The U.S. Approach to “Social Housing”

Authored by: Rachel G. Bratt

The Routledge Handbook of Housing Policy and Planning

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138188433
eBook ISBN: 9781315642338
Adobe ISBN:


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The term “social housing” is not frequently used in the U.S. In contrast, it is a familiar concept elsewhere across the world, particularly Europe. Yet, we can still refer to a U.S. social housing sector, which comprises two major components: public housing, which is owned and operated by local housing authorities and is funded through deep federal subsidies; and housing developed by a range of nonprofit organizations using a variety of federal, state, and local subsidies. There has been little support for an expansion of the public housing program for many decades, and the program is facing several key challenges. Community development corporations, which are the largest type of nonprofit housing organizations, are attempting to fulfill a broad mission in addition to providing decent affordable housing, including promoting neighborhood revitalization and citizen engagement, while also providing social supports and other services aimed at enhancing economic security and well-being for their residents. At the same time, the entire nonprofit housing sector is also confronting a number of complex issues. This chapter discusses the history and record of public housing and nonprofit housing organizations and summarizes the key attributes and current challenges of both components of the social housing sector. The chapter concludes with some ideas for how the nonprofit sector could be strengthened through a set of “nonprofit-centric” policies—policies that are explicitly and directly focused on supporting and helping to develop this part of the social housing sector, thereby enabling nonprofits to optimize their efficiency and productivity.

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