Affordable Housing – International Experience

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The housing issue, which is so acute now in our country, is not at all the prerogative of Russia. In each state there is a problem of providing housing for citizens who, due to their small incomes, are not able to purchase an apartment or house on their own.

Affordable Housing
George Bellow. Cliff Dwellers. 1913

The experience of different countries, most of which are quite successful (especially in comparison with the Russian realities) to deal with the lack of living space and too high prices per square meter, indicates that there are different options for resolving this issue. Having considered some of them, it may be possible to understand why citizens of other states can count on real help from the government, while the program of assistance to young families in our country raises so many complaints?

The history of the emergence of social housing

The problem of providing living space arose in developed countries in the middle of the 19th century. The first social apartments were rooms in a complex of inexpensive municipal housing, called the “City of Napoleon”, which appeared in 1851 in Paris. At that time, the provision of inexpensive housing to low-income citizens, usually ordinary workers, was engaged in the industrialists themselves, interested in cheap labor and attracting rural residents to work in mines, factories and factories with promises to provide inexpensive or completely free housing..

In the UK, the first program to demolish and renovate dilapidated buildings and relocate urban dwellers from slums to inexpensive cottages, which in most cases were erected on the outskirts of cities or in close proximity to large industrial enterprises and mines, was adopted and began to operate in x years of the 19th century.

The problem of overpopulation of cities in European countries became especially acute after the end of World War II, when a mass of refugees from other states appeared in Germany, Italy, France and England. It was then that the policy of building social housing became a priority in the development of almost all European states..

Great Britain

It should be said right away that the program of assistance to low-income families currently operating in the UK has exactly the same name as in Russia – “Affordable Housing”.

However, the subjects of the British Queen have clearly defined what kind of housing can be called “affordable”, in contrast to the Russian authorities, setting a clear framework for the value of such real estate. So, in Great Britain, a real estate object becomes affordable social housing, the cost of which does not exceed 3-4 average annual earnings of an ordinary resident of the country..

Great Britain
Karnachev Vladimir. Autumn on the street. Pamela, Birmingham. 2004

The average annual wage is determined separately for each region and city of the country, since the salaries of Londoners are usually slightly higher than the incomes of residents of rural areas and small towns, however, and the cost of apartments here is one of the highest in the world.

The government strictly monitors the coefficient reflecting the ratio of the average cost per square meter to the average annual income, and if this indicator begins to exceed the 5-6 mark, this becomes a cause for alarm and revision of the state program.

First of all, workers of the country’s social sphere can apply for such affordable housing: firefighters, police officers, rescuers, teachers, doctors and educators. However, pensioners, people with disabilities, simply poor citizens can take part in the state program “Affordable Housing”.

Another feature of the British program for providing citizens with housing is that renting apartments or houses has not gained popularity, most of the residents prefer to become the owner of, albeit a small, but completely owned housing.

In this regard, the Housing Corporation (a government agency that oversees the implementation of the program for the provision of housing to low-income citizens) offers several schemes according to which families can become owners of municipal apartments or houses..

Currently, social, affordable housing accounts for about 23% of the total UK housing stock.

In particular, the program “Buy a House” is in force, according to which the buyer receives a loan for 75% of the cost of housing purchased both in the secondary and primary markets on quite acceptable terms, and 25% is paid by the state. This program is not very popular among the British, due to the fact that the low mortgage rates for Russia (from 5.5 to 7.25%) for the UK are quite high.

Much more widespread is the “Right of Purchase” scheme, according to which a person living on a social living space can buy an apartment or house in 2 years with a significant discount (up to 38 thousand pounds sterling), paying the cost gradually. Moreover, in order to become the owner of municipal real estate, it is not necessary to work in the social sphere. It is under this program that over 1.6 million British families have become owners of their own apartments in the last 10 years alone..


The homeland of social housing has tried to solve the problem of providing apartments to the poor in various ways. It was in France, much earlier than in the USSR, immediately after the Second World War that panel houses with inexpensive apartments of a small area appeared, which became widespread in our country under the name “Khrushchevs”.

Pomelov Fedor. Orange sunset in Paris. 2011

At that time, concrete buildings also appeared, in which low-income citizens were offered rooms “with amenities on the floor”, that is, analogs of our working hostels.

However, already in the 70s of the last century, it was decided to abandon the construction of such typical, rather ugly buildings. Currently, France has a law that requires 20% of the apartments in every newly built house to be categorized as “social housing” and sold at prices well below market prices..

Of course, not only in our country, but also in France, there are unscrupulous developers who prefer to pay large fines, but to bypass this rule of law, because giving a fifth of the apartments at a low price to a construction company is not at all profitable. And yet, in most cases, this standard works, and any French or French woman can apply for social housing, whose average income does not exceed 2,100 euros for Parisians and 1,900 euros for residents of other regions of the republic. At the same time, the size of the minimum wage in the country is set at 1,000 euros, so a very large number of residents of the country fall into this category..

The average social apartment in France is about 80 square meters, where a family of 3-4 people lives. Most often, such apartments are erected on the outskirts of cities, in the so-called workers’ districts, but there is also a tradition of infill development, so that social housing may appear in a completely bourgeois quarter of the city..

According to the laws, social housing must be at least 20% of the housing stock of each region of the country.

Due to the fact that a very large number of citizens can become a participant in the state program, according to its conditions, young French people often have to wait 5-6 years in line for an affordable apartment. Young people often sign up for social housing immediately after graduation (and sometimes even earlier). It should be borne in mind that homeless people, large families and refugees from other countries have priority in obtaining an apartment. By the way, it was immigrants from African and Asian countries, who received housing immediately after arriving in France, that became the reason that such areas are currently extremely notorious and have turned into real ghettos, in which it is mainly Africans and Arabs who live. The country’s government decided to revise the municipal policy and resolve the issue with migrants.


The main way to solve the “housing problem” for the poor in Germany, as well as in other European countries, has become the so-called “social apartments”. Such apartment buildings are being erected at the expense of cheap municipal loans or entirely at the expense of the state, the tradition of building private social houses in Germany has not taken root..

Unlike France, the reason for the Germans to take part in the state program is not the average level of family income, but the lack of a standard square meter per family member. So even citizens with a fairly high level of income, but living in the same living space with their parents or in a one-room apartment with a child, can apply for social housing.

Jose Garcia y Mas. Berlin. 1982

The payment for a social apartment is set and strictly controlled by the state, usually it is at the level of repayment of construction costs and does not imply any profit for the developer.

In addition to the usual practice of providing social housing to citizens in need of better housing conditions, Germany also pays a Housing Allowance, which is received by families whose net income does not allow them to pay for their utilities themselves. Moreover, it is the family’s net income that is taken into account, that is, after deducting all taxes and loans. Housing allowance can be spent both to pay for living in an ordinary house and to pay for social housing.

Compared to the UK and France, social housing in Germany occupies a small proportion of the housing stock – only 10%.

Such an allowance is issued in the amount of real payment for all utility bills for housing available to a person. The level of rent varies depending on the place of residence and there is a division into 6 categories of payments. Interestingly, often even residents of nursing homes receive housing allowance in Germany if their income allows them to apply to the appropriate institution. To receive a housing allowance, you must submit an application to the Housing Authority every year, such payments are not automatically calculated.

Some more examples

The social housing program is also successful in Hong Kong, where almost half of the city’s population lives in multi-storey municipal buildings, often exceeding 40 stories, in relatively small apartments. In Singapore, this figure is even higher – almost every resident of the city who is over 21 years of age and whose income does not exceed the set amount can get social housing. Moreover, the amount of income varies depending on whether a resident of Singapore wants to become the owner of a 2, 3, 4 or 5 room apartment. Due to this availability of the program, about 85% of the population of the megalopolis live in social apartments..

In Sweden, during the implementation of the Million Housing program, about 1 million new dwellings were built over 10 years, and half of them were private houses designed for 1 family. And although many Swedes still contemptuously call such social homes “reinforced concrete boxes” (although only 16% of such buildings were built of concrete), in fact, they fulfilled the main task – social housing helped to solve the problem of providing apartments and houses for people from rural areas countries who came to cities in search of work.

As you can see, the housing problems of low-income families can be dealt with quite successfully and, of course, the state is obliged to take the leading role in this matter. It is the state budget that should become a source of funds for the construction of social housing, which currently simply does not exist in our country..

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