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The sociology of housing and the housing problem

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  1. Introduction.
  2. An organizational scheme for housing research.
  3. The societal context: An historical perspective.
    1. Living conditions, health, and social reform before 1920.
    2. Eventual selective government intervention in the 1920's to the 1930's.
    3. Responding to intrinsic demand in the 1940s.
    4. Discrimination.
    5. Behavior.
  4. The societal context: A cross-national contrast.
    1. Market systems.
    2. Welfare states.
    3. Socialist states.
  5. Conclusion.

At its most elementary level, housing serves as shelter, offering protection against inclement weather and victimization by street crime. Housing fulfils other functions as well. It is typically a significant economic investment, for households as well as builders. Residents also tend to hold emotional attachments to housing as home. In addition, governments have used housing as a tool to attain other policy objectives, such as reducing unemployment or inflation, and dispersing, integrating or segregating population groups. Given its significant roles in society, housing provides important angles for sociological research. First, housing must accommodate behavioral needs related to family life and neighborly interactions. Second, housing reflects and reinforces social and economic structures. For example, stratification and discrimination crystallize as a tangible housing problematic whose study sheds light on their broader manifestation. Third, housing links outcomes at the individual level to higher level phenomena. The homelessness of households, for example, can be seen in the context of regional housing and labor markets, which in turn operate under national policies and global investment patterns. It is an arena where interest group dynamics are played out in regard to the allocation of scarce resources.

[...] In this chapter, we address the wider sociological analysis of housing research, which deals with housing both as object and as process, together with the contexts in which such analysis has emerged. An Organizational Scheme for Housing Research The conventional conception of housing is: apartments, housing units, buildings. They vary by design, cost, location, and scale. Whatever their characteristics, they are the physical objects of built environment. It is essential to know what quality of housing is available with specific design characteristics, and at specific costs, locations, and scales. [...]


[...] Some housing for people unable to get decent housing on the private market was built during this period, but with the initiative of lower levels of government and philanthropic bodies. The U.S. federal government only entered this sphere closer to the end of the depression, in 1937. In the 1930s, a coalition of liberal reformers, the National Housing Conference, the National Association of Housing Officials, and labor groups had pressured the U.S. government to take permanent responsibility for the provision of low-rent public housing. [...]


[...] The bias of market-oriented housing policies and the problems resulting from their inadequacy are the subject of extensive literature. There is also a large body of research on community-based organizations attempting to make up for lack of government support. Welfare States Welfare states maintain private ownership of enterprise, but have policies protecting the rights of individuals to basic human needs. The Scandinavian nations and The Netherlands are good examples, though welfare programs in other European nations are also strong in international perspective. [...]

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