Housing inequality

See caption
Aerial view of a slum in a suburb of Manila

Housing inequality is a disparity in the quality of housing in a society which is a form of economic inequality. The right to housing is recognized by many national constitutions, and the lack of adequate housing can have adverse consequences for an individual or a family.[1] The term may apply regionally (across a geographic area), temporally (between one generation and the next) or culturally (between groups with different racial or social backgrounds).[2] Housing inequality is directly related to racial, social, income and wealth inequality. It is often the result of market forces, discrimination and segregation.

It is also a cause and an effect of poverty.[3] Residential inequality is especially relevant when considering Amartya Sen’s definition of poverty as "the deprivation of core capabilities".[4]

Economic inequality[edit]

Disparities in housing explain variations in the conversion of income into human capabilities in different social climates.[5] Income does not always translate into desirable outcomes such as healthcare, education, and housing quality is a factor which determines if those outcomes are readily available to an individual.[6] According to economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, an individual's freedoms (or capabilities) are significant indicators of the kind of life they value or have a reason to value.[7] As economic equality varies by economic system, historical period and society, so does housing inequality.

Economic inequality is a primary contributing factor to housing inequality. The distribution of wealth in a region affects who has access to housing, and at what level.


Sociologist John Milton Yinger[8] describes urban residential inequality as a result of housing-market forces. Yinger[9] reasons that, all else being equal, housing becomes relatively more expensive as it is closer to work sites. Because poorer families often cannot afford to pay transportation costs, they may be forced to live in inner-city locations closer to employment opportunities. To win the spatial competition for housing near work sites, lower-income families must compensate for a high-priced location by accepting smaller housing, lower-quality housing or both.[10] These market forces are subject to other socio-economic factors; no one cause can explain housing inequality. In the United States, Thomas Shapiro and Jessica Kenty-Drane[11] point to the wealth gaps between African Americans and other groups as likely causes of the housing disparity between African Americans and the rest of the country. According to Shapiro and Kenty-Drane, historical and social obstacles (slavery and racial segregation) have prevented African Americans from securing and accumulating assets Including quality housing).[12] Yinger[13] also suggests that racial discrimination still plays a role in housing;[14] black and Latino households must pay higher search costs, accept lower-quality housing and live in lower-quality neighborhoods due to discrimination. One study[15] found that 20 percent of potential moves made by African American households and 17 percent of potential moves made by Latino households were discouraged by discrimination in the search process.


The most direct effect of housing inequality is an inequality of neighborhood amenities, which include the condition of surrounding houses, the availability of social networks, the amount of air pollution, the crime rate, and the quality of local schools.[16] A neighborhood with a certain quality of amenities typically includes individual residences of corresponding quality. Those with lower incomes usually live in areas with poor amenities to win the spatial competition for housing. A neighborhood amenity includes satisfaction derived from living in a nice area, and many studies suggest that growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood affects social and economic outcomes later in life.[17]

Another way the poor compete for housing is by renting homes rather than buying them, which furthers the negative effects of housing inequality by restricting access to household wealth.[18]

Proposed remedies[edit]

Proposals to remedy the adverse effects of housing inequality include:


Although the focus of housing inequality has changed with time, contemporary international analyses tend to center on urbanization and the move to metropolitan areas. International housing inequality is largely characterized by urban disparities. A 2007 UN-HABITAT[21] report estimated that over one billion people worldwide lived in slums at the time, a figure expected to double by 2030.

In developing countries, housing inequality is increasingly caused by rural-to-urban migration, increasing urban poverty and inequality, insecure tenure and globalization.[22] All these factors contribute to the creation and continuation of slums in poorer areas of the world. One proposed solution is slum upgrading.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sen 2004 p. 61
  2. ^ Pryce 2009 p. 145
  3. ^ Yinger 2001p. 360
  4. ^ Sen 1999 p. 87
  5. ^ Sen 2004 p. 61
  6. ^ Yinger 2001 p. 367
  7. ^ Sen 1999 p. 18
  8. ^ Yinger 2001
  9. ^ Yinger 2001p. 360
  10. ^ Yinger 2001 p. 363
  11. ^ Shapiro 2005
  12. ^ Shapiro 2005 p. 176
  13. ^ Yinger 2001 p. 376
  14. ^ Yinger 1997 p. 23
  15. ^ Yinger 1997 p. 32
  16. ^ Yinger 2001 p. 362
  17. ^ Yinger 2001 p. 368
  18. ^ Krivo and Kaufman 2004
  19. ^ Stergiopoulos, Vicky; Hwang, Stephen W.; Gozdzik, Agnes; Nisenbaum, Rosane; Latimer, Eric; Rabouin, Daniel; Adair, Carol E.; Bourque, Jimmy; Connelly, Jo (2015-03-03). "Effect of Scattered-Site Housing Using Rent Supplements and Intensive Case Management on Housing Stability Among Homeless Adults With Mental Illness". JAMA. 313 (9): 905–15. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.1163. hdl:1974/26407. ISSN 0098-7484. PMID 25734732.
  20. ^ Ruel Hamilton (3 April 2017). "Affordable Housing Only Part of Revitalizing Urban Communities".
  21. ^ UN-HABITAT 2007
  22. ^ UN-HABITAT