Navigator Insights

Five myths about rental housing

This article is part of series of blogs related to housing in development countries. It presents popular myths regarding rental housing.

Everyone owns their homes in rich countries. Interestingly there is little relationship between a country’s economic development and its levels of homeownership. Homeownership is actually lower in many rich European countries where well-developed rental markets cater to the needs of all income groups who prefer to rent rather than to own.

Everyone wants to be a homeowner. All over the world, people are bombarded from every direction with the message that homeownership is the best and the most desired state of tenure. There are significant advantages to owning your own home, but renting also offers its own benefits such as mobility, flexibility, lower investment and reduced commitment.

Homeownership offers people a better life. Ownership is often presented as more natural than renting — a form of tenure which makes people legitimate citizens, grounded in their neighborhoods and their country’s economic life. Rental housing, on the other hand, is projected as exploitative, sub-standard and temporary places where poorer citizens stay. But homeownership has its problems, just as rental housing has its advantages.

Nobody invests in rental housing. Investing in rental housing may not be as attractive to private-sector businesses and public sector agencies as it once was. But at the same time, in many Asian countries, investments by individual landlords in small, scattered, independent rental units have increased dramatically.

Homeownership encourages the emergence of a politically stable society. In the USA, tenants were not allowed to vote until 1860, because homeowners were considered to be better citizens, better neighbours and even better persons. This kind of thinking influences many Asian policy makers as well, who see tenants not as valuable workers who need flexibility and mobility, but as people who are transient, poor, unsettled and undesirable.

Source: Adapted from Quick Guide no. 7 for Policy Makers, UNHABITAT, UNESCAP and Rental Housing, UNHABITAT, 2003


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