The Institutional Framework

Affordable housing requires access to subsidy and land, which planning- related mechanisms can help to deliver, but it also requires an infrastructure of appropriate institutions to produce, allocate and manage the dwelling stock. The UK, which has a strong track record, has two sets of institutions which are both well-established: local authorities (about half of which continue to act as social landlords) and housing associations (often now referred to as Registered Providers). The latter sector has gradually built up since 1974 with general government support and subsidy under different political parties. In Chap. 6, we described the build-up of institutional capacity in parts of the USA in the form of a significant for-profit and non-profit affordable housing sector, including the very important Community Development Corporations which continue to play an important role at the neighbourhood level. However, in other countries such as Australia, the institutional capacity to deliver affordable housing has historically been limited, despite periodic attempts to build a ‘third sector’ arm through community housing organisations (Milligan et al. 2009) and evidence of rapid expansion in recent years (Gilmour and Milligan 2012).

Even in the countries with well-established social/affordable housing sectors, it is quite apparent that these face various threats and cannot necessarily be assumed to be capable of operating in the same fashion in the future as in the past. Recent experience in the Netherlands shows a degree of vulnerability to intervention by the European courts to effectively circumscribe the ability of these institutions to simultaneously play both roles of social housing agency and competitive market development agency. In Sweden, former public housing companies have opted to go down a private market renting route, as has been the case for the bulk of former social housing in Germany. In the UK, housing associations appear to have fallen out of favour with government and have been hit by a blizzard of policy changes, including introduction of ‘right to buy’ for their tenants, and the forced reduction of rents, to help the government save money on housing benefit costs. At the time of writing, the position of housing associations in the UK, previously seen as a model for other countries to follow, remains chaotic, confused and uncertain. It is likely that housing associations in the UK will need to engage more in the provision of intermediate forms of housing tenure, particularly LCHO (entailing schemes such as shared ownership or shared equity) and also ‘mid-market’ rent. The larger associations in the UK have also diversified into areas such as managing private rental properties, student housing and care homes/extra care housing. Yet as they expand in these directions, associations may expect to see a decline in their core business, as governments seem to fall out of love with ‘social housing’, moving countries like England (if not Scotland) close towards the highly residualised US and Australian models.

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