The Broadening and Mystified Margins of Housing Deprivation
FEANTSA CONFERENCEHOMELESSNESS, MIGRATION AND DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE IN EUROPEPisa 16/9/2011The broadening and mystified margins of urban deprivationThomas Maloutas1DRAFTIn my talk today I will focus on the changing political perception of housing deprivation andneighbourhood decay in Europe, and I will insist on recent changes in the new landscapeproduced by the sovereign debt crisis in Southern Europe. I will mainly refer to the waysurban deprivation is mystified, as egalitarian discourses tend to disappear and liberalpositions become so hegemonic that they appear as reason and common sense forincreasingly larger audiences.Unequal housing conditions, and residential areas of very different social composition andquality, producing negative or positive neighbourhood effects, are certainly not new; theyare older than capitalism and they are part and parcel of unequal societies. Capitalism hasmerely changed the ways socio-spatial inequalities are reproduced by making them theoutcome of economic processes rather than the outcome of more open forms of socialviolence. It also changed the geography of deprivation, as the housing question andsegregation developed par excellence in the rapidly growing industrial cities.By urban deprivation I refer to the combination of housing deprivation ranging fromhomelessness to housing conditions significantly below the national or regional average,and to neighbourhood characteristics that have a negative impact on the living conditionsand social mobility prospects of their population. Significant neighbourhood characteristicsinclude -according to the neighbourhood or area effect literature- the social profile ofneighbourhoods and their intrinsic qualities -such as the environmental quality or thequantity and quality of local services- as well as the status of the neighbourhood, rangingfrom privileged to stigmatised. The deprivation I refer to is, therefore, a combination of badhousing conditions and segregation.Urban deprivation has been the object of vivid debate between liberal and socialistapproaches in the early and mid 19th century (Lees 1985), when, on the one hand, citieswere accused as cauldrons of the egoist and profit oriented spirit that bred inequality andled to the acute deprivation of large working class masses, and, on the other hand, werepraised for their role in boosting economic, political and cultural development that madeworking class deprivation the necessary price industrial societies had to pay in their way toeconomic development that would eventually be profitable to all their members. Since thenmany things changed including production processes, technology, work organisation,regulation regimes and social structures, leading class relations to constant remouldingunder the influence of local and global events. These changes produced an increasingcomplexity that became potentially mystifying for urban deprivation, especially since classdivisions became increasingly intricate and cross-cut by ethnic, racial and genderdivisions. From the greedy landlords of the 19th century to the sub-prime housing loancrisis, and from the parallel formation of wide suburban middle class areas and inner-city1 Harokopio University & National Centre for Social Research (EKKE)
slums to the much more intricate and localised partition processes of gentrification, of theemergence of gated-communities or of edge cities, the mechanisms producing housingdeprivation and segregation became increasingly complex.In spite of this increasing complexity, however, the main parameters of urban deprivationremain practically the same, since deprivation depends, first of all, on the inequalitiesreproduced in the labour market and on the impact of unequally accumulated wealth onthe social structure; second, on the quantity, quality and spatial distribution of the housingstock; and third, on the dominant modes of housing allocation in terms of their degree ofdecommodification and on the directly or indirectly discriminating access to housing indifferent areas in terms of non-economic features like race or citizenship.Globalisation, following some approaches at least, has simplified deprivation patternssince it has boosted inequalities; according to the influential global city thesis (Sassen …)it has brought about social and spatial polarisation, and following the quartered or layeredcity theses (Marcuse …) it has increased the social and spatial partitioning of urban space,even though in a more complex way than the dual mode. Some authors consider deprivedgroups as part of the functional logic of the new socioeconomic structure -since they arenecessary for routine corporate jobs or for the personal service of the new managerial andprofessional elite- while other authors insist that increasingly large numbers of people arepermanently marginalised from the labour market, and consequently from the housingmarket.Even though the situation may be getting clearer according to globalisation theorists -inthe sense of increasing socioeconomic distance and deepening social dichotomies-, urbandeprivation is getting more mystified as neoliberal ideas get increasingly dominant, and asegalitarian discourses become disused and politically irrelevant.Poor neighbourhoods usually become problematic due to the scarcity of resources that areattributed to meeting local social needs following the dominance of neoliberal policies ofsocial regulation and the prolonged crisis of the welfare state. The constant retreat ofsocial objectives before those of growth and productivity have especially affected thoseneighbourhoods which lack the means to function within the standards of their broaderurban surroundings. Neighbourhood hierarchies produced by the uneven spatialdistribution of unequal social groups in urban space have become sharper following theshortcomings of social services and entitlements to even out this unevenness.Neighbourhood hierarchies embody segregation; and they contribute to reproducing socialinequality and discrimination through the differentiated neighbourhood effects they inflictupon their population. This simple depiction of socio-spatial inequality is buried, however,under a fourfold mystification that evicts the social nature of the problem.The first mystification is to consider neighbourhood problems as spatial rather than social.This takes us back to the Chicago School tradition and the substitution of social by spatialdimensions on the assumption that the latter can be effectively used as a surrogate in thestudy of the former (Park, 1957/19??). In this way, different types of spaces –like innercities in the Anglophone world or the French banlieues– are attributed some inherentfeatures associated each time with particular types of space rather than with theunderlying social processes. Spatializing the problem is evicting or, at least, putting asidethe question of social inequality. The focus on problematic spaces may be witnessingsocial concern, but at the same time, it isolates the problem from the wider / ‘mainstream’society assumed to be working properly and not responsible, in fact, for producing socio-spatial deprivation. Spatializing the problem is also often inviting to look for solutions thatwould cure spaces rather than tackle their problematic social content. Spatialization is
suitable to a neoliberal approach in the sense that social (inequality) issues can besubjugated to policies of local development assumed to be socially beneficial in anunidentified future.The second mystification is to consider neighbourhood problems as legal rather thansocial. This takes us to moralist and normative approaches with a focus on what ought tobe happening rather than on what really happens. When neighbourhoods with acute socialproblems are primarily identified as places of deviance and anomie, social inequality is putaside by bringing to the fore the rules and norms that should be observed by everyone onthe basis of their presumed equal legal rights (and obligations) and on the assumptionthat, whatever the problems, rules have to be observed by everybody. The recedingconcern for social inequality in the name of legal equality invites reasoning in terms ofindividual responsibility and promotes solutions towards imposing adequate behaviour tothose that fail to act as they are expected and as they ought to. Neoliberal discourses areinclined to stress individual responsibility and obligations as they prefer the lower cost ofsocial regulation based on workfare and zero-tolerance rather than on entitlements.The third –and increasingly powerful– mystification is to consider that the local deprivationproblems should be faced as economic rather than social. This usually takes the form ofeither seeing neighbourhoods in difficulty as opportunities for investment –regardless of,and often in spite of, their social content– or to consider investment for their improvementas ineffective and, therefore, as wasted. The liberal economic doctrine considers, moregenerally, social spending as inefficient, on the assumption that it often encouragespassive behaviour and dependence on welfare. The social legitimation of this prescriptionstems from the broader liberal assumption that investment immediately contributing toincreasing productivity and growth will create wealth that will eventually trickle down to allparts of society and this is why it should replace direct social spending. The downplayingof social inequality before economic necessity leads to systematically de-prioritizing andde-legitimating social objectives and to subjecting everything to an economic rationale.This becomes even more prominent in situations of crisis, like the current sovereign debtcrisis.The fourth mystification –and the one directly related to migration and demographicchange– is to consider that neighbourhood problems are cultural rather than social. AngelaMerkel recently declared that multiculturalism has failed, David Cameron has followed suitsoon afterwards, while Sarkozy and Berlusconi are actively proving to be on the samewavelength. Countries that used to be quite open to the ‘Other’ –like most North Europeancountries and Australia– are changing their attitude, while support for parties and groupspreaching intolerance and xenophobia is growing fast. This changing political attitudetowards alterity by conservative parties and electorates (and often by less conservativeones) should be interpreted, in my view, on the basis of two facets and functions of alteritythat are partly contradictory.The first is alterity’s function as a dividing and ultimately as an individualizing principle andtool. The postmodernist legitimation of difference and hybridity and, in fact, theacknowledgment of increasingly sub-divisible collective identities has nurtured the capacityof social and political systems to break free from the collective identities which had beenfundamental for the modernist project and for the social rights associated with it thatculminated in the development of the welfare state. In this way, the broad collectiveidentities –around which social rights had been anchored– were undermined by thediverse and sometimes contradictory identities they carried internally: age, race, gender orethnicity have had a dismantling effect on class identity and politics, and this shouldtheoretically be part of a continuous process of deconstruction of collective identities,leading to the liberal Thatcherite ideal of society being the mere aggregation of individualsfree to compete with each other and rational in terms of the selfish disposition that drives
their competitive choices. In this sense, the story of the “invention of alterity” (Tsoukalas2010) may be read not only as a step towards emancipation and mutual understanding,but rather as a device that has ultimately served to undermine collective organization andcollective action on the basis of difference. In spite of the theoretical possibilities fordifferent political outcomes offered by intersectionality, neoliberalism has been feeding (on)this dismantling fragmentation of national and class identities for several decades and hasgenerally prevailed as the way to restructure social and political systems.The second facet of alterity is its opposite function that re-forms collective identities,especially that of the ‘not-Other’ as an embodiment of claims on the resources the Other isattributed. The increasing political significance of the ‘not-Other’, within national and sub-national boundaries, witnesses that it is the turn of multicultural identities to come undersevere attack. This time not as they used to be in the assimilationist ethos of Frenchrepublicanism, but as a redundancy allegedly threatening the local not-Otherness inmultiple ways. However, not all collective identities pertaining to alterity come under attack.Some become mainstreamed. Those at stake are the ones whose collective organization,action or mere presence become an impediment to the neoliberal project by reclaimingresources, even though these claims are usually far less than claims for true equity andredistributive justice. Multiculturalism becomes a problem when it denotes the social rightsof vulnerable groups that need resources for all sorts of social services and affirmativeaction irrespective of economic effectiveness. Attacking multiculturalism today is notnegating difference; on the contrary, it is considering difference as incompatible with thelocal ‘not-Otherness’ and refusing –on that ground– the worth of spending resources forlarge segments of today’s societies, using the growing political support of crisis strickenelectorates and the political weakness of groups under attack. Attacking multiculturalism isin fact deepening the attack on the welfare state and pleading instead for cheapersolutions in the form of secluded police-states.Now, a few thoughts about the contextual limits of what I have said. The way I presentedthe character of urban deprivation and its multiple mystification is to a large extentEurocentric. House deprivation and problematic neighbourhoods are approached quitedifferently on the other side of the Atlantic, for instance.The contextual character of approaches to urban deprivation becomes clear in the policiesthat are supposed to deal with neighbourhood problems. These approaches are deeplyaffected by the ideological substratum on which they stand. On the American side theperception of segregation is founded on the dominance of economic liberalism, personalmerit and on a very high rate of residential mobility. From the era of Chicago School’snatural areas the high rates of social and residential mobility led to intense shifting andsorting on the housing market, and the relation of people to places became increasing fluidand temporary. People and places formed two distinct, even though interrelated,hierarchies: places according to quality, accessible by people according to merit. As themarket became dominant in the allocation of housing, there was a widespread belief –illustrating its ideological dominance– that where people live reflects where they deserveto live and hence that whatever residential segregation exists should not be considered asocial problem.Racial discrimination, however, has been distorting the image of the meritocratic systemobstructing potentially deserving African Americans (and others) from accessing betterplaces, while the cracks of the market produced barriers to deserving poor (Whites aswell). Following the same ideological doctrine, segregation becomes an equal opportunityproblem limited to the lower social strata. Policies devised to confront it aim at providingopportunities to escape from bad areas rather than to improve them, and people may bemoved to less segregated residential areas (MTO, HOPE) or to non-segregated schools
(bussing).The tendency to dissociate, in policy terms, between people and places in the US shouldcertainly be related to the long history of racial discrimination that flagrantly obstructedaccess to the land and housing markets for substantial parts of the population. At somepoint, the free movement of individuals for residential location anywhere they could affordbecame at the same time a recommendation of economic liberalism and a progressiveclaim for the civil rights movement. In Europe, on the contrary, concern was developedregarding the negative impact of the freely relocating individuals and households throughthe mechanism of land and housing markets that produces an uneven spatial distributionof social groups and, at the same time, uneven living conditions and life prospects indifferent localities.The Western and Northern European city is substantially different from the US city in thisrespect, because the fates of people are much more tied to places. This may be partly dueto the much lower residential mobility, but mainly to the fact that the ideological influence ofeconomic liberalism has been comparatively reduced, and questions of residential areaquality are constitutive parts of citizen equality in the French republican ethos, or of socialrights in Scandinavian welfare societies. Such frames do not dissociate between peopleand places and were the grounds on which area based policies were developed as a wayto combat urban segregation in several countries around Europe.Urban deprivation and intercultural cohabitation in the neighbourhood are, therefore, quitedifferent issues when addressed in the European or the US context. In Europe, however,there are various sub-contexts, some of them quite distant from the dominant West andNorth European pattern. The South European context, to which I will turn now, is certainlyquite distant form this pattern.Southern Europe is lately at the forefront of international interest due to the sovereign debtcrisis, and Greece has a leading role in this play. The countries of the region operate on adiscipline and punish mode, coerced by financial markets to follow specific policiesirrespective of the political colour of their governments. The disciplining towards a specificversion of capitalist regulation is certainly less savage than some decades ago in LatinAmerica. It bears some similarity with the transition to unleashed market economies inEast European countries since the early 1990s in terms of discourses urging to do awaywith economic inefficiency. Another similarity can be found in the political legitimation ofeconomic change; reinstating democratic institutions in Eastern Europe and doing awaywith clientelism in Southern Europe. The attack of financial markets on this region isprobably aiming higher: by disciplining the periphery of the European Union and theEurozone, an increasing pressure is put on social policies and the welfare state at thecore. The debt in Greece is very large, probably unsustainable, and the policies to get overit are the usual: privatization at any cost, reduction of the size of the public sector,reduction of labour cost, reduction of labour protection, banning of restricted access tocertain professions and banning of red tape and other obstacles to potential investors. Forthe time being, such measures have only partly been implemented and their impact seemsto have deepened the recession by producing chain reactions due to decreasing demand.This does not seem, however, to be an issue for the lending institutions and theircontrollers. The prescribed policies have to be observed to secure the flow of the loanmoney. The recipe, once more, makes sense mostly in ideological rather than in economicterms.Southern Europe is actually caught up in a crisis of clientelist regimes that developed inthe post-war period; initially clientelism was linked to authoritarian and often dictatorialright-wing regimes that favoured their political supporters and oppressed the rest.
Following political democratization in the 1970s, clientelism was no longer restrained toright-wing parties and involved much larger political audiences within bi-partisandemocracies. The democratization of clientelism brought often concessions to wide socialcategories, including lower social strata. The ideological dominance of neoliberalism leadsto accusing these regimes for economic inefficiency, but in fact the accusation is abouttheir social concessions.Before current developments and their impact, urban deprivation in Southern Europe hasevolved in specific ways and patterns. Housing deprivation and segregation issues moregenerally have not figured frequently –until recently at least– as a broad concern on thesocial and political agendas in Southern Europe. There are several reasons related to this:Urbanization in this region has been much less dependent on industrial developmentcompared to the classic industrial city. Push rather than pull factors have triggered thespectacular population growth after WW2 in Southern European large cities. In most ofthem there was absence of the rationale and the organization patterns that especially theheavy industry imposed on the industrial city under the form of activity zoning, oforganized housing provision for workers near the factories, of different forms of transportinfrastructure and of services related to maintaining and reproducing the work force. Theabsence of corporate needs for large numbers of workers in specific places and withspecific skills has reduced the social and political pressure for organizing amenities in theclassic welfare state form and facilitated governments to opt alternatively for lesscomprehensive regulation and less expensive solutions for state funds. Authoritarianregimes and clientelism have monitored the process and driven it away from welfaristapproaches to partisan, discriminating, individualised and family-centred practices ofwelfare provision.The residual welfare state model in Southern Europe has been the outcome of theseprocesses and housing is probably its most characteristic part. Social housing has beenpoorly developed, with very low rates for social rented housing in particular. New settlers inurban areas have often been left alone to devise their own housing solutions, and wereencouraged to do so through self-promotion, haphazard construction or through affordableprivate sector schemes. In spite of the diversity of housing provision schemes in theregion, the outcome was a comparatively high rate of homeownership which reducedresidential mobility, facilitated the establishment and reproduction of family and commonorigin self-help networks and –ultimately– reduced the formation of socially segregatedareas. It has also prevented homelessness to a large extent, as most vulnerableindividuals were covered by their family network.Reduced residential mobility in Southern Europe has contributed to the gradualimprovement of traditional working class areas through the social mobility of their residentswho have not followed the expected pattern of moving to a better area as soon as theirsocial status improved, as witnessed by traditional working class areas in Madrid andAthens. The relative spatial fixity of the socially mobile –due primarily to the local socialnetworks they depend upon– and the absence of massive concentration of out-datedsocial housing projects has prevented most South European cities from developingimportant pockets of segregation and deprivation. This is not only true for the first post-wardecades of intensive urbanization; it is also true for the last 20 years when SouthernEurope became the host of an important wave of immigration from the South and the East.Due to the structure of the housing market and the spatial distribution of the different typesof housing stock, immigrants with low means have not been compelled to coalesce inspace and enhance segregation. In most cases they had to use the private rented sectorsince no other alternative was present. The outcome is that this important inflow of
economically deprived people was broadly distributed in the urban tissue rather thanisolated in some of its parts. Segregation indices for migrants in general in most largeSouth European cities are rather low. Indices for particular small ethnic groups are usuallymisleadingly high. Ethnic groups tend to coalesce in space due to the ways they accessthe housing market, but also to the wish to be near relatives and friends. The classicsegregation index of dissimilarity measures the degree of this coalescence, which is notthe negative aspect of segregation. Small immigrant groups are almost always a minorityin their neighbourhood, which means that, even though their members can be found onlyin some parts of the city, they are never isolated from the rest of the population and theyhardly ever represent the majority in the neighbourhoods where they live.Migrants in Southern Europe, during the 1990s at least, have not only been spatiallydiffused in South European cities, but have also found niches in the local socioeconomicstructures, even though -contrary to migration waves in previous periods- they were mostlydriven away from their original countries rather than invited by the labour markets ofSouthern Europe. In fact, immigrants have mostly occupied lower status jobs left-over bylocals in a context of relatively high social mobility. They found employment inconstruction, agriculture and tourism as well as in personal services of elderly and childcare in a context of residual welfare states –where they replaced local women’s traditionaldomestic roles as the latter were increasingly compelled to work. Their low pay and oftenthe lack of social security within the black economy, was suitable for small employers andfamily businesses, but eventually, as their numbers grew, became a further problem for thealready burdened pension funds and social services.Southern European societies experienced growing difficulties as their clientelist and family-centred welfare systems became increasingly unsustainable. The ageing of the localpopulation and the record-low birthrate in Spain, Italy and Greece since the 1980s haveimpacted on the age structure of the labour market, on the need for social services (in acontext where they were traditionally underdeveloped) and increased the pressure on thefamily-centred welfare system which lacked the human resources for its reproduction. Atthe same time, South European societies experience for sometime now a standstill andeven a drawback in social mobility for the middle social strata reflected both in the difficultyconcerning their reproduction and the falling status of jobs, that used to be prestigious,after their precipitated growth. It is characteristic that in Spain between the mid 1990s andthe late 2000s the salaries of professionals were those that increased the less within theoccupational hierarchy. This pressure on middle class reproduction has increased theantagonism regarding important resources (like schools) and has made it more difficult forlower social strata –and even more so for immigrants– to compete in the same race. Inthis sense, the pressure for relative deprivation has increased, while absolute deprivationmay also be on the agenda as unemployment rises sharply, small businesses are closingand middle class resources, that provided part of immigrant employment, are restrained.A further problem, with a negative impact on urban deprivation, is the changing profile ofimmigration in Southern Europe from that of the East European or Latin Americaneconomic immigrant to that of political refugee from war zones and sinistered areas in thebroader Middle-East and Africa. This means that groups with greater needs and lesspersonal resources (language skills, education level etc) –and therefore with greaterdifficulties for integration– are increasingly present, while an acute crisis of public financesis hitting the region and reduces the means South European countries could deploy tofacilitate integration.Moreover, if the rather low degree of spatial isolation is the bright side of class and ethno-racial segregation in Southern Europe, there is also a dark side in the fact that deprivation,especially for immigrant groups, may be quite important, even without the support ofintense segregation (Arbaci, …). Housing of very different quality may exist in the same
area, the same street, even the same building; and households living in the same areamay be using completely different commercial and social services (like schools forexample) which may differentiate their living conditions and life prospects in decisive ways.Social and spatial distance are far from corresponding.In this sense, the management of deprived neighbourhoods in Southern Europe seems tobecome harder both because new immigrant groups have greater needs and lessresources, while public funds come under severe stress at the same time. This negativedynamic facilitates greatly the mystification of neighbourhood problems as social issuesbecome secondary before the need for economic recovery, and may be easily attributed tocauses like immigrants’ cultural diversity.