The academic debate on housing tenure systems
In most European countries, home ownership is promoted and assisted by housing policies. Homeowners are thought to take better care of their houses, are more involved in the local community, and have better life chances. However, there is a vivid debate in Europe whether homeowner or tenant societies perform better. While conservative governments are more in favour of home-ownership, liberals tend to be tenure-neutral, and social democrats mostly encourage social or public renting. Despite the political stance, the majority of European governments supported home ownership in the past decades, and the owner-occupied sector has increased.
A mixed picture in Europe
While there was a considerable increase in home ownership in Western European countries, Eastern Europe shows a different picture: transitioning from a communist economy to a market-based one, home-ownership increased in some, whereas decreased in other countries. Home-ownership depends partly on income: the higher the income, the higher the ownership. However, in Eastern European and Mediterranean countries mostly low-income households are homeowners, while in Western countries low-income groups tend to be tenants, where corporatist or social democratic regimes have a developed housing allowance scheme.
The effects of the crisis
After the crisis, it became more difficult to access a mortgage, cuts have been made in the housing allowance budget and there has been an increasing trend of privatising social rental housing. The latter case causes a blurring line between social and commercial housing, as social organisations try to attract more and more private financing, leading to a possible threat of housing affordability.
The link between housing systems and homelessness
Due to the crisis, home-ownership has become a more difficult goal to achieve. Discussion so far has been more ideological than analytical, and the neighbourhood dimension is still very much neglected. Although the quality and lack of housing is on the agenda of the European Commission, the responsibility is on the Member States, who need to increase focus on the issue of homelessness and look into empirical research more.