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Furman, S. (2022, June). The emergence of affordable housing and its relationship to social housing: The history of housing commodification in England [Conference paper]. Arquitectonics, Barcelona.

Posted on 01-06-2022

Social housing is often used synonymously with affordable housing, despite their disparity in meaning. A study of the context, emergence, and trajectory of each term clearly indicates a wider paradigm shift from welfare state towards individualism. Deregulation, financialisation, and globalisation have facilitated the expansion of housing as a product of capital accumulation that outweighs the functional dwelling space with social or environmental value.


Today, housing is in a state of hyper-commodification where all material, social, and legal functions have been turned into commodities. Housing hyper-commodification directly conflicts with the United Nation’s 1948 Article 25 “housing is a human right” by reducing access to housing to those who can afford the financial cost. Historically, social housing was a government-led answer to universal housing access. But shifting political, social, and economic priorities have generated a new ally – affordable housing – which differs from social housing in meaning, objective, associated policy, accessibility, and finance. Central to this change is a desire and pressure to achieve homeownership status, exchanging social inclusion for financial gain.


This paper catalogues the emergence of social housing from the industrial revolution until the mid-1970’s and the emergence of affordable housing. Affordable Housing is then introduced and defined before continuing to follow both housing trajectories in the context of housing commodification. The conclusion identifies key historical moments that have shaped England’s response through social housing and affordable housing, alongside corresponding stakeholder impact. The clarification of both terms is a necessary step towards ensuring all socio-economic groups are considered throughout the design and supporting policies of social housing, affordable housing, and sustainable housing.

Arquitectonics, Barcelona

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