A housing system that leaves millions of families homeless or housing insecure is in many ways an inevitable consequence of conditioning access to housing on ability to pay. The acceleration of the commodification of housing—driven in large part by the promotion of individual homeownership, disinvestment in public and subsidized housing, and the subsequent rise in speculative activity—has led to unprecedented levels of housing insecurity. Advocates are increasingly calling for decommodifying housing, such as by investing in public and social housing and supporting community- and tenant-owned models, as one way to ensure that safe, affordable housing is available to all who need it.
Many local and even state governments have implemented or are beginning to consider policies and programs to support decommodified housing, including building new social housing and providing funding for community land trusts. But decommodification at the scale required to advance housing justice will also require federal intervention, since decommodified housing today constitutes less than 1 percent of US housing stock.
In this brief, we trace the history of housing commodification, show how the market has failed to provide housing affordable to those with the lowest incomes and explain why it is structurally incapable of doing so, and draw links between decommodification and housing justice. We conclude by providing recommendations for three strategies the federal government can pursue to support decommodification and advance housing justice, as well as highlight critical avenues for future research.