The once clear demarcation of funding and roles of the social and market rental sectors seems to have become blurred in a number of European countries. Social renting is no longer provided only by non-profit organisations. The central issue in this book is the extent to which a gap can be identified between the social and market rental sectors in six countries in north-west Europe (England, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands). The gap depends on similarities and differences between the two rental sectors. From an empirical viewpoint it conveys who provides what in rental housing, the government policies that are relevant and the outcomes that are achieved. From a theoretical point of view the gap is about the extent to which accommodation in the two sectors can be considered as substitutes by consumers and whether landlords are rivals in attracting tenants.
As a starting point for this book, we followed our impression that private initiatives were increasingly being used to provide social rental dwellings in a number of European countries. The clear demarcation of the funding and roles of each sector of the housing market seemed to be becoming blurred. The private sector would no longer work solely with private finance and no longer operate solely along strictly commercial lines responding to market demand. The social sector, meanwhile, would no longer be funded only by the state and no longer be provided only by non-profit organisations. In other words, we assumed that the boundaries between social and market renting were becoming more blurred by these initiatives.
In order to find out whether there was any truth to our observation, we have collected material in this book about the similarities and differences between what we have called social and market rented housing. The main distinction between these two forms of tenure that we identified was that market housing was allocated according to effective demand and social housing was allocated according to need, the assumption being that the market cannot provide according to a socially determined level of need that is different from effective demand. In order to analyse the similarities and differences between social and market rented housing, we have developed and applied the concept of a gap between the two forms of tenure, both empirically and theoretically. For the theoretical approach, we set ourselves the aim of operationalising a concept of competition.
In doing this we used information from a variety of sources, mostly the available literature in scientific journals and policy documents and on websites of governments and other organisations. At this point we also would like to thank our country experts (see the end of each country chapter) who helped us gain a clearer understanding of the situation of the rental market and policy discussions, past and present, in their respective countries. The view on ‘the’ gap with its many aspects that we unfold remains clearly our responsibility.
We hope to have provided what may be called an up-to-date commentary (up to sometime in the year 2008 for most countries) on the nature of housing and rental policy in each country. In short, the book aims to provide information on two levels. It is an ‘information handbook’ on the one hand, and on the other it provides an analytical, evidence-based discussion of several issues concerning the rental sector in the countries studied. It aims to provide much more information than simply an answer to the observation that initially started us off.
Marietta Haffner, Joris Hoekstra, Michael Oxley, Harry van der Heijden
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