Globalisation is affecting labour markets, welfare regimes, financial markets and housing markets. Labour markets become more flexible, welfare regimes are gradually dismantled and financial markets become more competitive. This all impacts on housing markets and more in particular on households' perceptions and housing decisions. Changes in jobs and social benefits cause increasing income insecurity, while financial markets provide more opportunities. Is home ownership considered as a safe haven in a world that becomes more and more insecure? And is home ownership becoming a cornerstone in welfare regimes and part of asset based welfare policies? These are questions that lie at the core of this research project.
This book reports on households' perceptions and housing strategies of more than 200 households in eight different European countries. Countries that are situated in different parts of Europe and that have different histories, institutions, policies and cultures. From the interviews we collected insight in considerations of households concerning securities and insecurities of home ownership. We learned that every country has its own logic on home ownership. In some countries, home ownership can simply mean a roof over the head and additionally building a nest egg, that could be used for consumption or in future be passed on to a next generation. In other countries, home ownership can be a pure necessity for financial security in case of welfare needs or a well-calculated risk. Housing asset based welfare, specifically releasing equity by using the new opportunities on the financial market, is a perspective in Anglo Saxon environments, but far away from everyday life for many of the households that were interviewed for this project.
This book is the conclusion of a body of research that started in a workshop held at the University of York in October 2000. A group of researchers discussed the impact of developments linked to globalisation on the role of home ownership. It led to the insight that to understand developments in different countries it is indispensable to work with an international research team that has awareness of historical roots and cultural idiosyncrasies. This was the basis for the proposal called OSIS – Origins of security and insecurity (OSIS): the interplay of housing systems with jobs, household structures, finance and social security – which was awarded funding as a Specific Targeted Research Project under the Sixth Framework Programme. This offered teams in Belgium, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, and the UK the opportunity to deepen their studies by following two avenues of research. The first was a quantitative research approach which resulted in the book The social limits to growth: security and insecurity aspects of home ownership (Horsewood & Neuteboom, 2006). The second was a qualitative research approach which focussed on households' perceptions within their own country framework. The main aim of the research was to clarify the extent to which home ownership provides households with security or insecurity. The fruits of this study are presented in this book.
The research for this book was very challenging and demanding, and we would therefore like to acknowledge the efforts made by the numerous people and institutions involved. First, we would like to thank the European Commission for enabling us to undertake this multi-country and multidisciplined adventure. Second, we are very grateful to the interviewees who, with hospitality and willingness, generously shared their histories and concerns with us. Next, we would like to thank all the administrative staff at our institutions, especially Caroline Marshall from Birmingham University who kept everything together for us. Above all, we would like to thank John Doling and Janet Ford – who brought us together for such a fruitful collaboration – and our qualitative research team colleagues for making this a wonderful experience, and for helping us all to appreciate that in comparative research it is of ultimate importance to know what is self-evident. For example, for Swedish people it is the norm to be insured either by the government or by private insurance, whereas in Hungary and Portugal not being insured is perceived as rather normal. Moreover, co-operation between research partners from so many different countries requires knowledge of different cultural manners of working and doing research. In some countries, for example, a deadline is an absolute that cannot be passed, but in other countries, a deadline is regarded as more of a moving target.
Nevertheless, we succeeded. Thus, we invite the readers to enter our adventure of understanding housing decision making patterns and household strategies of eight countries, and getting to know more than 200 households virtually personally throughout Europe.
Marja Elsinga, Pascal De Decker, Nóra Teller and Janneke Toussaint