What is housing tenure and why does it matter?

Housing tenure is an awkward name for something very important: tenure, in housing terms, are the legal and financial relationships you have with your home. It is the legal glue which keeps you housed, and determines what kinds of rights you have in different situations.

We tend to think of housing tenure as renting v. owning, but it is not that simple. There are different types of renting, and different types of owning, and plenty that fall somewhere in between – community land trusts, limited-equity co-ops, and more. Unhoused and informal tenures – crashing on a couch, sleeping in your car, living in a settlement – may be precarious but they are still tenures. In a study of Oakland, we found 56 different housing tenures!

One example: We tend to think of ownership as a more secure tenure, but in many places you can lose your ‘owned’ home because of unpaid condo or HOA fees. You also have different rights as to what you can do to the house – even down to the paint color or plantings or hanging your laundry out to dry. Thus living in an owned home with an HOA is a different tenure than one without.

Tenure is one of the most important, and most ignored parts of housing policy. Together with colleagues Anna Cash, Steve King, Maeve Elise Brown, Jake Wegmann, Dierdre Pfeiffer and others, we’ve been working to get folks to pay more attention to differences in tenure, why this matters, and how it should inform our thinking. Take a look at some of these writings, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to talk tenure – or collaborate!

The Basics: Rethinking Tenure

+ 2016. Jake Wegmann and Alex Schafran. A New Perspective on Housing Tenure. Shelterforce, September 28, 2016

+ 2016. Jake Wegmann, Alex Schafran, and Deirdre Pfeiffer. Breaking the Double Impasse: Securing and Supporting Diverse Housing Tenures in the United States. Housing Policy Debate, pp.1-24.

Housing Vulnerability Analysis

+ 2019. Alex Schafran, with Steve King and Maeve Elise Brown, Housing Vulnerability Analysis: A Discussion, Shelterforce, July 10, 2019

+ Housing Vulnerability Analysis

+ Housing study of Oakland.

Specific tenures: Single Family Rentals

+ 2020. Deirdre Pfeiffer, Alex Schafran & Jake Wegmann. Vulnerability and opportunity: Making sense of the rise in single-family rentals in US neighbourhoods. Housing Studies, 1-21.

+ 2017. Alex Schafran, Desiree Fields and Zac Taylor. Wall Street landlords are chasing the American dream – here’s what it means for families. The Conversation, 7 Sep., 2017

+ 2016. Desiree Fields, Rajkumar Kohli and Alex Schafran. The emerging geography of rental-backed securitization. San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank Working Paper, 2016-02, January 2016

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