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«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»

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100 Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes Lessons Learned From the Largest Tenure-Mix Operation in the World: Right to Buy in the United Kingdom Reinout Kleinhans Maarten van Ham Delft University of Technology Abstract In the past few decades, urban regeneration policies have taken firm root in many Western European countries. Underlying these regeneration policies is a strong belief in the negative neighborhood effects of living in areas of concentrated poverty, often neighborhoods with a large share of social housing. In Europe, great importance is attached to creating a more diverse housing stock (in terms of tenure and dwelling types) as a means to establishing a more socially mixed neighborhood population. Mixed-housing strategies are embraced explicitly by governments in Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The idea is that mixing homeowners with social renters will create a more diverse socioeconomic mix in neighborhoods, removing the potential of negative neighborhood effects. By far the largest tenure-mixing operation in Europe is the Right to Buy (RTB) scheme in the United Kingdom. Since the 1970s, more than

2.7 million socially rented houses have sold at large discounts, mainly to sitting tenants.

In this article, we synthesize the outcomes of RTB with regard to neighborhood effects:

residualization, neighborhood stability, tenure and social mix, social interactions, and dwelling maintenance. Although we acknowledge substantial socioeconomic benefits of RTB for many individual residents, we find that the neighborhood outcomes of RTB are by no means solely beneficial.

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Introduction Urban regeneration policies have become well established in many Western European countries in recent decades. The aim of these policies is often twofold. On the one hand, they aim to improve the livability and reputation of deprived urban neighborhoods, often neighborhoods dominated by social housing1 constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. On the other hand, these policies aim to improve the lives of residents living in those neighborhoods (Manley et al., 2013). The content and implementation of urban regeneration policies differ greatly among countries, depending on the welfare system, the political forces, and the physical, social, and economic structures of urban areas (Andersson and Musterd, 2005). Similarities also exist, however, among national urban regeneration policies.

Most policies are strongly oriented toward altering the quality and composition of the housing stock of existing urban residential areas dominated by social housing (Kleinhans, 2004). In Europe, great importance is attached to creating a more diverse housing stock as a means to establishing a more socially mixed neighborhood population (Manley et al., 2013). This diversification is established through the demolition, upgrading, or sale of socially rented housing and the construction of new, more costly owner-occupied or privately rented housing. The result is more differentiation in housing sizes, forms, quality, and prices and above all a mix of tenures and therefore a more mixed (higher income) neighborhood population. Creating neighborhoods with a more balanced socioeconomic mix of residents is a common strategy for tackling assumed negative neighborhood effects; that is, the idea that living in deprived neighborhoods has a negative effect on residents’ life chances over and above the effect of their individual characteristics (van Ham and Manley, 2010).

A deliberate mix of homeowners and social renters will create a more diverse socioeconomic mix in neighborhoods, removing the potential of negative neighborhood effects (Musterd and Andersson, 2005). Policymakers have assumed that mixed neighborhoods will provide more positive role models, fewer negative peer group effects, and a better neighborhood reputation (Manley et al., 2013). Although the evidence that neighborhood effects are important and that area-based policies are effective is ambivalent (van Ham and Manley, 2010; van Ham et al., 2012), many Western European governments, including those in Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, explicitly embrace mixed-housing strategies (Atkinson and Kintrea, 2002; Kearns, 2002; Musterd, 2002; Veldboer, Kleinhans, and Duyvendak, 2002).

The Right to Buy (RTB) scheme in the United Kingdom is by far the largest tenure-mixing operation in the world. More than 2.7 million socially rented houses have sold, primarily to sitting tenants at large discounts, since the 1970s (Jones and Murie, 2006). The sale and resale of former socially rented dwellings has created mixed-tenure neighborhoods by introducing homeownership in neighborhoods previously dominated by social housing (Tunstall, 2011). According to Munro (2007), RTB represents one of the most significant housing policy measures in Britain of the past 25 years. “It has achieved almost iconic status, representative of high Thatcherism; a key effort in Social housing is housing that is let for less than market rents to people in housing need. In the United Kingdom, social housing generally is provided by councils (local governments) and not-for-profit landlords, such as housing associations.

In the U.S. context, social housing is often referred to as “public housing” or “state-subsidized housing.”

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the general drive for privatization, aimed both at rolling back the frontiers of the state and also in the creation of a ‘property owning democracy.’ It has been instrumental in changing the aggregate tenure structure in Britain” (Munro, 2007: 247; see also King, 2010).

Although creating mixed neighborhoods was not an explicit aim of the RTB policy, we want to emphasize that it was a side effect of the policy that was much welcomed by the government.

In line with the privatization discourse, much research has been devoted to the socioeconomic effects of RTB for tenant buyers. RTB can be qualified as hugely successful in increasing access to homeownership (with sales prices of much less than market values), in transferring wealth from the state to private households (substantial profits could be made through resale by capitalizing on the discount value and general house price increases), and in decreasing the stock of social housing (for example, Jones and Murie, 2006; King, 2010). These outcomes are undeniably good reasons for conservative politicians to celebrate RTB, although critics have also identified many negative (side) effects of RTB (see Jones and Murie, 2006).

Less attention has focused on how neighborhoods were affected by the RTB policy, however (Munro, 2007). We seek to fill this gap with a meta-analysis of existing research findings on various neighborhood outcomes. The main objective of this article is to reveal both the positive and negative lessons learned about neighborhood effects from more than 30 years of RTB policy. We will focus our attention on five types of outcomes on the neighborhood level: residualization, neighborhood stability, tenure and social mix, social interactions, and dwelling maintenance. The article ends with conclusions about the double-edged effect on social mixing, the greatly varying effects on the stability of neighborhoods, and the complexities regarding social interaction and dwelling maintenance. We conclude that the neighborhood outcomes of RTB are by no means solely beneficial, which is an important message for countries considering introducing RTB. In the next section, we further explain RTB policy and give a brief account of its history and policy development.

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