Financialization and questioning of social housing in France and in Europe

Jean-Pierre TROCHE, 2012

Collection Passerelle

At a time when housing crises and social precariousness are developing on a large scale and more and more people are having difficulty accessing housing (or to remain in it), the liberal orientations advocated by many European States and by the European Commission seriously call into question the historical social function of social housing. At the same time, they contribute, in many different contexts, to increasing the difficulties encountered by households, by reducing both the number of available housing units (privatization, reduction of supply) and the number of people likely to have access to them (eligibility criteria).

Social housing developed in many European countries with the industrial revolution to remedy the unhealthy housing conditions of the working class and to accompany the development of wage employment. The legal forms, the mode of financing and the management of access to housing vary greatly according to national contexts. Social housing represents 35 percent of the total stock in the Netherlands, about 20 percent in Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, about 17 percent in France and Finland, and much lower proportions in Germany (6 percent) and in Southern Europe: less than 5 percent in Italy and less than 1 percent in Spain and Greece.

The work carried out by CECODHAS1 (see the work of Laurent Ghekière) distinguishes 3 conceptions of social housing in Europe :

  1. a «  universal  » conception which aims to allow all households to find housing, both through a supply of housing complementary to that present on the market and, above all, through regulation of the entire housing market. This is the model that has prevailed in the Netherlands in particular. In this context, the supply of social housing has a regulatory function for the entire housing market, since access to housing is not subject to a ceiling of resources but to allocation systems that take priorities into account.

  2. In the case of the « generalist » conception, but with a relatively broad social targeting, social housing is intended for households with limited resources. The supply of social housing thus contributes, through the scale of public intervention, to the overall level of housing supply, and thus to the diversity of the territories. This is the model that prevails in France in particular (and in Great Britain before the Thatcher era)

  3. A « residual » concept with a very social focus. The prevailing rationale is not to influence the housing market to make it accessible, but to meet a social demand limited to the most disadvantaged households, with a view to inclusion and social treatment of the households concerned.

It is this residual conception of social housing that is now pushing the European Commission to question, within the framework of the application of the service directive}}3, the Dutch model ; similar conceptions are motivating the reforms currently being implemented by certain European countries.

In France, without being openly declared, it is in this perspective that a certain number of reforms implemented in recent years should be analyzed: withdrawal of the State from the financing of social housing, attack on the Livret A, sale of low-rent housing, refocusing of allocations on very social demand, reform of the statutes (reinforcement of the power of shareholders in the governance of low-rent housing companies and reduction in the number of organizations in a logic of financialization of their operation).

Social housing is therefore at a crossroads, in France and in Europe; its historical model is often called into question, with a significant risk of seeing the emergence of neoliberal solutions that will not be able to provide the necessary responses to the current crises and that aim to call into question the right to housing at the territorial level.

Many of the articles in this dossier not only shed light on the current debate from the point of view of defending the current system in the face of the attacks on it, but also from the point of view of seeking new responses, including in the private sector.

It will be necessary to draw on the lessons to be learned from the European examples for the development of social housing, in the perspective of a service of general interest, guaranteeing the implementation of the right to housing for all.

1 The European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing

2 Typology presented in Ghekière, Laurent, «  The development of social housing in the European Union ", Recherches et Prévisions, n°94, December 2008, pp. 21-34.

3 The European Commission is asking the Dutch government to limit access to its social housing stock to households with incomes below 33,000 euros per year.


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