Public, private, or in-between? The legitimacy of social enterprises in the housing market

Anita Blessing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Social housing in Western welfare states has undergone change over recent decades, characterised by greater reliance on private actors, market mechanisms and commercial capital. Within housing research, this shift has been described as a linear ‘migration from the public sector towards the private market’, and conceptualised as ‘modernisation’. While empirical change calls for conceptual renewal, the labels we apply to processes of change may limit or enhance potential to understand them. This paper explores the problem of conceptualising change in social housing, focusing on a key facilitator of market-based reforms: the mobilisation of private not-for-profit housing associations as social enterprises in the housing market. It explores their changing roles in English and Dutch housing provision, tracking state policy shifts and debate over their organisational legitimacy for insights into their emergence and trajectories. Contrary to linear ‘modernisation’, findings suggest cyclical movement. Over time, aspects of the work and identity of housing associations shift between public and private domains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-221
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Early online date1 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


  • Social enterprise
  • Social housing
  • Concept development
  • England
  • The Netherlands


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