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Housing Vulnerable Groups: The Development of a New Public Action Sector


  • Claire Levy-Vroelant


The emphasis placed on the issue of housing for vulnerable groups in both policy discourses and the analyses carried out by researchers might seem obvious given the worsening imbalance between supply and demand, and segregation concerns in Europe and the United States. Academic research has produced numerous analyses, and there has been an increasing number of policy papers and commissioned reports as a result of the growing level of housing insecurity and, more recently, the financial crisis and the relatively unsuccessful tendency of governments to stimulate and monitor the markets. The recent report 'Housing policy and vulnerable groups' (2008) commissioned by the Council of Europe is one emblematic example. This paper, focusing on Europe, attempts to understand what is revealed by the trivialisation of the concept of vulnerable group and how it reorganises the 'social paradigm'. The designation of vulnerable groups in relation to social risk - with emphasis placed on the targeting of these groups - as well as the attention to the distribution of vulnerable groups in urban space through the concept of social mix, have brought new actors to, and revised principles in the field of public policy. Policies are re-configured by means of a new division of tasks between assistance and assurance. This paper begins by revisiting the concept of vulnerability and the ways in which it is used in the housing policy sector. We then propose a re-examination of the welfare state, and the imprecise frontiers between policies dedicated to rule housing, and policies aimed to ensure social protection. In summarising the social effects of policies targeting vulnerable groups, we identify the significance of a number of developments: the arrival of new civil society actors in the field of housing; the increasingly litigiousness (judiciarisation) of society and the placing of the 'vulnerable' in competition with one another; the extension of the realm of housing, through European financing and intra-national redistribution, into both social activities and urban reframing. The intention is to show what appears to be a renewed interest in a policy of assistance aimed at rectifying inequalities generated by liberal governance of the market. Doing so, as we will show, policies contribute to the fragmenting of the 'object housing' itself.

Suggested Citation

  • Claire Levy-Vroelant, 2010. "Housing Vulnerable Groups: The Development of a New Public Action Sector," International Journal of Housing Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(4), pages 443-456.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:intjhp:v:10:y:2010:i:4:p:443-456
    DOI: 10.1080/14616718.2010.525051

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