Comparing Housing Systems: Housing Performance and Housing Policy in the United States and Britain

By Valerie Karn; Harold Wolman | Go to book overview

8
Tenure Choice: The Private Rental Sector

In both the United States and Britain the size and condition of the private rental sector have become important policy concerns. Indeed, these concerns are sometimes expressed explicitly in terms of the other country: thus, in the United States some analysts have expressed concern that the private rental sector is heading down the same path of decline as it did in Britain; while in Britain commentators frequently ask whether it is possible to structure a private rental sector which can function as successfully as that in America! The apparent contradictions between the British view of the American private rented sector as 'successful' and the American view that it is in crisis suggest the need for some more careful analysis and consideration.

An adequately functioning private rental sector--or some sector which provides an alternative to home-ownership and does not rely on waiting-lists for allocation--serves several important functions. First, it meets the need for ready access to temporary housing for those in an area for a relatively short time, for example, students, those looking for work, or those with a temporary posting; these are usually young single people or childless couples. Second, it promotes mobility by permitting more established households to move from one area to another for employment or other purposes without needing to buy another house immediately whether or not they have adequate capital for this. Third, private rental accommodation also provides 'first' housing units for new households without sufficient capital for house purchase. Finally, it can provide for the increasing number of households created as a result of family break-up; these households need accommodation, often at short notice, for a variable length of time until permanent arrangements are made.

In Britain the first two roles still fall almost entirely on the tiny private rental sector, although local authorities and housing associations have begun to allocate housing to these groups, especially if there is slack demand from others. The third and fourth roles

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