reinforce existing
norms (commitment) and increase social control through the network of peers
(community). As practitioners argued, ‘we put [the commitment] in a contract, but we
cannot really control, [so] we created a network of people (…) who also check if
someone is not doing so well or if someone is not doing enough for the community’
(Practitioner, Interview no. 22, Utrecht, June 2017). Community, intended as the
network of peers, works as a means to keep tenants motivated and as a regulatory
framework of behaviours (Flint, 2003).
What it should happen is that this environment will go into your DNA…You sign
up for it, so you put an effort. That effort should be inserted in your normal way
of life and, in that way, you can do the same for five or 10 years. That is
something to happen, to make it natural, not forcing and therefore every
neighbour [who] is not participating right now, has to be influenced in a positive
way and notice [that] it is fun and good to have activities with your neighbours. It
is good to be active in the garden. And they will come outside and are happy.
(Tenant, Interview no. 28, Utrecht, June 2017)
In Majella, the evidence suggest that the mechanism of conditionality is framed within a
broader strategy of responsibilisation to community (i.e. the tenants of the housing
project). According to such conceptualisation, tenants’ responsibility focuses on the
duties and moral obligations, which originate from their membership to communities
(see Flint, 2004). To be part of the Majella community entails specific prescriptions and
regulations stated in the ‘Majella Wonen household rules’ (see Appendix 1), which all
tenants of the project have to comply with. This framing of responsibility is explicitly
connected to current policy discourses on the Participation Society and relatively recent
configuration of welfare system (see Kleinhans, 2017; Peeters, 2013), revolving around
the ideal of community. One tenant reported that: ‘since 2015
everything is changing
and we are more focused on helping each other again and take care of your
neighbourhood, your family’ (Tenant, Interview no. 13, Utrecht, April 2017).
According to others:
It’s rather a development that we try as a society. Not only housing associations
but the government and the social institutions too. If there is some possibility that
people can live by themselves in the community, then that’s a better way. It’s a
movement (…) trying to facilitate people who can, with some support, live in the
society instead of putting them faraway in institutions. It’s not new, but it’s
developing more and more in this direction. (Practitioner, Interview no. 23,
Utrecht, June 2017)
In the Dutch case, tenants have clearly shown a strong desire and willingness to
take up the tasks envisaged by practitioners. In our respondents’ words: ‘the
tenants really want this. They want to live in a community (…), talk to each other,
do things together, so they are in search of this’ (Practitioner, Interview no. 23,
Utrecht, June 2017).
Switching to the Italian case, Ospitalità Solidale, the ‘realignment of
governing roles and identities’ is a consequence of the (unexpected) lack of
tenants’ self-regulation, which was the most desirable path according to housing
practitioners. As one practitioner argued, the main shift was from ‘an idea of self-
responsibilisation and self-organisation to a more contractual [approach]’
(Practitioner, Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018), which required organizations to
re-adapt their roles and ways of operating:
We [organisations] all expected a more spontaneous adhesion to the commitment
(…). We wouldn’t have played this role but it has been explicitly requested by
tenants. So we combine normative-oriented messages such as “everybody has to
come to the meeting” with a work on the individual motivation. Sometimes our
role is simply to push tenants to follow up the activities they suggested which
didn’t have much participation (Practitioner, Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018)
A more interventionist management approach consisted in introducing exceptional
normative tools to account for tenants’ efforts, such as the monthly self-registration of
performed tasks in online-shared calendars, reporting all scheduled activities. As one
respondent reported, the objective is to help making one’s contribution transparent to
others (and tenants themselves) and to strengthen this message: ‘whose burden is it? Is
it my responsibility to control that you performed the activity or is it your responsibility
to make time for it?’ (Practitioner, Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018). Another
strategy adopted by practitioners was to appoint one contact person for each activity to
be realised. He/she ‘is the promoter of the initiative whom I use to contact to get a
feedback about the activity…to know if it went well or wrong, who was there…’
(Practitioner, Interview no. 33, Milan, June 2018). Last but not least, practitioners
resorted to a reduction of tenancy length, from 2 to 1 year or even 6 or 3 months, which
can be extended prior positive assessment. ‘Previously we made 2-years contracts, now
we make mainly 6 months contracts. In this way, every 6 months we have a meeting to
evaluate the [individual] experience. Especially for less active tenants such extension
works as an assessment’ (Practitioner, Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018).
As the rationale underpinning the Majella project was associated to the broader
policy ambition to promote the Participation Society, likewise the rationale behind
Ospitalità Solidale is in line with the ‘community welfare’ ideal. Our respondents
defined Ospitalità Solidale as a community welfare project:
because it attempts to trigger something starting from citizens themselves (…) on
the one hand this project aims to create some resources to bring in the territory, on
the other hand, it does so in a participative way, by requiring the activation of
inhabitants and citizens. The latter are not passive actors rather they can express,
decide, take action themselves. (Practitioner, Interview no. 33, Milan, June 2018)
Within the broader frame of community welfare, the role of third sector organizations is
to create the proper conditions for all beneficiaries to be empowered. Selected
resourceful tenants are there to support organisations’ mission, namely boosting social
cohesion and solidarity ties within the targeted neighbourhoods, that was given by the
local City Council. The use of conditionality principle in this community welfare project
is then functional to sort out specific profiles of citizens that will be assigned additional
responsibilities in relation to organisations’ goal. In this sense, responsibilisation can be
conceptualized as agency, stressing tenants’ capacity to contribute to the aim of housing
organisation (Flint, 2004) and, indirectly, government’s aims. The lack of tenants’ self-
agency complicated this picture, suggesting that conditionality as a central component
of responsibilisation strategies within a community welfare approach brings about new
challenges and possible drawbacks. We will discuss some of these challenges in the next
Tenants’ responsibilisation through conditionality: making sense of contextual
factors and challenges
Recalling the different levels of housing reality, i.e. outcomes, mechanisms, contexts and
territorial scales (Lawson et al., 2010), we now discuss our research findings in a
comparative perspective. Despite similar premises in terms of conditionality (i.e. the
mechanism), the two projects have unfolded differently in terms of increasing tenants’
responsibilisation (outcomes). Dutch tenants have apparently showed a stronger
community-oriented vision of their expected conduct (Flint, 2003) than their Italian
peers, which facilitated their undertaking of greater responsibilisation. An Italian
practitioner said she:
hoped that they would have easily become a group that was able to do full-
planning [but], after the kick-off phase, [we] realized that this was not a group
(…) it was more complicated because the reasons that aggregate people were a bit
fuzzy: there was a strong need of housing and a general attitude to realise
activities for a neighbourhood that was unknown to everyone, including us
(Practitioner, Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018).
The point raised by practitioners seems to concern the process of consolidation of the
tenants as a cohesive group around a shared goal, as well as the imbalance between two
key elements of the project: needs (housing) and requirements (commitment) (see Flint,
2015), in favour of the former.
A potential explanation of such diverging outcome could be related to the
territorial scale at which the projects are realised (i.e. estates and neighbourhood). In
fact, the territorial boundaries define the mixed community, i.e. the locus of community,
which in turn determine the span of project activities promoted by resourceful tenants in
the frame of conditionality.
A more sophisticated interpretation of the different outcomes between the two
cases lies in the different social mixing strategies. While in Majella resourceful and
vulnerable tenants are mixed at door-to-door level, in Ospitalità Solidale practitioners
adopted a scattered social mixing approach: ‘filling’ empty dwellings in
neighbourhoods’ estates depending on their availability rather than a precise allocation
strategy that tries to maximize proximity between different target groups, as it
intentionally occurred in Majella. In line with the social mixing strategies adopted,
Dutch practitioners tend to stimulate social contacts and activities at the estate level
(though not limited to this level), while Italian practitioners ‘do not tie to a single estate,
but try to do something for the entire neighbourhood (...). There are one-to-one
relationships in the building but most activities are neighbourhood-oriented (…) to do
something more for it…in that sense the community’ (Practitioner, Interview no. 33,
Milan, June 2018). For Dutch practitioners ‘the emphasis is first getting your
community [referring to Majella Wonen tenants] right (…), [as] you get that working
well (…) you know how to educate the people around them [the neighborhood]’
(Practitioner, Interview no. 22, Utrecht, June 2017).
While the different locus of mixed community is one of the contextual factors
influencing social interaction opportunities between resourceful and vulnerable tenants,
we have detected a further challenge that complicated the fulfilment of project aims in
the Italian case study. This concerns the problematic social and physical environment of
the neighbourhoods. As argued by an Italian practitioner:
When we arrived here, we found part of the population, the elderly, feeling a state
of abandonment by the institutions, with legitimate needs regarding the
management of the built environment (fixing intercoms, pavements etc.) (…)
They told us: “What should you be doing?” Are you from the Municipality? What
are you going to propose us if here everything is abandoned? (Practitioner,
Interview no. 32, Milan, June 2018)
While issues such as the state of physical maintenance of social/public dwellings and
legitimacy of local institutions have not emerged as issues in our interviews with Dutch
respondents, we can assume that these elements contributed to explain the divergent
outcomes and functioning of conditionality in the two case studies. These elements
involve the concept of reciprocity as a key element in contractualist forms of welfare
conditionality (see theoretical framework). In such a ‘bargain’, citizens, state and non-
state actors all have specific duties to each other. If one of the parties does not meet the
expectations, the outcome might be disparate. In Dwyer’s words: ‘people are essentially
“Homo reciprocans” (i.e. co-operative beings willing to accept that it is legitimate that
they be asked to make certain contributions, provided others do likewise)’ (2004, p.
Discussion and conclusions
This paper comparatively examined how conditionality-based mechanisms were used to
increase tenants’ responsibilisation in small-scale social/public housing projects, namely
Ospitalità Solidale in Milan (Italy) and Majella Wonen in Utrecht (The Netherlands).
These projects are characterized by a fine-grained mix between young people (students
or workers), called ‘resourceful tenants’, and socially disadvantaged people (welfare
dependents and sitting public housing tenants), called ‘vulnerable tenants’. The paper
particularly revealed how the concepts of conditionality and responsibilisation are
mutually linked: the first has been introduced as part of the mechanisms regulating both
allocation and management of tenancies with the ultimate goal of increasing tenants’
The paper moves beyond the evidence base of UK-based studies, which largely
dominate this strand of literature (Flint, 2002; 2003; 2004; 2006; 2015; Flint & Nixon,
2006; Haworth & Manzi, 1999; King, 2006; Manzi, 2010) to include Italy and the
Netherlands. Despite limitations regarding the ‘outsider’ nature of examined projects,
meaning that they cannot be representative of the whole social/public housing systems,
we found explicit connections between the promotion of such governance principles and
the latest developments of welfare discourses at national level, i.e. the Participation
Society in the Netherlands, and regional-level, i.e. community welfare in the Italian
In both cases, increasing tenants’ responsibilisation through conditionality
belongs to specific citizenship agendas (Koster, 2015) promoted by state and non-state
actors (either housing associations or third sector organizations), which are centred
around a peculiar form of social mix strategy. In this strategy, a ‘positive role model’ is
played by tenants endowing the ability and willingness to mobilize personal resources
(skills, attitudes) for the benefit of specific subgroups of (vulnerable) neighbours, as a
precondition to be eligible for joining the project. Playing a role model also means
undertaking specific obligations (e.g. organising and participating in social activities),
which derive from conditionality.
This paper contributes by introducing the idea of ‘privileged receivers’ of social
housing, referring to a pool of young candidates rich in human and social capital who
are allowed to access affordable housing earlier than other active house seekers. Access
to examined social housing projects is based on the assessment of tenants’ personal
attitudes (ex ante conditionality) while the maintenance of the social dwelling depends
on tenants’ compliance with undertaken obligations to commit in supportive actions.
The accountability of tenants efforts (ex post conditionality) indicates the extent to
which resourceful tenants do - or do not - make their human and social capital available
to the rest of the housing community. This means that the inclusion of ‘suitable’ and
‘active’ tenants involves the exclusion of other housing seekers with a similar, or
potentially more urgent, housing need, but lacking of necessary requirements and
willingness to participate in social activities. In this sense, the conditionality–based
approach in these projects does not reflect universalistic principles upon which several
housing and welfare systems used to be based on, especially in the Netherlands. A shift
in welfare state paradigm, from need-based benefits to welfare conditionality, is likely
to have major implications in terms of social justice – which is defined here as the
distribution of benefits and burdens in society (Elster, 1992). Being bounded to
individuals’ own personality and requirements of self-activation, this kind of social
housing provision prioritizes subjective characteristics over objective assessments of
individuals’ needs, resulting in less universal and equal opportunities, as well as being
highly dependent on practitioners’ discretionary power in deciding on whom to allocate
the dwellings to.
Connected to the idea of ‘privileged receivers’, i.e. applicants’ endowing high
human and social capital, is the risk of exacerbating inequalities along new lines, i.e.
‘resourcefulness’. The latter represents an asset that can make the difference in easing or
hampering young applicants’ chances to access scarce social housing opportunities.
Future research could shed more light on the making of relational and human capital
needed to access these social housing initiatives. Understanding how young people were
able to develop those social attitudes that allowed them to benefit from examined social
housing opportunities would be helpful to shed more light on the roles played by both
public and private institutions, e.g. schools, community centres, volunteering
associations, in distributing crucial opportunities to form such capital, thus explaining
such patterns of inequality along resourcefulness.
Concerning the accountability of tenants’ efforts, with respect to other
responsibilisation strategies (see Flint, 2002; 2003; 2004) more pressing and binding
demands are made on tenants who have to combine housing as the site of public
engagement and as their own private space (home). Organisations exploit tenants’
resources and energies by assigning them additional responsibilities beyond basic
dwelling maintenance to sustain the social infrastructure of these projects. In this sense,
future research could address the accountability of tenants’ efforts by assessing whether
an excessive pressure on tenants as the new welfare state agents potentially risks
resulting in a burnout of people’s energies and resources that are necessary to sustain the
projects on the long-term. Paradoxical effects could also originate from the benchmark
used to account for tenants’ efforts, i.e. 10 and 16 hours per month, which might offer a
misleading portrayal since the time spent on one activity is not necessary commensurate
to the social value or impact of such activity. Although conditionality helps to greater
circumscribing of individual conduct, it also becomes a source of ambiguities in relation
to the accountability of tenant participation (Flint, 2004). In our cases, tensions might
arise from tenants’ attributing different values to performed activities and engagement
exactly because of fuzzy benchmarks, possibly resulting in disappointment towards
fellow neighbours. In this sense, the element of reciprocity, which characterises the
contractual claim of conditionality, should be considered from two perspectives:
between individuals and governments (Deacon, 2004; Dwyer, 2004), but also between
individuals themselves, in our cases tenants. While this paper has mainly focused on
accountability as the evaluation process of tenants’ efforts in relation to professionals’
expectations and tools, future research could focus on the perceptions and opinions of
tenants regarding the commitment and efforts made by the other resourceful tenants
within the housing project. This would be important to understand whether the use of
fuzzy benchmarks to mark out individual participation is likely to spread a feeling of
‘perceived unfairness’ among the most active members of the housing project.
This paper is the result of the visiting research programme of Igor Costarelli at OTB
Department, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of
Technology (The Netherlands) from February to September 2017, which has been
cofounded by the grant Erasmus+ for Traineeship for the academic year 2016/2017. The
authors are grateful to the anonymous reviewers who provided constructive comments
and suggestions to improve earlier version of this manuscript. Our thanks go also to all
professionals and tenants who were willing to be interviewed.
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Appendix 1: List of relevant material consulted
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Dar=Casa website. Available at: http://www.darcasa.org/portfolio/ospitalita-solidale-2/
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Website Majella Wonen. Available at: http://www.majellawonen.nl/ (accessed: 1 June
Survey for candidates to Ospitalità Solidale. Available at:
http://www.arcimilano.it/ospitalitasolidale/ (accessed: 6 August 2018).
Internal report of performed activities in 2017 within the Ospitalità Solidale project
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Majella Wonen household rules. Available at: https://majellawonen.nl/wp-
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Appendix 2: List of respondents
Role of interviewees
ALER Milano (Public
Housing Department -
City Council Milan
Housing department -
City Council Milan
Policy officer representative
Aedes – Federation of
Dutch social housing
Department of welfare
and social housing -
Senior policy officer and
Woonbond (Dutch tenant
Social manager (sociaal
City Council Utrecht
As an example, since the introduction of the ‘Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act’
in 1998, public housing authorities in the United States require residents who are not
exempt to perform eight hours of community service activities per month or participate in a
self-sufficiency program for at least eight hours every month.
As an example, we can cite here the ‘Community Welfare and Social Innovation’ (Authors’
translation) programme, launched by Fondazione Cariplo that is one of the main
foundations in Lombardy involved in the welfare service provision as part of the local
‘welfare mix’ model in the Region. This programme aims to promote innovative welfare
practices based on citizens’ participation, and appealing to a communitarian dimension by
targeting specific subgroups and territories.
As an example, in Utrecht applicants for social housing dwellings can wait up to 7 years until
they get an accommodation. In Milan, the city which holds the largest public housing stock
(around 10% compared to 5% at national level), more than 20 000 applicants are on the
Here the respondent is in all likelihood referring to the set of welfare reforms issued in 2015,
that includes the Social Support Act but also the Housing Act.