Affordability

Christian Darr
Stiftung trias, Hattingen (Ruhr), Germany; christian.darr@stiftung-trias.de

Rolf Novy-Huy
Stiftung trias, Hattingen (Ruhr), Germany; rolf.novy@stiftung-trias.de

Short definition 

“Affordable spaces” relates to the demand of the operators and users to have access to a space that fits their needs in physical perspective, but also corresponds to their economic power. Affordability recognizes that socio-economic inequalities exist that make it difficult or impossible for deprived groups to meet basic needs such as nutritious food, housing, working, transportation, etc. The term thus raises the importance for such groups to be able to access and enjoy these goods sustainably. It also recognizes the relevance of resource integration, which can be understood through two different perspectives: First, the integration of resources is a key requirement for the success of revitalization attempts, especially in deprived and/or marginalized areas, like for example the integration of volunteer work from the surrounding area of a site or the use of specialized funding opportunities. Second, the specific resources of (heritage) sites belong to the unique features, which are an important element of success. 

Key discussions around the term 

Affordability in (urban) planning relates in most publications on “relationships between housing, non-housing expenditures and income poverty” (Haffner and Hulse 2019, 65). The debate has become broadened after the Global Financial Crisis 2009 as “revival of discussions about housing affordability as a consequence of house price and rent increases and urban restructuring” (ibid.)

As a result the growing influence of the financial sector on the economy (Brown et al. 2017) and especially the real estate sector, summarized as financialization (Mertens 2014, 55; Plan Limited 2017) and (with smaller impact) migration and urbanization tendencies (Heeg 2013) have led to growing capital investments in land and real-estate. Combined with financial deregulation and addressing individual responsibility, more investments in real estate have occurred, which result in rising expenditures for housing between 2000 and 2011 from 20,3% to 23% of total household expenditures in the EU (Heeg 2013, 10). The debates and therefore the definition of affordability is almost comparable for housing and non-housing purposes. Therefore, the question of affordability is crucial also for the projects related to OpenHeritage, because the preservation and presentation of the heritage aspects is an additional financial expenditure.

Affordable often relates to vulnerable users and groups with smaller economic opportunities, compared to the overall standard, which is pointed out for example for artists (Center for Cooperatives 1993, 46) or people in social transfer systems (Dickerson 2014, 274), elderly people (Housing Solutions Platform 2019, 28), minorities or refugees. Examples of affordable spaces for these groups are studios for arts and culture, social housing apartments, or spaces for certain businesses, like workshops or parking lots for food trucks for people who are not able to finance a restaurant (Dickerson 2014, 233).

The market liberalization tendencies noticed since the 1980s, led to increasing gentrification. The results are growing inequalities and displacement tendencies in European cities (Cocola-Gant 2019).

In conclusion, the term “affordability” is linked to three conditions: space must be available, it must meet the needs of the intended use, and the financial cost of access and maintain must correspond to the economic possibilities of the users. 

The relation between financialization and ownership has been summarized by Maryel Battin: “The importance of local owners can not be overstated. Each has a stake in the community and ownership is not just an investment for them” (Delvac et al. 1995, 36). This means, in order to enlarge the accessibility of affordable spaces it is important to address questions of ownership to secure affordability and responsibility. The ownership among people of the local community seems to offer a good perspective to combine affordability and responsibility. Collective ownership can be organized with shares and memberships, where revenues and decision-making are organized with shares and memberships in legal forms. Examples are cooperatives, associations, and companies.

Reference list

Brown, Andrew, David A. Spencer, Marco Veronese Passarella. “The Extent and Variegation of Financialisation in Europe: a Preliminary Analysis.” Revista de Economía Mundial (World Economy Journal), no. 46 (2017): 49-69.

Center for Cooperatives. Cooperative housing compendium: resources for collaborative living. Edited by Lottie Cohen, Lois Arkin. Davis CA: Center for Cooperatives, University of California, 1993.

Cócola-Gant, Agustin. “Gentrification and displacement: urban inequality in cities of late capitalism.” In Handbook of Urban Geography, edited by Tim Schwanen and Ronald Van Kempen. Cheltenham and Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019.

Delvac, William F., Susan M. Escherich, Bridget Hartman. Affordable Housing Through Historic Preservation: A Case Study Guide to Combining the Tax Credits. Diane Pub Co, 1995.

Dickerson, Michele. Homeownership and America’s Financial Underclass: Flawed Premises, Broken Promises, New Prescriptions. Austin TX: School of Law, University of Texas, 2014.

Haffner, Marietta E. A. and Kath Hulse. “A fresh look at contemporary perspectives on urban housing affordability.” International Journal of Urban Sciences, 25:sup1 (2019): 59-79. https://doi.org/10.1080/12265934.2019.1687320.

Heeg, Susanne. Wohnen als Anlageform: Vom Gebrauchsgut zur Ware. Emanzipation 3, no. 2 (2013): 5-20.

Housing Solutions Platform. “Collectief Goed: Affordable Housing, Participation and Empowerment.” In 50 Out-of-the-Box Housing Solutions, edited by Housing Solutions Platform. Brussels: Housing Solutions Platform, 2019.

Mertens, Daniel. “Varianten der Finanzialisierung: Was treibt und was bremst die private Verschuldung in Deutschland?” In MPIfG Jahrbuch 2015-2016. Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, 2015, 55-60.

Plan Limited. “Financialization of housing and the right to adequate housing”. 2017, Accessed May 12, 2020.

Tosics, Ivan. “The housing paradox: more financing – less affordability?” URBACT, March 3, 2020. https://urbact.eu/housing-more-financing-less-affordability.