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Housing in the Welfare State: Rethinking the Conceptual Foundations of Comparative Housing Policy Analysis

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  • Tony Fahey
  • Michelle Norris

Abstract

Many scholars interpret the contraction in social housing and the expansion of home ownership as reflections of a reduced role for the state and an increase in the marketisation of housing. This paper challenges this interpretation by pointing to two weaknesses in its conceptual underpinnings. One is its failure to distinguish between housing as capital (traded in the purchase market for dwellings) and housing as a service (traded in the rental market for accommodation), leading to an underestimate of the extent and diversity of continuing state intervention in housing. The other problem is a narrow focus on the balance between market and state which neglects the role of self-provisioning in the household as a form of production. The alternative view proposed here is, first, that forms of state intervention in the markets for housing capital and services are so diverse and complex that a more comprehensive analysis is needed before conclusions on trends in the state's overall role can be reached, and, second, that while home ownership reflects a dominant role for the market in the distribution of housing capital, it reflects a familialisation of housing services -- it enables households to self-provision themselves with accommodation and thereby remove this service from the realm of both market exchange and state provision. The paper also suggests that the welfare benefit of home ownership lies not only in its widely recognised social insurance effect but also in the efficiency and cost-reduction effects which self-provisioning of housing provides.

Suggested Citation

  • Tony Fahey & Michelle Norris, 2011. "Housing in the Welfare State: Rethinking the Conceptual Foundations of Comparative Housing Policy Analysis," International Journal of Housing Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(4), pages 439-452, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:intjhp:v:11:y:2011:i:4:p:439-452 DOI: 10.1080/14616718.2011.626606
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