The role of social housing an international perspective
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The Role of Social Housing: An International Perspective. Presentation for Firm Analytical Foundations: Scottish Government 22/4/08 Professor Mark Stephens. Firm Foundations. Firm Foundations paints bleak picture of Scottish social rented sector: Decline:

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The Role of Social Housing: An International Perspective

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The Role of Social Housing:An International Perspective

Presentation for Firm Analytical Foundations:

Scottish Government 22/4/08

Professor Mark Stephens

Firm Foundations

  • Firm Foundations paints bleak picture of Scottish social rented sector:

    • Decline:

      • Predicts continued growth of owner occupation

    • Social composition changed from

      • typical of society in 1981

      • now disproportionately workless, elderly, sick, single

      • concentration of srs in deprived areas

    • But talks of its “reinvigoration”:

      • Wider range of suppliers (inc. private)

      • Wider range of “products” (mid mkt rent)

      • Discharge some homeless duties through prs

      • Physical and neighbourhood quality/ mix

12 country review:

Size/ trends in srs





Income mixing

Excluded households


International Evidence

Roles of Social Rented Housing

  • Supply function:

    • to meet housing shortages

  • Affordability function:

    • improve quantity and quality of housing consumed for a given income

  • Safety net function:

    • prevent homelessness among those unable to access housing through the market

Size of Social Rented Sector

There is always national demand for Social Housing: its decline is a matter of policy

Use of Private Landlordsas Social Landlords

  • Germany:

    • Historic system of defining “social” housing by receipt of subsidy

    •  time-limited social housing provided by private landlords

  • USA:

    • Private landlords whose properties are approved can receive rent-reducing subsidies that are attached to the property (i.e. they continue when the tenants leaves).

    • There are also portable voucher-like subsidies that can be used in the prs, but they end when the tenant leaves.


  • Almost always income (and other) limits

    • But % population varies greatly

  • Various groups often excluded:

    • Rent arrears, anti-social behaviour, criminal convictions

  • Where programmes tightly prescribed (US) eligibility virtually determines allocation


  • Matter most when eligibility drawn broadly:

    • Most systems work with a combination of ‘need’ and chronology

    • LA nominations a frequent feature

    • British legally enforceable right to housing (homelessness) unique

  • Outcomes (who actually housed) vary greatly:

    • ‘need’: English speaking countries

    • ‘affordability’: Europe – but how does this work?

Use of Sub-Sectors for Excluded Households

  • Sub-sectors:

    • Lower rents and quality

    • Less security

    • Additional conditions

  • Examples:

    • Swedish “secondary” housing

    • French “very social” sector

    • Czech “holobyt” system

    • Hungarian “emergency” units

    • Polish “social” housing

International Typology of Role of Social Rented Housing

Very Poor and with Special Needs

(USA, Canada, Australia)

Very Poor

(UK: 50% national average income)

Below average incomes, but exclude very poor and most vulnerable

(France, Denmark, Sweden: 70% national average income)

Role of SRS relates to Social/ Economic Context

  • Safety net role where high levels of poverty/ inequality:

    • Most effective when combined with large srs let on basis of need.

    • “Ambulance” role where high levels of poverty/ inequality + weak welfare state + small srs.

  • Affordability function:

    • Associated with countries with less poverty/ inequality

    • But poorest in these systems often actively excluded

What does this imply for Scotland?

  • Do we look at the “problem” from the wrong end of the telescope?

    • Profile of social tenants a product of high levels of poverty (+ demography)

    • + a strong housing policy

  •  solution is not to abandon srs

Relevance to Firm Foundations

  • For social mix:

    • Providers are a secondary issue except

      • where alternative landlords used to disperse poor.

    • Mid-market rent: implies trade-off, but justified if benefits to poor through neighbourhood externalities?

Evidence Gaps

  • We do not know the economic value of housing to its occupants; nor how this is distributed.

  • We do not know the economic value of subsidies of housing and its distribution.

  • Need property values in all tenures in SHCS.

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