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Rebalancing communities by mixing tenures on social housing estates

This report reviews the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust’s policy of selling 50 per cent of homes becoming vacant as a way of attracting a broader social and economic mix of residents.

Written by:
Graham Martin and Judi Watkinson
Date published:

In 1993 the report Building for communities concluded that policies which allocated houses only to seriously disadvantaged families on low incomes were creating unbalanced communities. Subsequently, the link between lack of social stability in an area and its physical decline and degeneration has been well-documented.

This study outlines how the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has tackled this issue through its housing association, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust. Since 1997, the JRHT has supported a policy of ‘voluntary sales’ in the village of New Earswick which it manages. The scheme involves selling half the properties which become vacant, with sales proceeds used to replace the stock. The aim is to attract a greater social and economic mix of residents, thereby preventing the village becoming stigmatised. This report also provides a summary and overview of similar initiatives being undertaken elsewhere.


Over 70 per cent of a sample of social landlords have taken some initiative to 'rebalance the communities' on their single-tenure estates by introducing a mix of tenures and incomes (other than occurs through the 'Right to Buy'). The study, by housing consultants Graham Martin and Judi Watkinson, also found that:

  • A consistent feature of mixing tenures on estates has been an overall improvement in property prices, reduced turnover, increased demand, tenant satisfaction and improved area reputation.
  • A clear north-south divide was evident in activities reported by local authorities, with more reporting an active tenure mixing programme outside London and the South-East. This regional distinction did not apply to housing associations.
  • The experience of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust's SAVE (Selling Alternate Vacants on Estates) programme is that the benefits associated with mixed tenure justify selling alternate vacant properties on the open market (with the proceeds reinvested in replacement property).
  • The introduction of mixed tenure has tended to be pragmatic and reactive rather than the result of logical evaluation and strategic decision-making.
  • Whilst some social landlords are committed to the principle of mixed tenure, most initiatives have resulted from financial practicalities; for example, to reduce an excessive number of vacant properties, to reduce repair costs, to provide access to regeneration funding, or to reduce the number of surplus or unpopular social rented houses.


Whilst some social housing estates are 'good places to live', many have become unpopular in recent years:

High rates of joblessness trigger other neighbourhood problems that undermine social organisation, ranging from crime, gang violence and drug trafficking to family break ups and problems in the organisation of family life. (W J Wilson, When work disappears, New York, Knopf, 1996)

It is difficult to argue the case for investment in an area where few people would choose to live. In order to reverse this process and make places more attractive, it might be helpful to devise strategies that introduce a variety of household and economic mix similar to that in more popular neighbouring communities.


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