«Mixed Messages on Mixed incoMes Volume 15, Number 2 • 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and ...»
Several social implications of mixed tenure relate to intertenure attitudes. Apart from mixed tenures, residents’ expected length of stay is an important factor determining their attachment to and involvement in the neighborhood. Jones and Murie (2006) observed that the buy-to-let practices of former RTB dwellings, especially resales bought up by landlords and subsequently let to very mobile private tenants, can lead to instability and tensions. The greater mobility of private renters is associated with less attachment to the areas, because private renters know they will move on sooner than later. Whereas both owners and social renters may feel a certain ownership of and responsibility for their neighborhood, private landlords and private renters usually have different interests and are less bothered by the social climate in the neighborhood. This issue strongly affects dwelling maintenance, to which we will turn in the following section.
Homeowner and Landlord Maintenance The literature on the benefits of homeownership emphasizes that owners have a financial stake in the condition and maintenance of their dwelling and are, mutatis mutandis, more willing than renters to ensure that maintenance is up to standards (for example, DiPasquale and Glaeser, 1999;
Rohe, McCarthy, and Van Zandt, 2000). Whereas this line of thinking has received much criticism, also in the context of RTB, it makes sense in the perception of both tenants and tenant buyers in RTB areas. Research by Holt Brook, Kinver, and Strachan (2006) showed a common view that owners generally took greater care of their properties than tenants and that this maintenance also encouraged other residents to take more pride in their dwellings.
Reality is harsher with respect to dwelling upkeep by tenant buyers or consecutive buyers, however. In single-family dwellings, tenant buyers with low incomes often struggled with greater-thanexpected maintenance costs. In multiowner settings, the specific context of RTB causes a potential problem that transcends the investment capacity of individual tenant buyers. In apartment blocks, RTB uptake could differ from door to door. Hence, mixed tenure implied mixed ownership at the block level, with profound legal and financial consequences for the maintenance of collective parts, such as roofs and stairways. Local authorities and other landlords had to deal with individual owners in arranging part of the maintenance, tackling owners’ financial inability or reluctance (or both) to let them contribute their share of the maintenance or improvement costs.
In this respect, Leather and Anderson (1999) found a whole range of practices among local authorities and other landlords. Various arrangements were also enforced (by local authorities on individual owners) to different extents, so that no clear picture emerges of the effectiveness of multiowner maintenance arrangements. Obviously, negotiations between landlords and individual owners regularly resulted in disagreements about the required repair and maintenance standards. Part of the disagreements is associated with a perceived lack of information. “Research found mixed practice amongst local authorities in respect of the amount of information supplied to tenants concerning
their common repair responsibilities, with many respondents indicating that the only information provided was in the title deeds” (Russell and Welsh, 1998; cited in Scottish Executive, 2006: 56).
Problems that appeared after the initial uptake of RTB by tenant purchasers became worse with resales. According to Scott et al. (2001), new owners of resold RTB properties were often not aware of the impending costs, burdens, and legal obligations associated with the previous council housing and did not take them adequately into consideration when buying the property.
From the turn of the century onwards, the above problems have also affected efforts to regenerate council housing areas by large-scale renovation. Thus, various actors involved in such planned renovation efforts increasingly have to face the difficulties of ensuring that owner occupied houses are brought up to similar repair and environmental standards as the social rented houses, and of ensuring that the owners do not delay or prevent the realization of the improvements. (Craigforth, 2002: 9) A time-lagged effect is also connected to maintenance. In general, many tenant purchasers in the early years of RTB made several improvements to their dwellings, on top of maintenance. Leather (2000) pointed out that refurbishments made by new RTB owners in the early years of the policy may now require further investment by their ageing owners. In light of the continuing economic crisis, these owners may face especially severe financial constraints that hinder them from making the necessary investments to maintain and update these improvements (see also Munro, 2007).
We have so far analyzed knowledge about effects on maintenance after council housing has been sold. The qualitative research of James, Jordan, and Kay (1999) showed a particularly interesting reversal of the sequence of these events. A substantial portion of their interview respondents were relatively low-income council tenants who used their unemployed status as an opportunity for increased dwelling improvement activity. For some of them, an improvement in employment status (and disposable income) triggered the decision to buy to protect their work investment and to secure their stake in the local (valued) community. James, Jordan, and Kay (1999) observed that the purchase sparked a desire for further home improvements and recognition of the need to increase their household earnings from employment. The authors also concluded that these tenants decided to buy as a way of securing their future in the area and controlling their personal environment, instead of seeing it as an escape from a residual ghetto of welfare housing (James, Jordan, and Kay, 1999).
Conclusions In this article, we set out to synthesize the neighborhood outcomes of the Right to Buy policy in the United Kingdom, which is the largest (originally unintended) tenure-mixing program in the world. RTB never had mixing as an explicit policy aim, but over time RTB became part of mainstream urban regeneration policies aiming to establish more socially mixed neighborhoods.
Consensus suggests that RTB was a success in terms of facilitating access to homeownership for working-class households. Large transfers of wealth from the state to private households occurred through the discounts on market values and the sometimes huge profits made by resales of RTB properties by tenant buyers.
RTB had a double-edged effect on social mixing, however. On the one hand, RTB caused social housing in the United Kingdom to become residualized. The most desirable dwellings in the best neighborhoods sold first, leading to higher concentrated poverty levels in the least desirable neighborhoods. On the other hand, the most desirable neighborhoods with already relatively high homeownership levels and more affluent households witnessed a further increase in homeownership. Between these poles, some neighborhoods saw an increase in ownership that was not matched by owner occupation because dwellings were resold on the buy-to-let market and ended up in the privately rented sector.
Contrary to common wisdom of the positive effects from homeownership, RTB has had various effects on the stability of neighborhoods. “The evidence broadly suggests that the impact of Right to Buy on individual neighbourhoods is linked to issues of stability and demand that existed prior to Right to Buy, with Right to Buy reinforcing existing neighbourhood trends. Initially stable, highdemand neighbourhoods have seen high levels of Right to Buy sales. Low demand areas on the other hand have seen reduced levels of sales” (Scottish Executive, 2006: 60). To a large extent, the effects for individual neighborhoods were contingent on the wider housing market context, which strongly determined both the initial takeup rates and the extent to which former RTB dwellings integrated through resale into the broader market of owner-occupied housing.
Resales especially have affected social mix in neighborhoods by enabling socioeconomically different households to enter the areas formerly dominated by council tenants, of whom many had low incomes or were living on social benefits. The lifestyle differences introduced by these residential moves created either peaceful indifference or tensions and conflicts between renters and owners, although RTB is clearly a more organic way of mixing (Beekman, Lyons, and Scott, 2001) than tenure mix in new developments or neighborhoods subject to demolition and new construction.
Finally, RTB created various complexities regarding dwelling maintenance. Although evidence suggests that owners take greater care of their properties than tenants, new owners with relatively low incomes often struggled with maintenance costs. RTB also introduced mixed ownership on the block level, requiring local councils, landlords, and individual owners to negotiate about the nature, quality, and costs of maintenance. This mix has also affected large-scale regeneration efforts in social housing areas with individual RTB owners.
It can be concluded that RTB had major effects, which were not always positive, on neighborhoods and local communities. The Scottish Executive (2006: 58) called RTB a “blunt tool for mixing communities, with no control over the outcomes and with more or less random effects on neighborhoods.” Other countries, such as the Netherlands, are now considering introducing RTB in the social-housing sector. When RTB is introduced, we call for policies to be developed with the U.K.
experiences in mind. Targeting RTB at only specific types of properties, in specific locations, possibly by using RTB exclusion zones, can help to avoid the development of residualized communities.
Acknowledgments Part of the project on which this article is based was funded by Knowledge Workplace Livable Neighborhoods Rotterdam (Kenniswerkplaats Leefbare Wijken Rotterdam). The authors thank the anonymous referee for his or her comments on the draft version of this article.
Authors Reinout Kleinhans is an assistant professor in the department OTB–Research for the Built Environment, in the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands.
Maarten van Ham is a professor in the department OTB–Research for the Built Environment, in the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands.
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