The global housing crisis shows few signs of letting up. This report from Gianpaolo Baiocchi (Director of the Urban Democracy Lab, Professor of Individualized Studies and Sociology at NYU) and H. Jacob Carlson (postdoctoral research associate at S4 at Brown University) argues that the solutions can be found in “social housing.”

Fucvam cooperative. Photo Credit: Flickr User Jerónimo Díaz. Retrieved from (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Housing has become more unaffordable and insecure amid the global COVID-19 pandemic and rising inequality. Social housing refers to models that prioritize the social value of housing for communities over its ability to generate profits for a select few. These examples seek to “decommodify” housing, meaning to reduce the extent to which housing prices and access are determined by the free market. While creating stability in communities, it also fosters solidarity and social cohesion and integration. Today’s housing has by contrast been a centerpiece of racial inequality, creating systems that effectively reward people and institutions for their racism. Social housing both removes those rewards and creates policies to directly alleviate harm done.

Despite these benefits, social housing has failed to reach scale in many countries, and has otherwise experienced a significant reduction in the neoliberal era.

While the three principles of Social Housing 2.0 should be universally applied, the exact policies and institutions to do that will need to be sensitive to local contexts. Places that have the political will to pursue social housing will have to make choices about the configuration of policies they can pursue to decommodify their housing system.

There are a number of dimensions for communities to consider in seeking the right balance:

  • “Universalist” policies that build on a broad-based constituency of supporters to guard against residualization, or “targeted” programs that prioritize those with the most urgent need.
  • Structures for robust democratic processes, while enhancing efficiency and responsibility to the community outside of the housing development.
  • Community ownership and management versus government responsibility.
  • Revenue generation strategies to ensure long-term sustainability versus maintaining affordability.
  • How, and how much, market mechanisms may be used, especially in the early phases of building a social housing program.

This report makes the case that social housing is desirable, viable, and achievable. The intractability of the global housing crisis requires new thinking and action, even if it draws on lessons that are quite old. As housing costs continue to skyrocket, policymakers and social movements have an opportunity to set their communities on a new path—one that guarantees a fundamental right to housing.

Read the full research paper, Social Housing 2.0: Viable Non-Market Tools for Today’s Housing Crisis

This research paper is part of the Pathfinders Grand Challenge on Inequality & Exclusion. More information about this initiative can be found here.

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