2015 | Dec
The Southern European model of home ownership and the case of Athens
In an important comparative study on housing in the south of Europe (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal), the authors summarise the specific features of what they refer to as the “Southern” housing model in the following terms (Allen et al. 2004, 190):
- High percentages of home ownership, combined with very limited housing rent subsidies
- High percentage and significance of second houses
- The extended family plays an important role in supporting access to home ownership.
“Self-built housing” in the sense of autonomous production of housing by households, plays an important role in housing supply. The characteristics of the metropolitan area of Athens -which in statistical terms is not substantially different from the Region (former Prefecture) of Attica- are fully consistent with the “Southern” model. Based on the table of the Annex to this document for 2008, a comparison between urban areas , of Western European countries (excluding the former “Eastern Bloc countries”), shows that southern countries and Greece in particular, present the highest rates of private home ownership and a very small percentage of houses with “subsidised rent”. They also reveal significant percentages of residences donated for free use – a clue as to the special role of family, in contrast to other western European countries. An equally important indication as to the role of the family is the extremely limited role of bank loans and, reversely, the high percentage of full ownership (free of mortgages). These phenomena should be added to the list above, as they are particularly evident in Italy and Greece.
The urban area of Athens covers almost the entire mainland of Attica and Salamina, while 99% of the permanent population of Attica resides within those limits. Even if we exclude some remote areas with relative operational autonomy and limited participation in the suburbanisation trends of the capital, (Municipalities of Lavrion, Oropos and Megara with some neighbouring communities), what could be considered as the Urban Agglomeration of Athens (UAA) in the narrow sense (Map 1) has 96.2% of the permanent population of the Region of Attica. Across Attica, the rate of private dwelling ownership according to the 2011 Census was 68.4% -a slightly higher percentage than that of urban areas as a whole and definitely one of the highest in Western Europe .
Map 1: Private dwelling percentage per urban area
Based on data from family budget surveys (FBS) between 2004 and 2011, less than 20% of private dwellings in Athens had mortgages and housing debts, despite the surge of mortgages in the 1997-2007 period. On the contrary, a very high percentage of houses had been acquired through property transfers and/or significant financial contributions from the family. This percentage exceeded 50% in the 1980s (Emmanuel 1994), while in the 2013 survey, 38% of private dwellers reported that they obtained their residence from an inheritance, parental benefit or a flat-for-land barter of a family plot, while, in general, 47% stated that the family’s financial contribution to financing their house was high or “medium”. A major proportion of home-owners (55%) also lived in a building of one to five apartments (33.8% in a detached house or a duplex), which indicates the important role of self-promoted small-scale production in the accumulation of housing wealth, i.e. outside proper market production. The last point, which completes the comparison with the list of typical characteristics of the “Southern” model is that, in 2005, over 25% of households in Attica owned a second holiday home according to Household Budget Surveys (HBS 2004/05 data).
The rates of home ownership and the impact of migration
In spite of economic growth and the great increase in the volume of mortgages in the 1997-2007 period, the rate of home ownership in Athens did not increase significantly compared to the 1980s data (Table 1). One reason for this was the influx of economic migrants after 1990, who lived almost in their entirety in rented homes and their home ownership rate approached 10% only in the last decade. Table 1 shows the percentages of home ownership for 2004 (in Attica) and 2013 (for the UAA), after subtracting households whose head is a national of the main countries that supplied the influx of economic migrants.
Table 1: Development of the rate of private dwelling in Athens *
*1987-2011. Attica Prefecture, 2013: Urban Agglomeration of Athens (UAA)
It is obvious that between 1987 and 2013, the increase in home ownership rates for Greeks was no more than 5-6 percentage points. Given that, during the same period, the Greek population aged significantly, thus pushing home ownership rates higher, the limited changes in access to private housing are quite impressive and indicate that, essentially, the resources channelled to mortgages, replaced a significant part of the traditional role of savings by the extended family.
Graph 1: Percentage of private dwellers by age group of the household’s head, Urban Agglomeration of Athens 2013
- Allen J, Barlow J, Leal J, et al. (2004) Housing and welfare in Southern Europe. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Emmanuel D (2014) The Greek System of Home Ownership and the Post-2008 Crisis in Athens. Région et Développement 39: 167–181. Available from: http://region-developpement.univ-tln.fr/fr/pdf/R39/8-Emmanuel.pdf.
- Emmanuel D (1994) On the structure of housing accumulation and the role of family wealth transfers in the Greek housing system. 1st ed. In: Forrest R and Murie A (eds), Housing and Family Wealth, London: Routledge, p. 348.
- Kurz K (2004) Home ownership and social inequality in a comparative perspective. Kurz K and Blossfeld H-P (eds), Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- Norris M and Winston N (2012) Home ownership, housing regimes and income inequalities in Western Europe. International Journal of Social Welfare, Wiley Online Library 21(2): 127–138.