Social Housing and Globalisation


João Carvalhosa
Head of Strategic Planning Office Gebalis, EM
Lisboa, Portugal

Joris Hoekstra
Delft University of Technology
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment
Dept. Management in the Built Environment

Sasha Tsenkova
University of Calgary
School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape
2500 University Drive NW
T2N 1N4 Calgary, Canada 

Central theme
In this working group, we examine how international and structural trends are impacting social housing sectors across the globe. This is a very dynamic field of research, as several transformations are underway that may change the nature and strategies of social housing providers, as well as the composition of their residents.

In many parts of the world, processes of globalization (leading to an intensification of migration flows), neo-liberalization, and the financialization of housing have resulted in an accessibility and affordability crisis, particularly in urban areas. Due to skyrocketing prices in the open market, an increasing share of young people and middle-income households are unable to secure housing, thus potentially adding to the target group of social housing providers. At the same time, the number of vulnerable residents (e.g., refugees, and people with mental health issues) within the social sector is rising, presenting a dual challenge to social housing providers.

In response to this challenge, and depending on the local context, social housing providers are expanding their traditional roles to include new forms of housing provision, such as middle rental segment housing, temporary housing solutions, and more communal housing arrangements (often mixing different target groups to foster social cohesion and integration). Furthermore, new forms of social housing finance, such as ESG finance, and tenant involvement (e.g., co-creation, co-design) are emerging.

There are also significant changes in the multi-level governance structure in which social housing providers operate. Although the national level remains very important, it seems to have lost ground to higher and lower levels of governance. At the supranational level, EU regulations on economic competition and sustainability profoundly impact the strategies of social housing providers. Simultaneously, in response to growing socio-spatial differences, cities and regions are increasingly developing their own housing policies as part of the local welfare system. Thus, housing policies are being redefined ‘between local and global,’ thereby engaging new types of partnerships.

Last but not least, the aging population presents a significant challenge for social housing providers. How can the housing stock be made life cycle-resistant? How can housing and care arrangements be integrated? These questions are intriguing social housing providers across different countries.

The working group discusses how the transitions outlined above impact the social housing sector and may lead to new stakeholder reconfigurations and policy initiatives. The approach to this may be top-down and theoretical, but also bottom-up and more practical. Similarly, the scope of the research may range from international comparisons of countries to localized case studies of new social housing developments. The strong focus on mutual learning and exploration of possibilities for policy transfer makes the working group relevant not only for academics but also for practitioners and policymakers.

Activities and output in recent years

Future plans and activities
The working group has recently renewed its leadership. The new coordinators are currently developing ideas and proposals for new activities. For early 2025, we are planning to organize an online seminar, potentially coupled with a special issue of an academic journal. Additionally, at the 2025 ENHR conference in Paris, we are planning to run a workshop. More information on these activities will follow in due course.

Policy implications