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Area: Policy and financing

Financialization, as a broad concept, denotes the growing prominence and impact of financial institutions and markets. Within the realm of housing, financialization refers to how finance plays a pivotal role in rendering housing as a highly liquid asset, thus erasing distinctions between income and wealth distribution (Aalbers, 2016; Stephens & Hick, 2022). Moreover, financialization encompasses the rising dominance of institutional investors as primary participants in the housing market, effectively elevating housing to the status of a distinct asset class.

Aalbers (2016) defines financialization as “the increasing dominance of financial actors, markets, practices, measurements and narratives, at various scales, resulting in a structural transformation of economies, firms (including financial institutions), states and households” facilitated by the combination of “economic circumstances, conscious government decisions, unforeseen consequences (“negative externalities” in economist speak) of government decisions, and financial-technical possibilities” (p. 118). In the housing sector, financialization encompasses a diverse array of activities and strategies pursued by both institutional and private investors. These include practices such as debt management, securitization, and the establishment of real estate investment trusts (Holm et al. 2023). Central to this phenomenon is the treatment of housing as a commodity. Commodification, broadly defined as the process by which the economic value of a thing dominates over its other uses, means that housing's function as real estate supersedes its role as a place to live (Madden & Marcuse, 2016).                 

The evolution of global investment and financial markets has led to a structural shift in housing, culminating in its commodification. As a result, housing is primarily seen as a commodity rather than as a place of residence (Farha & Porter, 2017), and it is turned into a commodity that accumulates wealth which can be bought or sold on global markets. Consequently, housing has increasingly become a means of wealth accumulation for a privileged few, exacerbating its affordability crisis for the broader population. Therefore, the financialization of housing poses a significant threat to human rights by disconnecting housing from its essential social function as a place to live.

Financialization has sparked significant interest in housing studies, emerging as a novel process shaping housing institutions (Hick & Stephens, 2022). This interest surged notably in the aftermath of the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-08, underscoring the heightened attention paid to financialization in research circles (Holm et al., 2023). Moreover, scholars argue that the financialization of housing is not only pertinent to housing researchers but also to welfare and poverty researchers. Adopting a theoretical lens rooted in the “varieties of capitalism” approach to the welfare state, the extent of financialization within housing markets is viewed as a determinant of national growth levels and is regarded as a driver of growth (Hick & Stephens, 2022)

The financialization of housing has led to significant changes in European housing systems, manifested in various effects and forms including rising house prices, declining rates of home ownership, an increase in the private rented sector, deteriorating housing markets, and decreased affordability of housing (Stephens & Hick, 2022). The trend towards financialization is changing the housing market and increasing income inequality in a society, while fuelling housing price instability by encouraging speculation (Dewilde & de Decker, 2016; Fields, 2016). Financialization is thus an obstacle to the affordability and stability of housing supply. The best example of this is the GFC, which has its origins in speculative mortgage derivatives. Stephens et al (2015) state that “the nature of tenure and its relationship with finance reflect the role of the state and the market as sources of (housing) welfare.”

The responses of different governments and housing markets to the GFC varied across Europe (Whitehead, 2014). This was confirmed by Holm et al. (2023) and their comparative analysis of financialization in seven European cities, who found that each city filtered global processes differently due to “place-specific historical and socio-political arrangements” (p. 159). Financialization thus introduced a new logic of economic conditions for the provision and distribution of housing, facilitated by innovative financing practices that promoted housing as a safe, low-risk, high-return investment opportunity (Holm et al., 2023).

The continued financialization of housing is anticipated to exacerbate affordability challenges for both mortgage homebuyers and renters, with renters experiencing a greater and more immediate impact (Hick & Stephens, 2022). As Aalbers (2016) asserts, if financialization is the root problem in the housing market, then de-financialization is the solution. De-commodification measures are essential, particularly for tenants and low-income families lacking secure housing. However, tackling the issue necessitates more than just examining the role of financial institutions and markets. It requires to increase the provision of social housing, reforms in housing governance, labour markets, and banking and taxation regulations, which collectively influence the nature and extent of financialization in housing.


Aalbers, M. (2016). The Financialization of Housing: A political economy approach. London: Routledge.

Dewilde, C. & de Decker, P. (2016). Changing Inequalities in Housing Outcomes across Western Europe. Housing, Theory and Society 33 (2), pp. 121–161.

Farha, L. & Porter, B. (2017). SDG11 Commodification over community: financialization of the housing sector and its threat to SDG 11 and the right to housing, chapter in: Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017: Reclaiming policies for the public.

Hick, R., & Stephens, M. (2022). Housing, the welfare state and poverty: On the financialization of housing and the dependent variable problem. Housing, Theory and Society, 40(1), 78–95.

Holm, A., Alexandri, G. & Bernt, M. (2023). Housing policy under the conditions of financialization. The impact of institutional investors on affordable housing in European Cities. Sciences Po Urban School.

Madden, D. & Marcuse, P. (2016). In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. Verso Books. ISBN 9781784783549

Stephens, M. & Hick, R. (2022). Comparative housing research. Forthcoming in Jacobs, K., Flanagan, K., Verdouw, J. and de Vries, J. (eds), Research Handbook on Housing and society, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.


Created on 18-03-2024 | Update on 03-04-2024

Related definitions


Author: C.Verrier (ESR)

Area: Policy and financing

Housing affordability pertains to the capacity of a given household to pay their rent or mortgage in relation to their financial means. Considering the criticism of the concept when viewed as a strict ratio rule between income and housing expenses (Hulchanski, 1995), it may be useful to focus on the relational nature of the concept and as a way to analyze the relationship between different processes. As Whitehead (2007, p. 30) contended, affordability is a composite of three main parameters: (1) housing cost, (2) household income and (3) direct state interventions (or third-actors) playing on the previous two factors, for instance by improving one’s capacity to pay through direct payments or by reducing housing costs through subsidized housing. Considering the current trend towards unaffordability in European cities (Dijkstra and Maseland, 2016, p. 96), the concept is particularly useful to understand the interplay of factors that both favour rising housing costs—through financialization (Aalbers, 2016), gentrification (Lees, Shin and López Morales, 2016), and entrepreneurial urban policies (Harvey, 1989)—with those that enable the stagnation of low- and middle-incomes, namely Neoliberal globalization (Jessop, 2002) the precarization of work and welfare policy reforms (Palier, 2010). The “hard reality” behind one’s home affordability can therefore be construed as the result of a complex interplay between large-scale processes such as those enumerated above, behind which lie the aggregated behaviours of a multitude of actors; from the small landlord to the large investment firm seeking to speculate in global real-estate markets, from the neighborhood association protecting tenants from evictions to national governments investing (or divesting) large sums of money into housing programs. The conceptual strength of affordability lies in its capacity to scrutinize a wide range of complexly interconnected phenomena, which ultimately affect greatly everyone’s quality of life.    

Created on 27-08-2021 | Update on 20-04-2023

Asset-based Welfare

Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)

Area: Policy and financing

In Europe, increasingly longevity is driving the trend towards an ageing population . Furthermore, at a global level, average life expectancy has increased over the last fifty years from 58.6 years in 1970 to 72.7 years in 2019 (World Bank, 2021), and could reach 76,6 years by 2050 (Statista, 2021). In the literature reviewed, “older people“ are described as the population aged 65 and over (Harper et al., 2016; Johnson, 2015). A recent UK study (Harper et al., 2016) found that the average age of the UK population exceeds 40 years for the first time in history. The same study predicts the working age group of older people, which makes up the population aged 50-66, will increase from 26% in 2012 to 34% in 2050, an increase of 5.5 million people. However, longevity is not usually accompanied by an understanding of the quality of living. The increase in the elderly population is overwhelming the health care system of the modern welfare state. The elderly are becoming more dependent on health services, while the support of younger generations is decreasing due to their increased occupational mobility and different lifestyles (Bađun & Krišto, 2021). Asset-based welfare could be defined as a set of policies and measures that address and promote individual wealth accumulation over the course of our lives in order to reduce an individual's dependence on the pension system through the consumption of that asset (Lennartz & Ronald, 2016). There could be many forms of asset-based welfare, and it should be oriented toward the local context. For example, asset-based welfare is embedded in the housing market in Japan, Singapore and South Korea (Doling et al., 2013); (Oh & Yoon, 2019). Retirees in the US or the UK are more likely to finance a reverse mortgage, while retirees in post-socialist countries are more likely to enter into care exchange contracts or an intergenerational transfer. In the post-socialist countries of Eastern Europe, most pensioners are homeowners who have high assets and low monthly income (Kunovac, 2020). For pensioners who became homeowners during their working years, there are a few ways to use their homes in order to secure a higher standard of living in retirement. There are two main scenarios for using your assets to increase the standard of living: one is to move out of the current home, either by downsizing or selling it; the other does not require moving and usually involves renting part of the home or entering into a financial transaction such as a reverse mortgage or insurance contract (Bađun & Krišto, 2021). Both scenarios represent asset-based welfare, as assets (rather than income) are used to increase well-being. In the past, asset-based welfare used to be practised in traditional rural communities when elderly people without successors contracted with their neighbours to provide for them in exchange for their family assets. The European financial market for asset-based welfare is at an early stage of development and is only available to a limited extent in the UK, Spain, France and Germany (Bađun & Krišto, 2021). In other countries, there are different forms of transaction in play. For example, according to a survey carried out by the European Commission, 86% of the Croatians prefer to take care of their parents, rather than having their parents sell their property to increase their income (Bađun & Krišto, 2021).  Similar results could be found in other post-socialist countries with a high level of “familialism”, i.e., intergenerational living with strong family ties (Eggers et al., 2020; Sendi et al., 2019; Stephens et al., 2015) , and homeownership, where the idea of “consuming” the equity to pay for old-age care is unpopular. According to (Kerbler & Kolar, 2018), the Slovenian pensioner, even if starving, would rather not sell or mortgage their homes, while according to Sendi et al., (2019) pensioners in Slovenia “strongly reject all equity release products”. A potential model of asset-based welfare that could be implemented in Croatia was presented in 2015 in the policy document “Social picture of the City of Zagreb” (CERANEO, 2016). This model would represent an innovation in social welfare by creating an institutional support for a contract through which the assets would be transferred to the city after the death of the person and in return the city would provide care for the elderly. This contract would ensure adequate care for the elderly and provide the city with a housing stock for public or social rental. In addition, this type of contract would be a viable alternative to the current practise of doing business under a "lifetime support contract" or a "support contract until death". In 2021, 1,300 such contracts were concluded, but in practice this is not well regulated (Annual report of the Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia, 2021). There have been cases of contracts between only one individual providing services to tens of benefactors. Many of these contracts end up contested by the surviving family in court, making this type of transaction risky (CERANEO, 2016).

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 08-12-2023


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