The changing basis of state support for housing associations: A theoretical and empirical analysis

Back, Glenn Paul (1984). The changing basis of state support for housing associations: A theoretical and empirical analysis. PhD thesis The Open University.



In contrast to theories which explain social reforms in terms of the power of individuals, structuralism focuses upon the role of the state in capitalist society. The state is seen as purposive-rational, acting economically, to ensure the continued accumulation of capital, and/or politically, to ensure the hegemony of the bourgeiosie. According to this view all power resides within social structures, outside of the influence of working people, even as a class. Thus state intervention in housing is presented as a deliberate strategy to incorporate and thereby defuse working class pressure, with the intention of cementing existing economic relations. Recent modifications to this radical perspective have suggested that classes do have power, and that political and ideological struggle can be constituted relatively autonomously from economic relations.

The recent growth of state support for housing associations provides an opportunity to reevaluate these differing views of state intervention. Is state support for housing associations best explained in economic, political or ideological terms? The economic basis of housing association provision is not substantially different from local authority provision. Provision through association is not cheaper than provision through local authorities, and both rely upon the private sector for house building. In addition, there has been no discernable working class commencement of the municipal programme. Rather, an analysis of political debates on legislation relevant to housing associations demonstrates that support is dependent upon the ideological attitudes of central government towards the relative desirability of private or public sector provision. This has led to sharp party political differences in the tasks that associations have been encourage to perform. These policy shifts have encourage the association movement to develop a wide diversity of organisational forms which renders central government control of the movement problematical, and leads to wide variations in the relationship between local authorities and housing associations. The association movement thus has no clearly defined role, which leads it to house people who are, on many social indicators, mid-way between owners and public tenants.

These findings suggest than an economically functionalist view of state intervention is incapable of explaining recent support for the housing association movement. Rather, the policy seems more consistent with a relative autonomy view of state intervention in which policies can pursue political and ideological strategies. Until government policies are related to crucial issues of housing production and consumption, and are as purposive-rational as radical writers would have us believe, associations are likely to suffer considerable uncertainty as a result of as hoc policy formation which leaves them in search of a distinctive role.

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