Does more renting mean greater insecurity?
Spain’s residential and housing access system is undergoing transformation as a consequence of the accumulative effects of the property boom and its subsequent crisis. Spain was traditionally considered a country with low residential mobility and high residential security, this being understood as the peace of mind that comes from having a stable dwelling place. Compared with other western countries, in the 1980s the proportion of groups of people who, sharing housing and some common expenses (usually known as households), sought a new home, was very low. This security was directly related with the high point of the ownership model as the preferred form of housing tenure. However, the causal chain that explained this residential low mobility and greater security is breaking up. This change is related with greater access to housing through rental, as opposed to purchase. It is what some authors consider to be the end of home ownership for the masses.
In the Spanish context, the higher proportion of rental is associated with an increase in housing insecurity, in other words, the fear of losing one’s home. In Spain, rental is the least secure form of housing tenure on an economic, contractual and legal basis. It is characterised by strong sociodemographic heterogeneity, because not all social groups opt for rental to the same extent. Immigrants, young people, single-parent families and groups with lower economic resources are those that have traditionally tended more towards rental. Furthermore, private market rental, within the current Spanish context of a lack of regulation and social protection for housing, causes the most fragility and insecurity, despite being the most available housing offer that vulnerable groups can access.
1. The increase in rental in the new residential system
The transformation of the Spanish residential system is characterised by a significant increase in housing rental among young people and other groups in a vulnerable economic situation. Thus, the proportion of young households that own their homes shifted, in just four years (2013-2017) from over 60% down to 50%, while those renting their homes increased from 31.6% to 43.2%. Young people often lead changes in housing tenure behaviour, which in the long term alters the relationship between population and housing (Myers and Lee, 2016). In 2015, some 15.6% of all households in Spain were in rented housing; among young people this proportion rose to almost 40%. This tendency is becoming stronger. Among young people, home ownership is ceasing to be a majority option for housing tenure, and rental is no longer perceived as merely a provisional solution to the crisis.
Accelerated expansion in housing rental over recent years, however, is not only related to this option increasingly being taken by young people. Among the general population, housing rental went from being the housing option for 11.4% of people in 2013 to 13.8% in 2017. In Spain, the rental option is inversely related with availability of economic and social resources for access to home-owning. Rental has been the majority form of access to the housing market for immigrants, it is concentrated in urban environments and declines with age, because traditionally it has been considered a parallel strategy to the definitive option, which would be ownership. Being of non-Spanish origin, living in large cities, living in a very young household, having a low income, and living in Catalonia or Madrid is the typical profile of a person who rents their home. On the other hand, being of Spanish origin, living in rural areas or small towns, being aged over 30 years, having a partner and children, having sufficient income, and living outside of Catalonia or Madrid, is the most habitual profile of owner-occupiers.
2. The most vulnerable groups opt most for rental
As the number of people renting has increased, has the profile of the rental tenant changed? If renting had grown among those sociodemographic groups that traditionally had easier access to home ownership and didn’t opt for rental, we would say that the tendency towards renting had spread. However, this has not been the case, as it is the same groups that already tended towards renting that have most accentuated this option. Analysis of the data shows us how the rental tenant profile is maintained, and how the expansion of renting is being led, above all, by those groups with the greatest problems in accessing housing. This results in a tendency towards polarisation in which rental would be the least secure alternative.
Thus, suffering from poverty and/or social exclusion, as measured using the AROPE (At Risk of Poverty and/or Exclusion) indicator, is strongly related with housing tenure through rental. The comparative analysis of global rental figures shows how this relationship has intensified more in Spain’s case than across the set of European countries. In 2016, in Spain, 45% of people at risk of poverty or exclusion were renting their homes, whereas among people not facing such a risk, the percentage did not reach 20%. In contrast, in Europe, these figures stand at 40% and 25% respectively.
3. Fear of becoming homeless
With the increase in the number of people renting their homes, residential insecurity has also grown. Residential insecurity is a subjective indicator that reflects the fear of families of being forced to make an undesired change of home or of becoming homeless. While the increase in evictions, due to inability to afford mortgage or rental payments, are the visible face of this insecurity, the growth in this subjective indicator can be considered its invisible face.
Residential insecurity, because it is subjective, is related with the feeling of fear towards becoming homeless, which is also a fear of falling into exclusion. Residential insecurity means that people cannot plan their lives far into the future, because their stay in the housing is threatened by financial factors, by unstable tenure, or because the place where they live does not comply with conventional or cultural standards. This negative feeling with regard to housing can influence other spheres of life, such as plans to have or grow a family, the maintaining of family and social networks, finding employment, etc.
As a result of the economic crisis, residential insecurity in Spain has become quite a frequent phenomenon and is not limited to families in a situation of extreme economic or social fragility. In 2011, some 7% of Spanish households believed that it was probable or highly probable that they would have to change their homes for economic reasons, considerably more than in 2007, when this was the belief of 5.4%. Compared with Europe, the situation in Spain is relatively unfavourable. Of all the countries in the European Union, Spain stands sixth among the countries with the highest perception of residential insecurity, with much higher levels than countries such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Sweden and Germany, where this insecurity percentage stands at between 3% and 2%.
4. Young people, the unemployed, immigrants and single-parent families suffer greater insecurity
The perception of insecurity does not affect all households in the same way. Households that are economically more fragile suffer greater insecurity, and the increase in Spain of vulnerable groups in a situation of precarity has intensified this residential insecurity (Martínez García, 2014).
The most determinant sociodemographic dimensions with regard to the feeling of insecurity are form of tenure, employment situation, and migratory origin. The type of household and age also determine the perception of fear of not being able to remain in the home due to economic problems.
Living in an open market rental property is associated with a much higher forced mobility risk (18%) than living in a mortgaged property (8%). These percentages are much higher than in other European countries (11% and 4% respectively). The perception of insecurity is also very sensitive to the employment situation, especially with regard to unemployment. In all European countries, unemployment is one of the dimensions that most explains the different levels of insecurity, a situation that in Spain is intensified (with a percentage of 16% against a European average of 10%).
At the same time, being an immigrant increases the feeling of residential insecurity. In Europe, the residential insecurity of people born in another country triples the insecurity of citizens born in the same country. In Spain, these differences are exacerbated: non-Community immigrants multiply by six (up to 30%) the level of residential insecurity faced by non-immigrants, while the residents of other EC countries multiply it by five. Being an immigrant is a key factor in explaining residential insecurity in Spain, even more so than in the rest of Europe.
Insecurity is maximum among households headed by young people and, in contrast, is lowest among more mature households, as in Spain residential insecurity is not associated with old age. Young Spanish households experience residential risk with considerably greater frequency than their peers in other countries (over 12% versus the European average of 8%), while elderly people present equivalent levels (between 2% and 3%). The most secure type of household is a couple (6% risk of insecurity among couples with children and 4% if they are childless), whereas among single-parent households, usually a single woman with or without children, this risk is much higher (14%), both with respect to other types of household and with respect to the average of European single parent households (9%).
5. More vulnerability, more rental, more insecurity
The combination of economic precarity and lack of residential stability means a greater feeling of insecurity in those households in a situation of vulnerability. This subjective sensation corresponds with a greater risk of having to leave the home involuntarily for economic reasons. In other words, the subjective perception of insecurity corresponds with the objective data on forced residential mobility. The most available offering for these households to access the housing pool is rental, the most fragile option.
In Spain, rental is the form of tenure that represents the greatest risk of forced mobility. Some 18% of households living in market rental housing in Spain face the risk of having to leave their home due to economic reasons. In fact, this risk is even higher if the whole set of southern European countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta) is considered. In contrast, across the whole of the European Union this risk is lower, 12%. The risk of forced mobility is also high among households that live in subsidised rental housing, probably because this housing pool is allocated to more vulnerable households.
This greater risk of undesired, forced mobility, offers us a new scenario, that of sociodemographic housing insecurity (Beck, 1992), an increasingly common situation among groups with lower economic and social resources. The mixture of an increase in vulnerable households, and a rental market that has deficit of regulation and governmental protection, has as a consequence an increase in residential instability. The socio-demographic insecurity of residential systems includes both its objective dimension (risk of forced mobility) and its subjective dimension (residential insecurity).
Suffering from poverty and/or social exclusion (measured by the AROPE indicator) is also related with greater residential insecurity. Among those people at risk of poverty or exclusion, between 2011 and 2016, the probability of suffering residential insecurity has increased more than 50% (52.3% versus 34.4%). At the same time, for the rest of the Spanish population not at risk of poverty or exclusion, insecurity also increased significantly (33.2% versus 20.7%).
In Spain, the high level of residential insecurity, defined as a lack of confidence regarding being able to continue living in the same home in the short term, is the result of a mixture of factors. Firstly, a greater general risk exists, compared with Europe, of perceiving insecurity. Furthermore, residential insecurity is more intense and has a negative effect on groups that are more vulnerable. And, lastly, these socio-demographic groups, which suffer from greater social and economic precarity, have a higher relative weight among the population than in other European countries.
6. Conclusions: the Spanish residential system as a structural problem
The greater insecurity in Spain is explained largely by the fact that the individual risk of losing the home for economic reasons is higher than in other countries. The origin of this risk must be attributed to causes external to the household, related with the economic context of the time, and with the institutional, legal and political framework, i.e., structural elements of the Spanish residential system. The economic crisis led to an increase in insecurity with respect to 2007, but the legal framework worsened people’s fear of losing their home, with semi-automatic eviction procedures, denounced by the institutions of the European Union (Pérez-Lanzac, 2014). Furthermore, in Spain, as happens in other countries in southern Europe, housing policies with a social focus, centred on protecting residents, are practically non-existent.
Besides these problems of the residential system, within the Spanish context, the risk of suffering economic precarity and social vulnerability has increased. In this sense, even though employment policies do not directly intervene in housing problems, these types of public regulation systems also have an impact on residential security.
In Spain, greater residential insecurity is concentrated among rental housing. Groups that most resort to rental – young people and other economically vulnerable groups -are the people who suffer most from fear of becoming homeless or of forced mobility. This insecurity affects other areas of their lives, such as health, social relations or life planning, and leads to across-the-board insecurity.
Housing policies should not only guarantee access to housing, but also facilitate the stability of people in their own homes, preventing forced mobility and increasing residential security.
This article is based on:
MÓDENES, J.A. (2017): “La inseguridad residencial por problemas económicos en Spain comparada con el entorno europeo”, Papers: Revista de Sociologia, 102(4).
MÓDENES, J.A., and A. BOTELHO AZEVEDO (2017): “Más alquiler, ¿también más inseguridad residencial? Nuevas tendencias en los hogares jóvenes españoles tras la crisis”, Revista de Estudios de Juventud, 116.
MÓDENES, J.A., and J. LÓPEZ-COLÁS (2017): “El fin de la propiedad de masas en Spain: rasgos emergentes del alquiler en el nuevo sistema residencial”, International Conference on Regional Science, Sevilla, November 15-17.
BECK, U. (1992): Risk society: towards a new modernity, London: Sage.
MARTÍNEZ GARCÍA, J.S. (2014): “¿Cómo afecta la crisis a las clases sociales?”, Político, 20.
MYERS, D., and H. LEE (2016): “Cohort momentum and future homeownership: the outlook to 2050”, Cityscape, 18(1).
PÉREZ-LANZAC, C. (2014): "El tribunal de la UE también considera abusiva la reforma de la ley hipotecaria", El País, 17 July.