Where should housing policy scholars focus their attention? Housing policy innovation in the Global South

Volume 18, Issue 2 of the International Journal of Housing Policy focuses on Housing Policy Innovation in the Global South, edited by Paavo Monkkonen. In this blog, Paavo explains the rationale behind the special issue and some of the themes emerging from its papers.

In putting together this special issue, which started with two panels at the Urban Affairs Association conference a couple years ago, Richard Ronald and I learned a great deal. We read a number of interesting papers that interpreted the call for a focus on housing policy innovation in different ways. I ultimately question the initial premise of our endeavour in the introduction to the special issue, but I do think it was a useful way to get at what we might consider successful cases of housing policy change. In the end, however, the issue is comprised of several critical studies, likely because successful cases of housing policy innovation – either through political mobilization or top down policy implementation – are so rare.

The broad takeaway from the papers in this special issue highlights three persistent global challenges in designing and implementing housing policies. The first challenge – highlighted by the mass production of housing in Latin America – is that of providing access to large numbers of new housing units that both suits the needs of families and individuals as well as provides access to cities and the benefits of urban life. Countries like Mexico and Brazil have succeeded on producing large number of housing units, but these units are often of low-quality and disconnected from urban areas.

The second challenge is in the structure of community based upgrading programs, which offer the strong possibility of replicable and welfare improving frameworks for improving the conditions of people’s dwellings and neighborhoods, but often fail to benefit the worst off in a community. Existing work on this topic overlooks challenges of diverse community interests in implementing these programs that deserve the attention they get in this special issue (especially the paper by Talocci and Boano).

Finally, several of the papers reflect fundamental importance of housing politics in shaping housing policies and their implementation. Many policies fail to consider the diversity of populations at the expense of the least powerful, and the framing of housing policy only as subsidies, rather than the myriad finance, tax, and legal structures that often benefit the well-off, is part of the problem. Even the most well-designed subsidy scheme will be completely ineffective without funding, and funding for housing subsidies depends on political support and the widespread recognition of how different groups benefit from government support of the many arenas that housing touches upon.

I am sure the research in this special issue will spur debate and continued reflection on the need for and even the definition of ‘innovation’ in housing policy, and the challenges of policy learning across contexts. If nothing else, I hope that it provokes some housing policy scholars to expand the topics and focus of their research, and develop explanations and arguments that aid policymakers in improving housing conditions everywhere.