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Grant project supported by the Czech Science Foundation, no. GA403/09/1915. Project started 1.1.2009, finished 31.12.2011. The head of the project was Martin Lux, Ph.D. The total financial support amounted CZK 3.4 mil.

The objective of the project is to make a comprehensive, theoretically framed, and empirically grounded, context-based description of the transformation of housing conditions in the CR after 1990, including both the identification of the main causes of this development and an analysis of its effects on social inequalities and market risks. In the area of inequalities the project focuses on housing affordability, the residential property distribution, access to housing, and extreme forms of inequalities (social exclusion). In the area of market risks the project focuses on risks arising from the growth in the level of homeownership, the mortgage market development, and the "manipulation" of housing demand. The goal is also to evaluate current tools of state housing and monetary policy, whether they effectively limit the growth of social inequalities that are a threat to sustainable economic growth and social cohesion, whether they limit the growth of market system risks, and to make general recommendations for changes in this fields.

Introduction

In the Czech Republic the housing sector has undergone profound changes since the start of the post-communist economic transformation, both in terms of how the housing market functions (influenced by the development of macroeconomic stability and the emergence of access to mortgage financing) and in terms of the forms and scope of state interventions. Although these changes have been partly analysed from the perspective of housing affordability (Lux et al. 2002, Lux 2002, Lux, Sunega 2006), the housing attitudes and preferences (Lux et al. 2003, Lux 2005), the way the supply side of the housing market and mortgage credit operates (Lux et al. 2005, Sunega, Lux 2007), technical and architectural changes (Kuta et al. 2007, Sýkora 2004), and the effectiveness and efficiency of selected housing policy instruments (Sunega 2005), the field still lacks a synoptic, theoretically and wider context grounded, comprehensive account of the transformation of conditions in the housing sector, which would not just describe the current state or previous developments but would also shed light on thecauses behind this unique process and especially would provide a description of theconsequences the process holds for social inequalities and systemic market risks in the CR; including the applied implications for the architects of fiscal and monetary policy.

Social inequalities in the area of housing consumption are interpreted in this project not just as inequalities in the financial burden connected with expenditures on housing (housing affordability), but also as:

Here, inequality is not interpreted as a phenomenon that is a priori negative or has (must have) a negative impact on sustainable economic development and social cohesion; it is interpreted in value-neutral terms. Understood as such, inequalities can be created both by a functioning market and by means of state intervention. Inequalities are understood as the “unequal” distribution of housing consumption.

Systemic market risks are however understood as only those economic risks that can have a negative impact on the Czech economy’s sustainable growth, and that are the result of:

We refer to these as “systemic risks” because we are interested in observing the risks that by nature relate to the system (they relate to the economy or society as a whole). Systemic risks are risks that arise as soon as the aggregate of individual risks begins to have a substantial impact on a country’s economy overall, the entire social and economic system (Wilcox, Ford 1998). Property in the form of residential real estate constitutes one of the most important components of a household’s wealth; both debt in the form of mortgage loans and the “wealth effect” can affect household consumption and general macroeconomic development. The housing market – as the global effects of the recent mortgage crisis in the United States have so graphically illustrated – today has a much bigger effect on the development of the national and the world economy than ever before. Despite of this fact, the potential market risks have not been analyzed in the Czech environment up to now. Inequalities and risks, as indicated above, can be a consequence of functioning markets or of state interventions, or of combinations of the two; therefore, of interest here is not just how the market itself functions but also the form and scope of state intervention.

The main objective of the project is:

Summary of the current situation and a description of the project’s goals (sub-goals)

Housing research conducted in the former post-communist countries has produced a number of important national and comparative international studies (Lux (ed.) 2003, Lowe, Hudson 2004, Tsenkova, Lowe 2003, Hegedüs, Struyk 2005). These studies often only simply describe the changes of conditions in the housing sector or provide only a partial analysis of selected effects of these changes. Such work includes also a range of studies conducted in the Czech Republic (Lux et al. 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, Kostelecký 2005, Sýkora 1999, Ettlerová, Matějková 2004). A special category among these outcomes is formed by a series of Czech studies titled Housing Standards, which has acquired a wide readership in the country (a project supported by the GA ČR, reg. no. 403/03/0417, and a project supported by the GA ČR, reg. no. 403/06/0915). Identifying the main causes of the specific development of housing conditions after 1990 (the development of the markets and state interventions), like the theoretical framing of this development, has, in the field of housing research in post-communist countries, even in the international sphere, been limited to a discussion of whether and what similarities existed among post-communist countries (Hegedüs & Tosics 1996). European housing research has thus far lacked a comprehensive account of the transformation of housing conditions in post-communist countries situated in a wider context and grounded in the right theory.

The studies that have tried to assess the process of social and economic transformation in post-communist countries on a more general level have usually focused on other areas of the economy (the labour market, the privatisation process, macroeconomic development), institutional development, or social inequalities (social policy, ethnic studies, poverty) rather than housing; changes in housing, if they are reflected at all, are usually just a marginal topic in these works (Stark, Bruszt 1998, Večerník 1998, Večerník, Matějů 1999). The first sub-goal of this project is therefore to create a comprehensive theoretically framed and empirically well documented account of the transformation of the housing conditions in the CR after 1990, situated in the wider socio-political context, which, thanks to its theoretical and wider context grounding, would enable an analysis of the causes of this specific development. The authors will seek inspiration for the theoretical framing of this account of the transformation of housing conditions and the detection of causes of its specific development among theories of corporatism (Schmidt 1989, Lundqvist 1992), political structuralism (Lundqvist 1992), path dependency (Kleinman 1996, Kleinman et al. 1998, Stark, Bruszt 1998), social structuralism and social regulation (Berry 1999), and social and cultural constructivism in the area of the formation of meanings, norms and ideologies in the field of social and housing policy (Kemeny 1992, 1995, Boelhouwer, van der Heijden 1992, Bourdieau 2005). However, it cannot be ruled out that upon closer study of the topic the theoretical frame will be expanded to include other theories or that another, original and more appropriate theoretical frame will be proposed. The empirical part of the account will conform to the theoretical frame and, alongside the actual description of the development of housing policy and changes in housing conditions, will also include a sociological-historical analysis of the context that the theoretical frame demands (for example, the context of the development of social policy, the formation of social or political structures, ideological context and so on).

For empirical evidence of the changes to housing conditions during the transformation period the project applicants will draw mainly on the vast amount of empirical material acquired during previous research conducted by the applicants in 2000–2006 (surveys Housing Attitudes in the CR 2001, Mortgage Credit in the CR 2005, Building Savings in the CR 2005, CVVM 2005, CVVM 2006) and data sources of the Czech Statistical Office (census 1991, 2001, housing construction and price data, etc.), the Czech National Bank or the Institute of Regional Development. Many findings have been published already in academic publications (Sunega, Lux 2007, Lux et al. 2006, Lux et al. 2006a). In addition, qualitative surveys will be carried out, that are described in more detail in the methodological chapter. Such comprehensive account of the transformation of housing conditions that endeavours also to identify the specific causes of this specific process would be impossible without years of previous experience and research in this field. Already in 2000 the head of the this project founded the socioeconomics of housing research team at the Institute of Sociology AS CR, and since then the team has carried out a large number of studies and has presented its findings in articles published in prestigious Czech and foreign journals and monographs. Thanks to its active research work the team has successfully gathered the necessary empirical material and erudition to be capable of putting together a comprehensive account of this issue today, an account that is lacking both in the Czech Republic and even in international scientific discourse. The second sub-goal of the project is a complex analysis of the effects of changes of housing conditions in the CR on social inequalities and systemic market risks.

Social inequalities are defined here in value-neutral terms as inequalities in (the distribution of) housing consumption. However, some of these inequalities can pose a threat to social cohesion, destabilise political development, and threaten sustainable economic growth. In the project social inequalities between different household types will be observed with regard to:

In the category of inequalities associated with housing access, special attention will be devoted to an analysis of extreme forms of inequality: social exclusion and spatial segregation (as one of examples of inequalities that are risks to social cohesion).

For each of above mentioned inequalities an effort will be made to determine itscauses, to describe its regional differences (e.g. the regional dimension of residential wealth inequalities has been noted in Égert and Mihaljek 2006), and to analyse its potential impact on social cohesion and future sustainable economic growth; i.e. to discuss whether these are inequalities that could have serious negative effects on economic growth and social stability; whether they are “unfair” inequalities that have arisen as a result of inappropriate state interventions or ineffective market functioning; or whether they are inequalities that are a natural consequence of adherence to meritocratic principles of democracy. An effort will also be made to evaluate current instruments (and possibly discuss new ones) of state fiscal (housing) policy, and whether these instruments work to reduce inequalities described as “unfair” or inequalities that now or potentially in the future pose a significant risk to social cohesion and stable economic growth. In this regard, current Czech and EU legislation will be taken into account, especially in the areas of property rights and public subsidies (competition law).

Systemic market risks are defined here as selected risks to sustainable economic growth that derive solely from developments in the housing market, the mortgage market, and state interventions on both these markets; thus by inference, these are risks arising from:

Systemic market risks in European and American housing research are mainly discussed in connection with the increase in the proportion of owner-occupied housing in the total housing stock, which leads to a distortion of the household investments towards housing (Arrondel, Lefebvre 2001); in connection with the inclusion of lower-income households in the owner-occupied housing and heavy household indebtedness; and in connection with the increased risks in the area of mortgage financing (in particular in the British studies by Smith 2005, Stephens 2005, Ford and Quilgars 2001, and the most recent study of the Bank for International Settlements by Höller and Rae 2007). A significant number of papers have addressed the effect on labour mobility - in the CR this effect has already been studied and confirmed (Lux et al. 2006b); therefore, this project will only look at that aspect in relation to other as yet undetermined risks.

The studies cited above show that owner-occupied housing today no longer serves just as a form of “retirement security” but is increasingly a means of obtaining financial resources for consumption purposes, which increases the amount of total household debt and intensifies the level of individual risk. The aggregate of individual risks then has the potential to become a systemic risk. Smith (2005) and Ford and Wilcox (1998) note that the distribution of risks is not equal – lower-income households face bigger risks than higher-income households. The deregulation of mortgage markets and the increase in competition in the past two decades have in many advanced countries led to riskier behaviour on the part of banks. In the view of many authors cited above all this in sum could produce a deeper and more globally encompassing financial crisis. These research findings have partially manifested themselves in reality through the mortgage crisis in the United States.

The mortgage crisis in the United States was set off as a result of the extremely generous policies of mortgage credit providers. A characteristic feature of the mortgage market in the United States is the securitisation of mortgage loans, which on the one hand distributes the risk (between banks and MBS investors) and ensures adequate liquidity for credit activities in the capital market, but on the other hand can lead to the problem of asymmetries of information between MBS investors and credit originators. In part owing to the specific nature of this system in recent years credit originators began increasingly to provide mortgages to clients in the highest-risk groups of the population. In addition, they responded to the rise in real estate prices by “innovatively” coming up with so called “affordable mortgages”. The main trick contained in these products was not just the “misleadingly” low interest rate fixed for the first term but the fact that in the first term the clients did not repay the mortgage principal, instead just paying the interest or even less than the interest.

The combination of the increased number of “affordable” mortgage products and the growing proportion of the loans being made up of sub-prime lending led to a sharp and sudden increase in default mortgages in 2006 (Kiff and Mills 2007). Under normal circumstances, when real estate prices rose and interest rates fell defaulting clients could sell their homes and pay off their mortgage early, or they could refinance their loans at a lower interest rate. But in a situation where interest rates were rising while real estate prices were already stagnating, borrowers were usually left with no other choice but to default. The effects of the mortgage crisis were profound and stretched beyond just the American economy, affecting world financial markets and the stability of the banking sector in many countries. The form of credit security, the range of products offered, interest rate trends (monetary policy), and trends in residential real-estate prices: these all were the factors that turned the individual risks arising from the inclusion of low-income households in the owner-occupier housing sector and from the rising proportion of owner-occupier housing in the national housing stock into aggregate, systemic risks. The goal of this project is therefore to analyse the potential for the emergence of such systemic risks in the Czech Republic, and to do so also in relation to the country’s future entrance to EMU and relinquishing of own monetary policy.

Alongside the risks mentioned above, in this project we would also like to focus on the issue of the “manipulation” (shaping) of housing preferences and demand by the state, the media or real estate subjects, especially in order to understand how preferences in the housing market form. The issue of the formation of preferences and expectations about the future development of home prices has not yet been adequately addressed in housing research, though most econometric models include some type of price expectations, like the following ones (DiPasquale & Wheaton 1996: 247-256): exogenous, adaptive, and rational. Exogenous expectations are shaped independently of housing market developments; households believe that housing prices follow a particular long-term trend regardless of short-term fluctuations in the real estate market. Adaptive price expectations are based on current or past price trends in the housing market. If prices were rising in the preceding period, households expect that they will continue to rise in the future. Rational expectations are based on the assumption of perfect information; market entities are able to accurately predict market reactions. None of these commonly applied forms of expectations takes into account the effect of “manipulation” or social structuring, which sociologists have pointed out exists (Bourdieu 2005). As such expectations have a significant impact on consumer behaviour and can represent or reinforce systemic market risks it is necessary to devote adequate attention to this aspect. In order to obtain new information it will be necessary to apply non-standard experimental methods. This part of the project should thus constitute an important innovative contribution to current methods applied in international housing research, with the objective of achieving a deeper understanding of how individual attitudes, expectations, and preferences in the housing market are formed.

If it is found that the current risks are or potentially could, under certain circumstances, become systemic market risks that pose a threat to sustainable economic growth (even in context with the country’s inclusion in the EMU), then in the next step we will turn to an evaluation of the instruments of fiscal and partly also monetary policy, which could prevent such a situation from occurring (as in the case of social inequalities).

Methodology

In order to achieve the first sub-goal, that is, to create a comprehensive, theoretically framed, wider context grounded account of the transformation of conditions in the housing sector in the CR after 1990 capable of identifying the causes behind the specific development in this area, the project applicants will mainly draw on the empirical results obtained from their many years of housing research in the CR, which will be updated/adjusted and situated in the most appropriate theoretical frame and wider socio-political context. The causes will be determined (verified) by own analyses (historical-sociological context analyses, logical time series analyses) and by means of several semi-structured interviews with the main subjects involved in developments of the real estate market (investors, developers, banks) and the architects of housing policy (former ministers, advisors). It is expected that ten interviews will be carried out, roughly one-half of them conducted with individuals previously responsible for the formulation of state housing policy. These qualitative interviews, which will be processed using standard qualitative sociological methodology, will be followed by focus group with the interview participants, during which a clash of opposing views should occur and the strength of their arguments should be clarified. The focus group will be recorded and then processed, again using qualitative research techniques. The interviews and discussion will be supplemented with an analysis of official documents that directly affected housing policy in the CR during the transformation – documents such as housing policy strategies, political party programmes, and government statements.

Existing empirical findings will be updated with the use of data files acquired previously by the project applicants from the Czech Statistical Office (CSO), and to fulfil this sub-goal new data files will be acquired from the CSO (price data, Family Budget Survey 2008, Living Conditions Survey 2007, 2008). A comprehensive account of the context and the causes of the specific development of housing conditions in the CR after 1990 will contribute to a better understanding of the entire transformation process. It will also offer a deeper understanding of the role that the housing policies played in the economic transformations in post-communist countries in general – thus providing information that has not yet been systematically obtained and is lacking in European housing research.

The second sub-goal, the analysis of the consequences of the specific development of housing conditions on social inequalities in housing consumption and systemic market risks in the CR, constitutes a new research field that has not yet been adequately addressed in the Czech Republic. Both standard and innovative methodological techniques will be used to achieve this goal.

Inequalities in the area of housing affordability will be measured using data from the CSO Family Budget Surveys 1990 – 2008 (which contain information on household income and housing expenditures) and price statistics of CSO (going back to 1998); the used indicators will be housing expenditure-to-income ratio, residual income, the price-to-income ratio, and the lending multiplier. Inequalities in the access to the advantages derived from explicit or hidden public subsidies (rent-controlled housing, owner-occupier housing acquired at non-market prices, other public housing subsidies) will be analysed using the same CSO data files, opinion surveys conducted by the socioeconomics of housing research team at the Institute of Sociology AS CR (for example, Housing Attitudes 2001) and new CSO data files from surveys Living Conditions 2007, 2008. Inequalities in the access to housing of adequate size will be analysed using the same above-mentioned data files and also census data; inequalities in access to housing by people migrating to economically prosperous regions will be analysed using also CSO regional wage statistics.

Inequalities in the area of residential property distribution will be analysed using a data file from the CSO survey Living Conditions 2007. This survey newly included a special module to study housing conditions of Czech households; respondents were also asked to estimate the market price of the house or flat they live in, and they were also asked about their rental incomes from other properties. The objectives will be to identify also regional differentiation for all above mentioned inequalities, and through an analysis of the effect of state interventions also the reasons behind these inequalities. Special attention will be devoted to extreme forms of inequalities – social exclusion or spatial segregation. Employees of the selected municipal authorities will be briefly polled about the problems of social exclusion and spatial segregation, which will facilitate a critical evaluation of the criteria for identifying the affected households and will also form the basis for recruiting a group of twenty household representatives currently or potentially at risk of social exclusion, who will then be interviewed. The interviews will focus on the causes of social exclusion and will be processed using standard qualitative sociological methods.

In conclusion, inequalities identified in the research will be compared and assessed from the perspective of their effects on social cohesion and sustainable economic growth – for this purpose a new rating method will be developed, assuming that the factors conditioning the seriousness of these inequalities follow alternative trends. In this regard current instruments of fiscal (housing) policy will be assessed (again taking into account also their future alternatives) whether and how they tackle the inequalities that endanger or may endanger social cohesion and sustainable economic growth. The project applicants have already successfully tested simulation models of the effects of housing policy alternatives (e.g. Lux 2007, Lux et al. 2004).

With regard to systemic market risks the project applicants plan to focus on how the demand for owner-occupier housing is shaped (“manipulated”); on what is the effect of growing household debt from mortgage loans on housing consumption and sustainable economic growth; on what is the effect that the gradual relaxation of the criteria used to assess whether clients qualify for mortgage credit and the introduction of new “affordable mortgage” products have on potential instabilities in the mortgage market and the national economy; and what is the related effect of the integration of lower-income households into the sector of owner-occupied housing on wider economy. Next to the problem of the shaping (“manipulation”) of demand, essentially this involves analysing the development of those factors in the Czech environment that influenced the global impact of the mortgage crisis in the United States. In this context the applicants will study the development of the share of owner-occupied housing in total housing stock and the process of integration of lower-income households into this housing (using census data, the above-mentioned data sources, and data from the Institute of Territorial Development on the extent of privatisation of the housing stock); the development of Czech household outstanding mortgage debt (using information from the Czech National Bank and the Ministry of Finance); residential housing price trends (using price statistics of CSO and the Institute of Regional Information); and mortgage market characteristics. In order to map the current state of mortgage financing (types of products and how much they are used) a questionnaire survey will be carried out, accompanied by qualitative interviews, with representatives of the five largest mortgage lenders (following similar survey conducted in 2005, see Lux et al. 2005). An assessment of risks will be made that takes into account the current situation and future trends of above-mentioned factors, and will be done so in a comparison with the situation in the United States and Great Britain, that is, in countries where systemic market risks are discussed most.

The shaping (“manipulation”) of housing demand and price expectations will be examined with the aid of special and, in basic housing research, innovative experiments to test the response of participants in the experiment to changing context situation. The experiments (five experiments are expected) will be carried out with the aid of software applied to a web interface; participants in the experiment will mainly be recruited from student ranks, but other young people will also be included (as representatives of first-time buyers). This experimental study furthers another experiment successfully carried out by the project applicants in 2007, as part of a project supported by the GA CR, reg. no. 403/06/0915. This experiment, which draws on findings of behavioural economics (e.g. Lopes 1994, Roth 1988, Smith 1992), proved to be a rapid and effective method of testing how expectations and attitudes are shaped. The individual groups of participants in the experiment will be confronted with various different contexts, various trends in market conditions, and, in particular, different amounts of information and experiences acquired over the course of the experiment; the differences in their responses will subsequently be analysed. This area of knowledge, like the methods used to obtain it, will constitute a unique contribution to the advancement of basic socioeconomic housing research.

Should some risks be evaluated as currently or potentially very serious for sustainable economic growth (based on the rating), the current instruments of monetary and fiscal (housing) policy of the state will be analysed in terms of whether they contribute to mitigating such systemic risks. This evaluation will be performed using the same methodology as that in the case of social inequalities.

In addition to the use of information acquired in previous research and the updating of that information, the project methodology thus includes:

The results of the project will be published in one English written monograph (hopefully published in abroad) and in the form of Czech monograph published as part of the series of successful and much-in-demand studies Housing Standards(published by the Institute of Sociology, AS CR). Housing Standards will be sold to academic and lay audience and this allows applying VAT deduction. The reason for the decision to publish the results in one English-language monograph is that the international scientific discussion lacks this sort of comprehensive and theoretically framed account of the transformation of conditions in the housing sector in transition countries. Both publications will be submitted to a peer-review process; the reviewers will be known Czech and foreign scholars. The project’s findings will be summarised in several academic articles; by the end of the project the articles will be submitted to at least three ISI impacted academic journals (one of which will be outside the CR). The findings and the methods will be presented and discussed at international conferences, especially the conferences of the European Network for Housing Research. It is also expected that policy makers will also express an interest in the project’s findings, and so “policy paper” studies will also be drawn up.

Project timetable

Work on the project is planned for a period of three years (2009 – 2011). The first year will be devoted to working on the first sub-goal, and in particular the following activities:

In the second year of the project work connected with the first sub-goal will reach completion and work on the second sub-goal will begin, specifically:

In the third year of the project the following activities are planned:

information on the research team

The project team is made up of four members of the socioeconomics of housing research team at the Institute of Sociology AS CR (Ing. Mgr. Martin Lux, Ing. Petr Sunega, Mgr. Martina Mikeszová a Ing. Anne Morisseau) and one researcher from the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University (PhDr. Tomáš Katrňák, Ph.D.), who during work on the project would be engaged as a part-time employee of the Institute of Sociology AS CR. Given the amount of work required to implement all the proposed surveys, in the second year of the project it will be necessary to hire on two students on fixed-term work contracts who will assist in the project work on an ongoing basis (preparing the experiments and assisting with surveys). The team possesses the necessary qualifications for the successful fulfilment of the project's goals. Ing. Mgr. Martin Lux, who in the project will concentrate mainly on working on the first sub-goal, the experiments, the rating of risks/inequalities, and the econometric simulations, has been working on housing research since 1998. In his research he applies the skills he acquired from study in the fields of economics and sociology. He has been the chief coordinator of several national and international grant projects in the field of housing research and he is the author of numerous articles and studies on the development of housing policy in transition countries. For his research work he was awarded the Austrian Erhard Busek Prize and the Academy of Sciences Award for Young Researchers. Ing. Petr Sunega, who in the project will concentrate on updating the empirical information, analysis of systemic risks, and surveying the mortgage lenders, has participated in work on the majority of grant projects that the socioeconomics of housing research team has worked on. In his research he focuses on simulation modelling of various aspects of housing policy and in the past two years he has cooperated intensively with the banking sector in the area of monitoring and evaluating house price trends. PhDr. Tomáš Katrňák, Ph.D. will work on the problem of social inequalities and social stratification (with an emphasis on the issue of housing). He has long been engaged in the study of class differences (class analysis), integration, and social mobility; he also headed a project titled "Socioeconomic inequality, social class, and social mobility" (2003-2004), and he has published monographs and articles in domestic and foreign journals on this subject. Mgr. Martina Mikeszová, who will focus on the issue of inequalities in access to housing and the issue of "manipulation" of housing demand (experiments), completed her Master's studies in sociology and at present is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University. She became a member of the socioeconomics of housing research team in 2006 and was involved in preparing the experiments and sociological surveys in the grant project "The Housing Market in the Metropolis through the Prism of Economic Sociology" (GA ČR). Ing. Anne Morisseau studied urbanism at universities in Tours and Paris and in 2008 began an internship with the socioeconomics of housing research team in Prague. She has a strong interest in long-term cooperation. Given her previous research work, in the project Anne Morisseau will focus on the problem of social inequalities and will lead a qualitative survey of households currently or potentially at risk of social exclusion.

References

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