Reinvest: Financing affordable housing under localism (2015-2018)

This Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellowship was awarded to Dr Anita Blessing working with Professor David Mullins in the Housing and Communities Research Group, University of Birmingham. The Reinvest project uses comparative research across US and European settings to address the urban governance challenge of motivating investment in affordable rental housing by large financial institutions, such as banks and pension funds.

While existing studies focus on financially incentivizing investment, this research will further the state of the art by uncovering a broader range of investment drivers. Its overarching aim is to understand how opportunities for investment in affordable rental housing connect to the internal logics and structures of contemporary institutional investors, and how state policy helps to forge these connections.

Project partners

Partnerships with Housing Europe and the University of Amsterdam will help to connect the research to live policy debates and to network the project internationally.

Research problem

At a time of increasing social vulnerability, many European cities lack adequate supplies of affordable rental housing for low and middle-income households. This has implications for social justice, socio-spatial cohesion, labour-market flexibility and urban competitive advantage. While diverse state-backed affordability mechanisms supported social and public rental housing supply during the 20th century, EU policies now curtail their use and promote globalized competitive markets. The post-financial crisis policy environment has seen a resurgence of fiscal austerity, but also of localism, with citizens, civic and private market actors asked to work together to meet more of their own housing needs. This creates a paradox, long observable in US urban governance. As cities depend increasingly on globalised markets, local urban communities are seen as the level at which consequent socio-economic problems should be solved.

Under these changed conditions, both the depth and duration of affordability in new urban rental housing projects will increasingly depend on the terms of commercial debt and equity investments. To stimulate the development of sustainable markets for investment in affordable rentals, state policy interest around Europe is turning towards large financial institutions such as the banks and pension funds that manage household, corporate and government savings. Yet unlike some of their predecessors; motivated by a ‘home bias’ to reinvest in the cities and nations from which they drew their wealth, contemporary institutional investors are increasingly independent from the state, profit-oriented and equipped to shift capital globally. Inherent contradictions between profit and affordability present a governance challenge.

Objectives and approach

The Reinvest project uses comparative research, based in the high-pressure rental markets of US and European urban financial centres: New York, Amsterdam and London, to address the urban governance challenge of motivating institutional investment in new affordable rental housing. It sets out to better understand how opportunities for investment connect to the internal logics and organisational structures of institutional investors. In particular, it asks how multi-level state policies help to forge these connections, and how these drivers for investment differ in US and European cities.

While existing European studies tend to focus solely on financially incentivizing investment, ‘Reinvest’ will draw on the researchers’ expertise in how organizations balance social responsibilities and commercial aims to uncover a broader range of potential investment drivers. The research will examine four institutionally funded affordable rental housing projects in each urban site (twelve in total), focusing on the multi-level governance arrangements that help connect these projects to finance, both incentives (‘carrots’) and regulations (‘sticks’). US policy innovations to motivate institutional investment in affordable housing will be reviewed, including federal tax credits, federal community reinvestment regulation, and municipal responsible banking acts. By comparing these governance structures with emerging European innovations, ‘Reinvest’ will explore the potential, within differing urban policy contexts, for the state to empower civic actors to negotiate finance for local affordable rental housing.


The carrot and the stick - sustaining private investment in affordable rental housing: USA
Anita Blessing

Organisational hybridity in affordable housing finance
Anita Blessing and David Mullins

More information

For more information on this research project, please contact Anita Blessing,