Housing As a Social Right or Means to Wealth? Policy Ideas and the Re-Emergence of the Housing Question

Thursday, July 13, 2017
John McIntyre - Teaching Room 208 (University of Glasgow)
Dorothee Bohle , European University Institute
Leonard Seabrooke , Politics, Copenhagen Business School
The global financial crisis has ushered in a major housing crisis in many European countries: severe shortage of affordable housing, high rates of housing deprivation, massive evictions and increase in homelessness are the symptoms of the re-emergence of the “housing question” (Engels 1872). To a large extent, the current housing crisis reveals the failure of past policies, which saw the solution to affordable housing in privatization of housing, securitization of mortgages and “financial inclusion” of poorer people via the relaxation of borrowing standards, and subsidization of “subprime” lending. Why is it that despite the massive crisis we do not see a more radical questioning of the policies that have caused it, and how do policy makers get away with tinkering with the old policies rather than devising new ones that would tackle the housing question? To answer this question, the paper traces housing policy paradigms before and after the crisis in four countries – Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark. The paper argues that – albeit to different degrees - housing has become so embroiled in financial markets that it has ceased to be considered a social right. As a consequence, policy ideas and expertise are mostly focused on the question of how to deal with issues related to housing as an asset - over-indebtedness, underwater mortgages and negative equity, and much less with how to provide affordable housing independently of financial markets.