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The de-financialization of housing: towards a
To cite this article: Gertjan Wijburg (2020): The de-financialization of housing: towards a research
agenda, Housing Studies, DOI: 10.1080/02673037.2020.1762847
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The de-financialization of housing: towards a
Department of Human Geography and Planning, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
Housing financialization, or the increased dominance of financial
markets in the housing sector, has not stopped in the wake of
the crisis. Rather, it has reinforced and rescaled itself, expanding
into new market segments and urban territories. However, while
academic scholarship has convincingly exposed the reconfigur-
ation of financialization processes, it has paid surprisingly little
attention to how these processes are also contested from within
society and the economy. In response to this gap in the literature,
I propose in this contribution a threefold research agenda, calling
out for more research on (i) financial market reforms aimed at dis-
mantling finance-led housing accumulation; (ii) policy focused on
strengthening the public and affordable housing sector; and (iii)
changing modes of urban governance and ‘anti-political’social
movements which can contest housing financialization locally.
Taking into account these three fields of inquiry, I invite housing
scholars to explore how –and if –de-financializing tendencies can
become ecologically dominant in post-crisis urban hous-
Received 19 September 2019
Accepted 26 April 2020
policy; affordable housing
Financialization, here defined as the ‘increasing dominance of financial actors, mar-
kets, practices, measurements and narratives at various scales’(Aalbers, 2016), has
become a leading concept for understanding major changes in contemporary urban
housing markets. Whether with regard to the advent of mortgaged (and sometimes
securitized) homeownership (Fernandez and Aalbers, 2016), the rise of institutional
corporate landlords in the private rental sector (August and Walks, 2018; Charles,
2019), the (transnational) investment practices of ‘super-rich’or middle-class invest-
ors (Fernandez et al., 2016; Rogers et al., 2015), the development practices by
‘financialized’private property developers (Brill and Conte, 2020; Nethercote, 2020),
or the rather aggressive expansion of housing finance to emerging markets in the
CONTACT Gertjan Wijburg email@example.com Department of Human Geography and Planning, Utrecht
University, Princetonlaan 8a, 3584 CB Utrecht, the Netherlands
ß2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives
License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Global South (Rolnik, 2019; Soederberg, 2015), financialization scholarship has dem-
onstrated that urban housing systems have profoundly changed in recent decades.
(Housing) financialization is sometimes criticized for being an amorphous concept
(Christophers, 2015). However, the fact that it can be used as a shorthand for describ-
ing different kinds of financial practices occurring in and across various housing sys-
tems is also a major advantage for empirical research (Aalbers, 2015). Jacobs and
Manzi (2019) see its utility in particular when it is applied alongside other era-defin-
ing concepts. In doing so, they recognize globalization as the ‘landscape which
enabled financialisation practices to take hold; neoliberalism as …an ideological jus-
tification for the extension of financial practices; and privatisation, marketisation and
commodification as manifestations of the forms that financialised housing markets
have taken’( Jacobs and Manzi 2019, p. 14).
Yet while there is ample evidence of continued housing financialization in the
post-crisis urban landscape (Aveline-Dubach, 2020; Waldron, 2018), the de-financiali-
zation of housing remains a surprisingly under-studied research topic. This is a short-
coming because financialization can be operationalized as capital’s transformative
search for spatial-temporal fixes at times when more productive investments in the
‘real’economy are absent (Harvey, 1982; Van der Zwan, 2014). Following this logic,
it can be hypothesized that after periods of prolonged housing financialization, hous-
ing markets may ‘normalize’again as more durable outlets for capital investment pre-
sent themselves (Aalbers, 2016; Perez, 2003). Furthermore, while considering that
‘complete commodification [of housing] will destroy it or make it unusable’(Streeck,
2014: 51), it can be expected that a variety of public and private actors may contest
housing financialization in attempt to protect the relative stability and social repro-
duction of national-urban economies (cf. Polanyi, 1944).
How, then, can we think of the crisis of financialized housing and what can be
done against it? In 2018, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations published a
report on the financialization of housing, holding national governments, financial
institutions and local authorities accountable for dire housing conditions across the
world. Recognizing the right to adequate housing as a universal human right, the
report proposed the following policy recommendations:
1. Develop new initiatives in order to bridge the worlds of corporate and govern-
ment finance, housing planning and human rights;
2. Enable States and local governments to introduce a full range of taxation, regula-
tory and planning measures in order to re-establish housing as a social good;
3. Ensure that Trade and Investment Treaties recognize the paramountcy of human
rights, and fully empower States to regulate private investment;
4. Develop business and human rights guidelines on a priority basis, and specifically
for financial actors operating in the housing system;
5. Review all laws and policies related to foreclosure, indebtedness and housing, to
ensure consistency with the right to adequate housing;
6. Ensure that courts, tribunals and human rights institutions interpret and apply
domestic laws and policies related to housing and housing finance with the right
to adequate housing;
2 G. WIJBURG
7. Devote more attention to the issue of financialization and clarify the obligations
of States in relation to the financialization of housing.
The UN report provides a very important starting point for a research agenda on
the de-financialization of housing, and not in the least because it adopts a human
rights framework. In those countries where financialization has ‘colonialised cities by
provoking dispossession and homelessness’(Rolnik, 2019), such a socio-legal perspec-
tive may provide an indispensable framework for altering housing financialization in
its multiple disguises.
However, although the UN report is very clear regarding its policy recommenda-
tions, it remains rather vague regarding the critical role that academic research can
play in rethinking urban housing markets. What avenues for de-financialization
research can be identified? How can housing inequalities and house price unafford-
ability be controlled or hampered? And what critical forms of national-urban politics
can be forged to provide more sustainable forms of urban living?
In this contribution, I address such questions by presenting a threefold research
agenda on the de-financialization of housing, calling out for more research on (i)
financial market reforms aimed at dismantling finance-led housing accumulation; (ii)
policy focused on strengthening the public and affordable housing sector; and (iii)
changing modes of urban governance and ‘anti-political’social movements which can
contest housing financialization locally. Although research in these three fields of
inquiry is not non-existent, it is not always labeled under the term of de-financializa-
tion. Framing it as such may however enable scholars ‘to see connections between
apparently discrete developments’(Fairbairn, 2015, p. 212) and help to develop a
common research framework for analyzing various processes and practices contesting
I continue this contribution by discussing these three themes of housing research.
My aim is however to emphasize that financial market reforms, housing policies and
local housing initiatives are mutually connected and reinforcing. As for that, de-finan-
cialization research can focus either on in-depth analysis of one of these research
themes or explore the breadth of them by studying the unevenly developed geo-insti-
tutional landscapes in which de-financializing practices are becoming potentially
‘world forming’(Di Feliciantonio & O’Callaghan, 2020). In conceptual terms, de-
financialization research can also help to identify related processes of de-marketiza-
tion and de-commodification (cf. Jacobs and Manzi, 2019), opening up the ‘black
box’of finance and economic relations (Ouma, 2015) and exploring how alternative
housing economies may look like.
This research agenda was written before the global covid-19 outbreak.
Nevertheless, the anticipated economic downturn, as well as its expected effects
on global housing markets, only justify the call for de-financialization research.
Like during any crisis, “creative destruction”destructs. Yet the current situation
also provides opportunity to improve housing conditions if the political will is
there. Given that policy responses can reshape housing futures for decades to
come, the study of progressive housing change has now become more urgent
HOUSING STUDIES 3
Theme 1: Financial market reforms aimed at dismantling finance-led
Ultimately, the financialization of housing finds its roots within a broader finance-led
regime of accumulation in which liberalized financial markets and neoliberal housing
policies have reinforced house price cycles (Aalbers, 2016), resulting in periodic
booms and busts and unprecedented house price volatility (Waldron, 2018). Ryan-
Collins (2019: 18) has referred to this feedback cycle as a housing-finance cycle,
involving ‘an elastic supply of credit and finance flowing into an inherently scarce,
fixed and irreproducible asset –land (or desirable location) –with inevitable infla-
Seen from this perspective, it can be deducted that de-financialization is in the first
place about deleveraging the debt-fueled housing economy and undermining finance-
led housing accumulation. There is however a lack of understanding on how econo-
mies can be deleveraged. Cerutti et al.(2017) have shown how ‘macroprudential poli-
cies’following the crisis have already restrained the credit supply with certain
mortgage restrictions and other preventive measures. Turner (2017) has suggested
that intensifying capital and liquidity requirements across the entire banking system
could provide further housing finance stability. Yet the current low-interest rate
environment has once again triggered a global real estate boom as borrowing costs
have significantly reduced following quantitative easing by Central Banks (Braun,
2016). How, then, can credit and finance be restrained further, without necessarily
undermining the promise of homeownership or problematizing ‘invested’households
with considerable mortgage debt?
Related to this, research should also be concerned with identifying sustainable
banking models for the post-crisis urban landscape (Van Loon, 2016). Hardie and
Howarth (2013), for example, have presented evidence that more patient and long-
term oriented ‘stakeholder banks’have performed better during the crisis than mar-
ket-based, commercial investment banks. Likewise, Mazzucato and Penna (2016) have
examined the potential contribution of state investment banks and other public banks
to stabilizing the (capital-intensive) housing sector. However, how such banking mod-
els can be implemented within different institutional environments, how it affects
existing funding mechanisms, the allocation of credit and its refinancing, and how
‘credit guidance’can be reintroduced in macro-economic policy (Bezemer et al.,
2018), remain open questions.
Particular caution should also be paid to the potentially risk-reducing role of
financial innovations. Some research from the mid-2000s has highlighted that deriva-
tive markets could potentially stabilize housing markets by mitigating the risks of
mortgage lending (see for an analysis: Smith et al., 2009). Yet the derivative crisis
that followed showed that what appeared to be stabilizing at first, proved to be dis-
ruptive later when these financial innovations were used wrongly, or if at all (Ibid).
Housing financialization not only occurs through mortgages, but also through the
acquisition of housing portfolios by a variety of financial market actors (Beswick
et al., 2016). Following the 1980s and 1990s, listed real estate companies have become
largely exempt from corporate taxation providing that they create or maximize share-
holder value (Janoschka et al., 2020; Waldron, 2018). These companies, if not
4 G. WIJBURG
internally motivated, are under enormous external pressure to increase their shares’
net worth through speculative and debt-fueled investments (Botzem and Dobusch,
2017), thereby strongly contributing to the making of urban real estate booms.
What can be done against it and how can this trend be reverted? Turner (2017)
has hinted that additional capital market regulations could be considered to alter
such short-term oriented investment practices. Similarly, Fernandez and Aalbers
(2016) have implied that by imposing investment and capital requirements on the
production or ownership of real estate (cf. Lawson et al., 2019; Ryan-Collins, 2019),
or by reregulating taxation and dividend payments (cf. Tapp and Kay, 2019), control
over real estate markets can be reinvented. In the past, tax allowances and financial
incentives were not necessarily used to facilitate profits and the flow of capital; they
were used to constrain or circumscribe financial activity and to encourage corporate
responsibility (Harloe, 1995). How, then, can changes in the tax code and other regu-
latory changes alter prospects of profit maximization without necessarily undermining
the (long-term) investment horizons of investment companies?
Important in this regard is also to look at the specific ways in which financial mar-
ket actors and private holding structures make use of offshore finance and financial
arbitrage (Botzem and Dobusch, 2017). Some of the largest asset managers and insti-
tutional investors, Blackstone for example, are notorious for minimizing taxation and
maximizing profits through offshore channels (Tapp and Kay, 2019). In practice,
such corporations operate beyond control of federal or national state regulations and
optimize their profits by bypassing or exploiting local (housing) laws (Botzem
and Dobusch, 2017). Dismantling the shadow banking system, as Hendrikse and
Fernandez (2019) propose, is therefore another crucial step towards de-financializing
With a new patrimonial class of financial corporations, economic elites and private
investors profiting fully from house price developments and lower interest rates
(Fernandez et al., 2016), the uneven distribution of (housing) wealth should also be
considered a major challenge for de-financialization scholarship (Sassen, 2014).
Politically speaking, raising taxes on global corporations or ‘super-rich’individuals
may however run into the political barriers of global finance (Tapp and Kay, 2019).
Henry’s George’s(1879)‘land value tax’is therefore another policy measure gaining
popularity among progressive economists and housing scholars. By leaving economic-
ally produced profits relatively untouched (Ryan-Collins, 2019), but by taxing the
unproductive gains on land or real estate appraisal, an alternative for redistributing
housing wealth and undermining excessive rent appropriation could be considered
In Singapore, for instance, a property sale tax on properties sold within three years
was already implemented in 1996, enabling the government to use these revenues to
fund social housing production or the subsidization of home ownership for lower
income groups (Phang and Helbe, 2016). Similar initiatives have been launched in
countries as varied as China, Germany, Canada and Malaysia ( Heywood and
Heckett, 2013)—with state’s like Austria, China, the Philippines, Thailand and
Vietnam also known for taxing foreign investments in housing (United Nations,
2017, p. 19). Indeed, such interventions can contribute to curb speculative investment
HOUSING STUDIES 5
patterns if they are applied particularly in ‘overheated’housing market segments and
levied mostly on properties bought and sold over very short periods of time
(Heywood and Hackett, 2013, pp. 15 and 16). However, because it is not always clear
for tax authorities how to value transactions, and accordingly, how to tax resold
properties (Ibid), they also need to be monitored very carefully.
Theme 2: transforming the public and affordable housing sector and
promoting alternative housing models
Reforming the housing-finance nexus not only requires financial market restructur-
ing; it requires what Bourdieu (2000), reminiscing Max Weber, has called a
‘bureaucratic revolution.’This brings us to the second point of investigation: trans-
forming the public and affordable housing sector progressively and introducing alter-
native housing models.
Historically, European and (to a lesser extent) North American states have pro-
vided considerable monetary support to the public and affordable housing sector
(Harloe, 1995). A public debt crisis however marked the progressive decline of such
supply-side subsidies as national governments began introducing demand-side subsi-
dies for private home ownership and private markets (Ronald et al., 2017). According
to Jacobs and Manzi (2017, p. 29), policymakers considered this shift in housing poli-
cies a ‘necessary, albeit undesirable’measure to temporarily reduce public housing
It is ironic, then, that in most OECD-countries public expenditure to the overall
housing sector has never really diminished. Wijburg (2019), for instance, has calcu-
lated that the present amount of French demand-side subsidies to tenants in the pri-
vate sector and homeowners exceeds the historical number of supply-side subsidies to
social housing. Not only does this show that the gravity in housing policies has
shifted drastically (and perhaps unjustly) from social housing to owner-occupied or
private rental housing (Aalbers, 2016); it also implicates that the State is partially
responsible for the decline of historical housing affordability and debt-fueled house
price bubbles (Holm et al., 2015). In response to that, renewed state commitment to
the affordable housing sector has become a major discussion point in a variety of
European countries (Pittini et al., 2017). In Australia, Lawson et al.(2019) have also
demonstrated that upfront public equity investment provides the most cost-efficient
pathway for providing social [or affordable] housing when efficient financing is being
applied. But how can such a revival of public housing interventions be legitimated
within a socio-political system dominated by the ideology of private home ownership
and public-private partnerships? And how can states and local authorities take back
Needless to say, a reconstitution of the post-war ‘common interest’housing model
can only work when rents in the rental market are controlled again (Fields and Uffer,
2016). At present, rents in the private rental sector of various English speaking coun-
tries but also many other European states and Japan are skyrocketing (Forrest and
Hirayama, 2015; Ronald et al., 2017), making it almost impossible to control rental
price developments within the existing housing stock (Hochstenbach and Ronald,
6 G. WIJBURG
2020). Stronger regulations regarding rental liberalization, i.e. the conversion of (for-
mer) subsidized public or private rental homes to market-rates (Beswick et al., 2016),
require more research attention as well. In some countries, experiments with rental
caps and other tax incentives for lower income housing have already been imple-
mented (Deschermeier et al., 2016; Wijburg, 2019). How, then, can rental regulations
hamper housing financialization and restore historical house price affordability? And
what boundary conditions can be implemented so that investors cannot exploit these
rental schemes for private purposes?
Theoretically, housing research should also focus more broadly on the socio-eco-
nomic imperatives and capitalist logics for creating and establishing affordable hous-
ing arrangements. Harloe (1995) theorized that the production of affordable and
social housing is functional to capitalism in the sense that it provides cheap housing
for working classes or middle-income groups. During the late nineteenth century, for
example, States and factions of capital provided support to the affordable housing
sector with the intention of housing the ‘dangerous classes’in yet urbanizing and
industrializing areas (Kohl, 2017). After the Second World War, public and affordable
housing became a cornerstone of post-war democratic capitalism and Fordist-
Keynesian urban politics (Aalbers, 2016). At present, such an institutional comprom-
ise seems to be absent, even though institutional investors are rediscovering public
and affordable housing as a relatively low yielding but secure investment asset
(Wainwright and Manville, 2017), providing acceptable returns and potential benefits
for society at large (Tang et al., 2017). Whether this renewed interest will however
result in a revival of genuinely affordable housing, needs to be explored further, par-
ticularly in relation to shifting state-capital compromises (see Table 1 for
Interestingly, Bourdieu (2000) has deconstructed that the sometimes romanticized
post-war housing model was, after all, a bourgeois invention too. Although rents were
subsidized and kept affordable (Ibid), development companies and their financial
intermediaries still adopted a profitable business model by acquiring cheap land,
applying advantages of scale and optimizing their supply-side subsidies in refined
ways (Wijburg, 2019). Moreover, restoring public housing is not necessarily about
keeping finance out. Rather, it is about embedding finance within a broader social
market economy where its secular tendency towards profit maximizationis regulated
and controlled (Streeck, 2014). Reintroducing tax incentives to build public housing
(Jacobs and Manzi, 2017), could be a crucial first step in this regard. Holm et al.
(2015) have for instance calculated that a re-introduction of the post-war ‘common
interest principle’in Germany could still be accompanied by appropriate investment
returns of around four per cent. However, present experiments with intermediate
housing and affordable rents at 80% of market value must be watched carefully as
they may change the income accessibility of subsidized housing (Haffner and Hulse,
2019), and also the security of housing tenure (Wijburg and Waldron, 2020).
As regards to more progressive housing reforms, alternative housing models
should also be considered by de-financialization research. Self-managed co-housing
has sometimes been perceived as a potential answer to crisis-tendencies. Indeed, as
Tummers (2016: 2024) demonstrates, self-managed co-housing (particularly in
HOUSING STUDIES 7
Table 1. Historical imperatives for affordable housing production.
economic imperative Normative imperative
Mechanisms and policy
Nineteenth century Inexpensive housing
for workers in
Low-cost housing so
that industrial profits
could be reinvested
Housing and civilizing
and haute finance
for their workers;
Twentieth century Affordable housing for
workers and lower
Moderate housing costs
so that wages would
be spent for
and middle classes
in the Keynesian-
Fordist economy of
The State and its para-
public bodies and
urban partners and
and rent controls;
Twenty-first century(?) Subsidized housing for
workers and an
A spatial fix for
by creating stable
cash flow; reducing
(with states still
funding); land value
taxes or neo-chartalist
8 G. WIJBURG
Germany) can be perceived as a model for ‘wider housing provision that aims for
sustainable and inclusive development.’Scanlon and Arrigoita (2015) have made simi-
lar observations with regard to co-housing in the United Kingdom. Indeed, such
alternative housing models may not immediately become a rival of more established
tenure forms. Yet, in the very same way as for instance late nineteenth-century hous-
ing experiments became institutionalized in the 1950s and 1960s (Kohl, 2017), these
new housing forms may become more mainstream at a later stage of capitalist
Theme 3: Alternative modes of urban governance and ‘anti-political’
At the local scale, cities and their urban partners have contributed strongly to the
financialization of their urban territories (Peck and Whiteside, 2016). Nevertheless,
cities can be characterized as polymorph societies in which political and economic
elites strive to adopt different (and at times antagonistic) modes of urban governance
es, 2011). That is to say, while some bodies of the city government may pro-
mote financialized urban growth (Peck and Whiteside, 2016), others may promote
affordable housing needs (Fainstein, 2012), resulting in variegation and the co-evolu-
tion of different housing practices (Fernandez and Aalbers, 2016).
Against that backdrop, Wijburg (2020) has identified that even in financializing
cities some counter-pressures against housing financialization have emerged. On the
one hand, cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Vienna and even London
have in recent years sought to tackle unprecedented house price increases, for
instance by setting affordable housing targets, introducing imperative planning regu-
lations, imposing penalties on private landlordism, or introducing ‘buying back’pro-
grams of privatized housing companies (Booth, 2016; De Weerdt and Garcia, 2016;
Hochstenbach and Ronald, 2020; Lepelletier, 2017; Vollmer and Kadi, 2018). On the
other hand, cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver –
but also S~
ao Paulo and Bogot
a in the Global South (Santoro, 2019) - have introduced
different kinds of tax incentives, inclusionary zoning laws and density bonuses in
order to promote the production of affordable housing (Hyde, 2018; Rosenman, 2019;
Stein, 2018; Weber, 2015). In more progressive cities, the production of affordable
homes tends to be legitimated as a democratic right (Wijburg, 2020), whereas in
more liberal cities affordable housing is considered an economic necessity to provide
sufficient living forms for workers (Sassen, 2014). In any one of them, however, such
policy interventions are still implemented in a neoliberal housing context (Stein,
2018), making it hard to contribute to serious housing change—and in some cases
even contributing to what Rosenman (2019) paradoxically calls the ’financialization of
The myriad ways in which cities have responded to the crisis of financialized hous-
ing reflect the uneven development of local planning capacities and urban strategies
(see Table 2 for a stylistic overview). However, whereas cities are generally exposed to
the same mechanisms of financial globalization and liberalization (Peck and
Whiteside, 2016), their underlying housing challenges have become increasingly the
HOUSING STUDIES 9
Table 2. the post-crisis governance of affordable housing in a select group of (otherwise financializing) cities.
housing responses Logics and rationale Overall strategy Preferred partners Risks and challenges City examples
Democratizing the urban
built environment by
on secondary homes
or wealthy property
Restrained profitability due to
high land prices and
high (public) costs for land
reclamation; reliance on
national housing market
negotiations with real
and Ronald, 2020);
Barcelona (De Weerdt
and Garcia, 2016); Berlin
and Vienna (Vollmer and
Kadi, 2018); Paris
London (Booth, 2016)
Stabilizing the urban
economy by ‘giving
density bonuses and
Recommodification of the
social housing sector;
reliance on private market
autonomy of real estate
developers; fiscal budget
crisis and austerity at the
a and S~
(Santoro, 2019); Chicago
(Weber, 2015); New York
(Stein, 2018); San
2019); Vancouver and
Toronto (Hyde, 2018)
10 G. WIJBURG
same. As for that, changing modes of urban governance in both Northern and
Southern contexts require more research attention. How can the financialization of
urban space and housing be contested? How can progressive urban politics challenge
neoliberal urbanism from within and outside? To what extent can de-financializing
housing initiatives become ‘world forming’? And what can cities from different stat-
ure and geographical background learn from each other?
In addressing these questions, de-financialization research should bear in mind
that many local initiatives may also be challenged by neoliberal hegemony (Jessop,
2007). For example, evidence from European cities has shown that municipal experi-
ments with land-use designations may not necessarily boost affordable housing pro-
duction as affordability requirements may further undermine already tightened
profit margins of public and private developers (Buitelaar and Bregman, 2016).
Similarly, in North American cities, the introduction of value capturing instruments
and density bonuses may create potential benefits, but also risk that social welfare
becomes subordinated to private logics (Hyde, 2018; Rosenman, 2019). The contra-
dictions of financialized urban governance, therefore, limit local urban planning
capacities of cities, as well as the relative impact of urban interventions themselves
(Peck and Whiteside, 2016). Wetzstein (2019) has nevertheless shown that cities
which maintain a non-market housing supply fare much better when it comes to
finding sustainable housing solutions than cities which stimulate market-led housing
developments. Likewise, Tapp (2019) has reconstructed how affordable housing tax
credits and other financial infrastructures may not yield their potential benefits but
rather suit broader purposes of financial profit-making when the urban status quo
Overcoming such barriers, further research should also explore how urban housing
reforms could be addressed within broader processes of state restructuring (Aalbers,
2016). In Germany, for example, the federal government introduced in 2015 a system
of rental caps which can be applied locally (Deschermeier et al., 2016). Even though
these laws were introduced at the federal level, the lobbying of cities like Berlin has
certainly helped (Holm et al., 2015). Urban housing initiatives can also find support
at the European or international scale (De Weerdt and Garcia, 2016). For example,
the European Investment Bank has recently introduced an Affordable Housing
Guarantee Scheme to co-finance affordable housing production in various European
cities or regions (Lawson, 2013). Efforts by the United Nations (2017) to create a glo-
bal human rights framework for local housing struggles may also inspire new multi-
scalar housing policies.
There is also ample evidence of how social movements and urban alliances have
stepped up to contest financializing pressures on urban housing markets (Fields,
2017). Beveridge and Koch (2019: 2-3) have theorized that such ‘anti-political’move-
ments paradoxically react to the ‘transformation of the state under austerity’while
simultaneously seek to ‘reconstitute the local state as a democratic project of urban
politics.’In Spain, Garc
ıa-Lamarca (2017) has developed a similar interpretative
framework, emphasizing the emancipatory effects of insurgent practices, including
recuperating empty bank-owned houses with and for evicted families. In Ireland,
O’Callaghan et al.(2018) have demonstrated how grassroot movements have
HOUSING STUDIES 11
contributed with relative success to introducing alternative social projects and models
of variegated housing. Ryan-Collins (2019) discusses how land community trusts can
be reconsidered as quasi-public vehicles of progressive housing policy. Indeed, how
such local housing initiatives can become more mainstream and help to shape and
reshape financializing housing markets ‘from the ground up’(Ward and
Swyngedouw, 2018), is a question which certainly deserves more research attention.
Related to this, socio-legal counseling and social resistance should also be explored
as a viable strategy for altering ongoing housing financializaton. For instance, Teresa
(2015: 465) has shown how large-scale evictions in New York triggered tenant activ-
ism and policy ‘to engage [in] legal–financial practices to redefine the tenant–landlord
relationship’and to better defend the right to adequate housing. Indeed, as Fields
(2017) has demonstrated, housing rights are not always lived up to, and not in the
least because tenants are not well organized in interest groups: a weakness which
landlords occasionally exploit. Moreover, developing a human rights framework,
largely in line with the UN report (2017), may not only help to provide more univer-
sal protection of tenant and household rights; it may also help to organize law-based
collective action against malicious or semi-legal housing activities of private landlords
and large corporations (Garc
It would be naïve to believe that de-financializing pressures in the post-crisis urban
landscape can radically change urban housing markets without much resistance of
neoliberal hegemony. Indeed, if such pressure will become ‘world forming’(Di
Feliciantonio and O’Callaghan, 2020), we will not per se experience a revival of
affordable housing as we one knew it under the post-war settlements. Rather, we can
expect to observe a highly variegated housing system, in which already financialized
tenures will co-exist and compete with more progressive, and partially debt-free or
‘alternative’tenures (Wijburg, 2020).
Nevertheless, the call for de-financialization research is a serious one, even though
housing financialization has reconstituted and rescaled itself in the wake of the crisis.
Ultimately, excessive housing financialization undermines the social reproduction of
national-urban economies and destroys urban housing systems, and the communities
living within them (cf. Polanyi, 1944). Therefore, as I have proposed in this contribu-
tion, academic scholarship should devote more research attention to three major
fields of inquiry, namely (i) financial reforms; (ii) policies strengthening public and
affordable housing, and (iii) alternative modes of urban governance or local initiative
(see Table 3 for an overview).
A few important considerations have hitherto not been mentioned in this contri-
bution. On the one hand, many of the potential reforms discussed here implicitly or
explicitly require political action at various scales (Fields, 2017). However, it cannot
be disregarded that to gain more support for de-financializing housing practices, the
political tide needs to turn as well. At present, populist movements or world leaders
focus specifically on ‘nationalist’narratives, migrant issues and borders (Hendrikse,
2019); but where is the political attention for dismantling finance-led housing
12 G. WIJBURG
accumulation and promoting genuinely affordable housing? Developing such political
narratives, also to help forging new social blocs and political movements (Ibid), could
be an indispensable contribution of de-financialization scholarship. Not only does the
issue of financialized housing need to be addressed as a social issue of ‘equity
inequity’(Arundel, 2017); it can also be framed as an economic issue of boosting
aggregate demand and economic growth, genuinely strengthening the relative position
of workforces and middle classes in society: ’Make Homes Affordable Again’.
Another consideration is of a more terminological nature. Like financialization
itself (Van der Zwan, 2014), de-financialization is a concept which can best be
defined alongside other concepts (cf. Jacobs and Manzi, 2019). Some scholars would
nevertheless emphasize that de-financialization entails a fundamental shift towards a
Table 3. Major research themes of housing de-financialization.
Research questions Examples
Financial market reforms
aimed at dismantling
How can credit and finance be restrained
without undermining ‘invested’or
What sustainable banking models can be
identified and implemented?
What capital market reforms can be
implemented to impose restrictions on
the creation of shareholder value and real
How can the offshore shadow banking
system be dismantled?
How can the production of housing
wealth be evenly distributed through
(land) value taxation?
Hardie and Howarth (2013)
Tapp and Kay (2019)
Hendrikse and Fernandez
Reforming the public and
affordable housing sector
and introducing alternative
How can a renewed State commitment to
the affordable housing sector generally
How can a supply-side approach be
introduced within a socio-political system
dominated by the ideology of
How can rental regulations help to
hamper housing financialization?
What socio-economic imperatives can be
identified and mobilized for the
production of affordable housing?
What alternative housing tenures can
become ecologically dominant in time
Lawson et al. (2019)
Holm et al. (2015)
Deschermeier et al. (2016)
Scanlon and Arrigoita (2015)
Alternative modes of urban
governance and ‘anti-
How can progressive urban politics
challenge the financialization of housing
locally, as well as neoliberal hegemony?
What can (de)financializing cities of
different stature and geographical
background learn from each other?
How can local housing issues be
addressed within broader processes of
How can urban social movements shape
and reshape urban housing markets from
the ground up?
How can law-based collective action
protect tenants and households against
the semi-legal housing activities of
landlords or corporations?
Beveridge and Koch (2019)
De Weerdt and Garcia
O’Callaghan et al. (2018)
United Nations (2017)
HOUSING STUDIES 13
wage-led economy fundamentally backed by technological innovations in which
finance becomes once again a ‘modest helper’of the real economy (Perez, 2003;
Sweezy, 1994). Such theories however presuppose that the finance’s permanently rest-
less nature and appetite for higher profits can be stilled or restricted (Streeck, 2014),
whereas more critical theories on finance believe the contrary (Ibid). From this fol-
lows the contradiction that de-financialization can both refer to the re-embedding of
finance in a more regulated form, or to the negation of any form of finance. Finding
a way out of this contradiction is not only a matter of opening up the “black box”of
financial relations (Ouma, 2015). Rather, it is about taking an explicit position in the
debate on financial capitalism that scholars can only do for themselves.
Finally, the economic downturn associated with the global covid-19 outbreak also
deserves urgent research attention. Inasmuch as the expected global recession may
deepen the existing crisis of financialized housing (Aalbers, 2020), it may also provide
a way out. Experiments with basic income and economic stimulus, albeit to save cap-
italism, reveal also the capacity of governments to protect the (housing) economy and
struggling households. How and if such interventions can be scaled up, and whether
they can be used to provide twenty-first century-like welfare arrangements, is a ques-
tion which housing scholars should seriously consider in the years to come.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
Gertjan Wijburg is Assistant Professor in Real Estate and Urban Planning at Utrecht
University's Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning. He received his PhD in
Geography from KU Leuven and was visiting scholar at Goethe University Frankfurt and
Sciences Po de Paris.
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