Housing inequality is the difference in the quality of housing that exists within a given society. It can have negative implications for the options available to an individual or family. The term may apply regionally across a geographic space, temporally between one generation and the next, or culturally between groups of varying racial or social backgrounds. Housing inequality is directly related to concepts of racial inequality, social inequality, income inequality, and wealth inequality. In addition, it is the result of a number of different factors including natural market forces, housing discrimination, and housing segregation.
Housing inequality is also often linked to discussions of poverty because it can be seen as both a cause and an effect of poverty. Residential inequality is especially relevant to discussions of poverty when considering Amartya Sen’s definition of poverty as “the deprivation of basic capabilities”.
Relation to economic inequality
Housing inequality is a type of economic inequality. Disparities in housing explain variations in the conversion of income into human capabilities over differing social climates. Put more simply, income does not always translate to desirable outcomes like healthcare, education, and happiness. The quality of one’s housing is one factor that determines if such capabilities are readily available to an individual. The economist and philosopher Amartya Sen reasons that an individual’s available freedoms, or capabilities, are significant indicators of the kind of life one values or has reason to value.
The sociologist John Yinger explains urban residential inequality as a result of natural housing market forces. Yinger reasons that, all else being equal, housing becomes relatively more expensive as it grows closer to work sites. Because poorer families often cannot afford to pay transportation costs they may be forced to live in inner-city locations closer to employment opportunities. Consequently, in order to win the spatial competition for housing near work sites, lower-income families must compensate for high priced location by accepting smaller housing, lower quality housing, or both. Ultimately these market forces are subject to other socio-economic factors as no single cause can explain housing inequality. In the United States, Thomas Shapiro and Jessica Kenty-Drane point to the wealth gaps between African Americans and other groups in the United States as likely causes of the housing disparity between African Americans and the rest of America. The pair contends that obstacles exist that have prevented blacks from accumulating wealth. Historical factors such as slavery and racial segregation, the two argue, have constrained African Americans from securing and accumulating assets. As a result, African Americans have had a difficult time acquiring high quality housing. Yinger also suggests that racial discrimination still plays a role in housing searches. According to Yinger, black and Hispanic households must pay higher search costs, accept lower quality housing, and live in lower quality neighborhoods due to discrimination in the search process. One study found that 20% of potential moves made by black households and 17% of potential moves made by Hispanic households were discouraged by existing discrimination within the housing search process.
The most direct effect of residential inequality is an inequality of neighborhood amenities. Neighborhood amenities include factors such as the conditions of surrounding houses, the availability of social networks, the amount of air pollution, the crime rate, and the quality of local schools. A neighborhood with a certain quality of amenities typically includes individual residences of corresponding quality. It follows then that those with lower incomes usually end up living in areas with poor amenities in order to win the spatial competition for housing. Apart from the intrinsic value of neighborhood amenities like the satisfaction derived from living in a nice area, many studies suggest that growing up in a high poverty neighborhood affects social and economic outcomes later in life. Another way that the poor compete in the spatial competition for housing is by renting homes rather than buying them. This furthers the negative effects of housing inequality by restricting access to household wealth. The effects of housing inequality are necessarily related to economic inequality as they greatly affect the freedoms available to an individual.
There have been a number of plans proposed to remedy the negative effects of housing inequality. Such plans include:
- Subsidized housing
- Co-operative housing
- Non-profit housing
- Rent supplements
- Private sector housing
- Fair lending enforcement
- Scattered site housing
International housing inequality
While the focus of housing inequality has changed over time, contemporary international analyses tend to center on urbanization and the move to metropolitan areas. International housing inequality is largely characterized by urban disparities. A 2007 UN-HABITAT report estimated that over one billion people worldwide lived in slums at the time, with that figure expected to double by 2030. In developing countries, housing inequality is increasingly caused by rural-to-urban migration, increasing urban poverty and inequality, insecure tenure, and globalization. All of these factors contribute to the creation and continuation of slums in poorer areas of the world. One proposed solution to slums has been proposed in the form of slum upgrading.
- Sen 2004 p. 61
- Pryce 2009 p. 145
- Yinger 2001p. 360
- Sen 1999 p. 87
- Sen 2004 p. 61
- Yinger 2001 p. 367
- Sen 1999 p. 18
- Yinger 2001
- Yinger 2001p. 360
- Yinger 2001 p. 363
- Shapiro 2005
- Shapiro 2005 p. 176
- Yinger 2001 p. 376
- Yinger 1997 p. 23
- Yinger 1997 p. 32
- Yinger 2001 p. 362
- Yinger 2001 p. 368
- Krivo and Kaufman 2004
- UN-HABITAT 2007
- Pryce, Gwilym and Sprigings, Nigel (2009). “Outlook for UK housing and the implications for policy: Are we reaping what we have sown?.” International Journal of Housing Markets and Analysis, 2(2), 145–166. (Abstract). Retrieved November 17, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global.
- Krivo, Lauren J and Kaufman, Robert L. (2004). “Housing and Wealth Inequality: Racial-Ethnic Differences in Home Equity in the United States”. Demography, 41(3), 585–605. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global.
- Shapiro, Thomas M. and Kenty-Drane, Jessica L. (2005). “The Racial Wealth Gap,” in Cecilia A Conrad, John Whitehead, Patrick Mason, and James Stewart (eds.) African Americans in the U.S. Economy, pp. 175–181, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
- Sen, Amartya K. (2000). “Development as Freedom.” New York: Anchor, 2000. 1–53. Print.
- Sen, Amartya K. (2004). “From Income Inequality to Economic Inequality,” in C. Michael Henry (ed.) Race, Poverty, and Domestic Policy, pp. 59–82, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
- Sen, Amartya K. (2009). “The Idea of Justice,” pp. 1–27, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
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- UN-HABITAT “Sustainable Urbanization.” Unhabitat.org, 16 Apr. 2007. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.
- Yinger, John. "Evidence on Discrimination in Consumer Markets,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 12 (2) (Spring 1998): 23–40.
- Yinger, John. 2001. “Housing Discrimination and Residential Segregation as Causes of Poverty,” in Sheldon H. Danzinger and Robert H. Haveman (eds.) Understanding Poverty, pp. 359–391, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- A tale of two housing markets: mansions for the rich while poor are priced out (2015-01-20), The Guardian