Chapter 8: Social mix and the death of public housing
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Mixed-income (or ‘socially mixed’) redevelopment has emerged as a new go-to strategy for addressing declining and often neglected stocks of modernist, post-war public housing in capitalist liberal democracies. This approach replaces existing projects with redesigned communities including both new social housing and new market-rate homes, and often disperses tenants to other areas. Policy makers expect that residents from varied socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds will benefit from interacting in mixed communities; that low-income tenants will be socially uplifted; and that neighbourhoods will more safe, vibrant and economically viable. While vaunted as a progressive initiative, this chapter critically analyzes this approach to redevelopment as a neoliberal policy tool that is contributing to the dismantling of social housing as a welfare state institution, and that promotes gentrification, displacement and intensified socio-spatial inequality in the city. This policy is analyzed in the context of the post-war history of social housing, tracing the periods of production (1945 to mid-1970s), state withdrawal (mid-1970s to mid-1990s) and dismantling (mid-1990s onward), and the rise of mixed-income redevelopment in the end game of public housing. The chapter analyzes two key ideas used to support mixed-income redevelopment (deconcentration theory on and social mix), offering a critique of the assumptions on which they rest. This is followed by a discussion, based on empirical literature, of the ways mixed-income redevelopment has worked in practice, and concludes that social mix has the potential to contribute to progressive housing outcomes, but only if it is used to promote expanding the supply and availability of affordable housing in all areas.

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