The majority of Europeans nowadays are owner-occupiers. In countries where this is not yet the case, home ownership is promoted either directly or indirectly by the government, through subsidies, deregulation of the financial markets or phasing out support to the rented sector. Home ownership is also inseparable from a minimum level of income security: the purchase of a house is by far the biggest financial commitment that most households take on in their lives. The monthly mortgage payments consume a major part of their disposable income. To many households, their home is the largest, if not the only, capital asset that they have. Deregulation of national labour markets and changes to the social security system in recent years – partly due to globalisation and partly to far-reaching integration in the European Union – have, however, weakened the links in the traditional triangle of home ownership, labour market and social security. As a result, the current growth in home ownership seems to be creating more risks for individual home owners and for the society at large. At the same time, home ownership offers new prospects for households to assess their housing career along with their labour market position and investment opportunities. As such, home ownership plays a pivotal role in the discussion on improving – within the EU – labour market participation rates and, more generally, on increasing labour market flexibility. All with the aim of making the European economy more competitive, leading ultimately to more economic growth while maintaining social cohesion within countries.
So, home ownership has both positive as well as negative aspects for individuals and society. It is within this context that the EU funded research into home ownership, security and insecurity, OSIS-project (OSIS is an acronym for ‘Origins of Security and InSecurity: the interplay of housing systems with jobs, household structures, finance and social security’) was undertaken. The aims and objectives of the OSIS project were firstly to analyse the factors that have impacted upon individual households and have consequences for their positions as home ownership. Secondly, such an investigation would establish how households perceive the patterns of security and insecurity, along with the advantage and disadvantage associated with different housing tenures. The research examined how those perceptions have moulded their personal strategies with respect not only to housing tenure, but also to matters such as jobs, family size, education and pensions; and how those positions have provided them with material security and insecurity. The research agenda was a natural extension of a more explorative EU funded project – Home ownership, Social and Economic Problems (HOSE) – and the observation across European countries that there were potential aspects to home ownership that constituted problems with economic and social dimensions (Doling and Ford, 2003).
This book stems from the quantitative analysis undertaken as part of the OSIS project; and as such its ambitions are more limited. The quantitative analysis has examined the security and insecurity aspects of housing from both a macro and micro point of view. The research focussed on specific issues, which will give more insight into the security and insecurity aspects of home ownership across Europe and help to understand the relationship between the structural position of home ownership in different European countries – particularly the nature of their home ownership markets, in combination with their labour markets, financial markets and social security systems – and the existence of security and insecurity to individual home owners. On the other hand, the ambition of this book is more then merely summarizing the main findings of the research. By integrating the researchresults – i.e. combining macro and micro studies, security and insecurity as well as country-specific versus cross-country analysis – we were able to put the results into a new, more coherent, framework. Secondly, by linking the research-results better to the current policy discussion on the so-called Lisbon agenda, we made the research results more accessible for non-scientific readers.
Finally, the quantitative analysis was undertaken by researchers at four EU institutions: the University of Birmingham, the Delft University of Technology, the University of Uppsala and the Metropolitan Research Institute, Hungary. The University of Birmingham group used macro level data and the investigators focused on cross-country differences to identify how home ownership impacted on aspects of security and insecurity. Researchers from the Technical University of Delft and from the University of Uppsala used the European Community Household Panel to examine the determinants of household behaviour. The task of Hungary was to consider the question of home ownership and security and insecurity from the perspective of a transition economy, particularly one that has just joined the EU.