How housing systems are changing and why: a critique of Kemeny’s theory of housing regimes

Mark Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article critiques Kemeny’s theory of housing regimes to explain housing systems change. Power balances mediated through institutional structures are underlying causes of housing regimes in Kemeny’s schema in which the design of cost-rental sectors define whole housing systems. However, the distinctive “unitary” systems Kemeny identified in Germany and Sweden are breaking down as economic failure prompted reforms to wider welfare systems, whilst mature cost-rental sectors were unable to maintain supply without subsidies. These mis-specifications in the theory have been exacerbated by the rise in unorthodox monetary policy. As poverty rates have risen, so the boundaries of possibility have shrunk, rendering “housing for all” approaches problematic and heralding more acute policy trade-offs. Nonetheless, policy choice and institutional differences counterbalance forces of convergence. Understanding system change requires theories of the middle range to be extended upwards to capture high-level forces of convergence and downwards to capture institutional detail that explains difference.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHousing, Theory and Society
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 5 Feb 2020


  • Housing
  • housing regimes
  • Comparative housing research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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